“Homage to Mouton, Picasso & Lump”

"Homage to Mouton, Picasso & Lump" by Robert Leedy, watercolor on Arches 300 lb. Cold Press paper, 18" x 12", Commissioned work.

“Homage to Mouton, Picasso & Lump” by Robert Leedy, watercolor on Arches 300 lb. Cold Press paper, 18″ x 12″, Commissioned work.

“Tony, whatever you do, DON’T drink this wine!”

I was warning Tony Wood, my good friend, studio mate and artist across the hall not to open the 1973 Chateau Mouton Rothschild that was sitting on my drafting table. We share a small, red wine cellar in my studio and sometimes borrow from one another if the situation arises. A client lent me the bottle so I could include it in a commissioned still life I was painting and I had this horrible vision of seeing the spent bottle in my recycling bin with a hand-written note from Tony: “Robert, that French wine was pretty good – did you realize there is a Picasso painting on the label?”

Wine prices are so subjective which explains the wide estimates of the value of a bottle of 1973 Chateau Mouton Rothschild from $300 – $1,000. In 2006, a lot of 6 magnums of 1945 Mouton sold at Christie’s in Beverly Hills for $345,000 making it the most expensive wine in the world.

No, the ’73 Mouton is certainly not the vintage of the 20th century – in fact, it is most likely one of the worst Bordeaux vintages of that century though the bottle has some historical value.

Located in the commune of Pauillac in the Medoc region northwest of the city of Bordeaux, Chateau Mouton Rothschild is considered one of the world’s greatest clarets (77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Verdot.) The property goes back to the 1700’s but it wasn’t until 1853 when the Rothschild family acquired it and gave it its current name.

In 1945, to celebrate the Allied victory and his return to his estate, owner Baron Phillipe de Rothschild commissioned artist Philippe Julian to create a special label for his wine that year. A “V” for victory was the theme and for almost every year since then, Chateau Mouton Rothschild’s label bears a reproduction of an artwork created specially for Mouton by selected artists. Some of the notable label artistes over the years include Jean Cocteau, Marie Laurencin, Georges Braque, Salvador Dalí, Henry Moore, Marc Chagall, Joan Miró, Robert Motherwell, Wassily Kandinsky, Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon, Keith Haring, Rufino Tamayo, Lucian Freud and Jeff Koons. In 2004, the label sported a commissioned watercolor painted by Prince Charles and for the monumental vintage of 1982, the label hosts a watercolor by (one of his last painted) American film director John Huston.

in 1973, Chateau Mouton Rothschild is finally elevated to its well-deserved status of Premier Cru Classé (Classified First Growth) which it was unfairly deprived of in the original 1855 Classification. Jacques Chirac, then Minister of Agriculture, signed the decree. Mouton now joins the elite group of the 5 greatest wines of Bordeaux.

Another event made 1973 notable: Iconic Spanish painter, Pablo Picasso, aged 91, died April 8th. To commemorate a long life of creativity and artistic achievement, Baron Rothschild chose to honor the artist posthumously with a reproduction of Picasso’s “Bacchanale” on the 1973 label.

So, what is the significance, once again, of 1973?

  • Tony Orlando & Dawn hit #1 on the Billboard charts with “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree” (you’re going to be haunted with this tune in your head for the rest of the day!)
  • A ceasefire is signed ending American involvement in the Vietnam War.
  • Richard Nixon – on national television – takes responsibility for Watergate.
  • Skylab, the first American space station, is launched.
  • Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (the technology behind MRI scanning) is developed.
  • Billie Jean King defeats Chris Evert at Wimbledon.
  • The price of gasoline skyrocketed to 40 cents per gallon as a result of the Arab oil embargo.
  • Robert Leedy entered his senior year in high school.
  • Chateau Mouton Rothschild is elevated to First Growth status.
  • Artist Pablo Picasso dies at home in Mougins, France.
  • Chateau Mouton Rothschild chooses Picasso for the 1973 label.
  • Lump dies.

So, WHO is Lump?

 This is especially dear to my heart as I am a big Dachshund lover and, yes, Lump was a very special weenie dog.

Lump was born in Stuttgart, Germany in 1956 (the same year I was born!) and originally belonged to American photojournalist David Douglas Duncan. Duncan documented Picasso as a photographer that year and was well-liked by Picasso and won the artist’s trust and respect. Duncan was the photographer who shot the famous photos of Gary Cooper when he presented Picasso with a gift of a Stetson cowboy hat and a six shooter.  “This is your home – come back,” Picasso told  Duncan as he waved goodbye to his friend after a long stay. Duncan returned to Picasso’s Villa La Californie outside of Cannes, France in April of 1957 where he joined Picasso and his soon-to-be wife, Jacqueline Rogue, for lunch. Lump had come along for the ride. During lunch, Picasso asked Duncan if Lump ever had a plate of his own; Picasso then picked up his own plate, painted a portrait of Lump, dated & signed it and presented the plate as a gift to Duncan.

Duncan and Lump lived in an apartment in Rome with Duncan’s large Afghan Hound who always terrorized the little Dachshund and treated him as a chew toy. Duncan’s nomadic lifestyle as a photographer was equally tough and when Lump saw the lovely villa in the south of France with its spacious garden and it’s interesting Spanish owner, Lump decided that Picasso and Jacqueline would adopt him whether they liked it or not. Lump would live with the Picasso’s for six years.

Lump joined the family which – in addition to Pablo and Jacqueline – included Esmeralda, Picasso’s pet goat, Yan, his large, gentle Boxer and the occasional appearances of Picasso’s children who lived in Paris with their mother. Yan loved and welcomed his new little brother as he was pretty much ignored by Picasso.

There were always dogs in Picasso’s life but Lump was the only one ever allowed in Picasso’s arms. With the exception of Jacqueline’s occasional presence, Picasso preferred to paint alone in his studio though Lump was always the welcomed muse. Lump had a favorite stone from the villa’s garden and it was a game for him  to enter Picasso’s studio with it in his mouth and drop it on the floor with a loud bang almost always breaking the artist’s concentration. The artist adored the little dog…

Picasso once remarked,”Lump, he’s not a dog, he’s not a little man, he’s somebody else.” Duncan spoke of Lump’s relationship with the artist: “This was a love affair. Picasso would take Lump in his arms. He would feed him from his hand. Hell, that little dog just took over. He ran the damn house.”

In 1957, Picasso painted 45 studies of Velázquez’s Las Meninas; Lump was in 15 of them where Picasso replaced the large hound in the foreground with whimsical studies of a small Dachshund.

Lump had a brief marriage to Lolita, another Dachshund who accompanied her owner, François Hugo (grandson of Victor) to Villa La Californie. Picasso asked Duncan if Lump had ever been married and then posed the same question to Hugo about Lolita. Neither dogs had been and when François returned on the next trip, Lolita appeared with a dish doily wedding necklace and a wedding was performed. Despite lots of affection between the two, the couple remained childless.

In 1964, while he was visiting Picasso, Duncan learned that Lump was suffering from a serious spinal condition that left him without the use of his legs and was in the care of the local veterinarian who had stopped feeding him because, he claimed, there was no cure. Duncan took Lump to Stuttgart seeking a second opinion where he found a vet who successfully treated the condition over several months. Lumped walked again though, as Duncan noted, he walked “like a drunken sailor”. Little Lump went on to live for another 10 years.

Lump died on March 29, 1973 – only ten days before Picasso did.

About the painting…

“Homage to Mouton, Picasso and Lump” began as a commissioned painting with red wine as a theme. I liked the connection between art and wine and with my wine sales past, I was well aware of the significance of 1973. I had known about Lump but never realized he had died the same year as Picasso did. I felt the connection of the three was very appropriate and saw the need for a proper homage.

The painting focuses on the wine which was the original intention. The ’73 Picasso label is one of the more easily recognized Mouton labels. I began with Picasso and the label first thinking that if I didn’t get a fairly remote likeness of the two, the painting wouldn’t work. Picasso was influenced by African art hence the mask in the background. The framed photo of Picasso and Lump was just enough reference to Picasso that I needed. I worked from a photo in a book taken by David Douglas Duncan of Picasso and Lump but changed the artist’s attire to the striped Breton sailor’s shirt which he often wore and makes him easier recognized.

Other props included a wine glass, bowl of lemons, flowers, artichokes, a plum, pears, printed fabrics and – oh yes – French cheese; the Saint Agur in the foreground was delicious once it served its purpose!

Working back and forth between different weight papers emphasizes their individual qualities. The Arches 300 lb. Cold Press really soaks up the color and it was necessary to resaturate certain colors. I work more frequently with 140 lb. Arches and this isn’t necessary though I appreciate the sturdiness and forgiving qualities of the heavier paper.

The painting has an overall warm feel balanced by cooler colors in the background and shadows. I enjoyed cutting in the negative shapes among the flowers and stems. These negative spaces add a lot of visual interest. There is a play with complementary colors which occurs throughout my work.

The reflections in the wine glass and bottle were a lot of fun to paint – as was the entire painting. This painting is the first in a series of three.

watch a progressional video of the painting below:


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