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Analytical Cubism

When Les Demoiselles d Avignon by Pablo Picasso was first seen in 1907, it certainly represented a radical break with the canons of traditional portrayal. No longer governed by the laws of a single, central perspective, artists were able to depict the subject from various simultaneous viewpoints. A purely intellectualized vision - a combination of angular solids and geometric planes - could now be conveyed within a two-dimensional canvas, thus dismissing spatial illusionism. Picasso was introduced to Georges Braque by a mutual friend, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire. The two artists shared a common desire for a new language and worked together for more than seven years. Picasso and Braque sought a way of expressing a more complete and multi-faceted reality (by painting what is known about space and shapes, not only what is seen). Such is the similarity of their paintings, that it is sometimes difficult to identify each artist's work. However, Braque seems to have stayed more in touch with formal values, founded on harmonious and rhythmic composition, while Picasso, true to his Spanish blood, was more aggressive, passionate, and dramatic. Recurring themes in the works of both painters include angular human figures - treated like wooden sculpture and possessing an almost sacred solemnity - and landscapes in which small houses were reduced to geometric cube shapes. It was in Louis Vauxcelles's description of this detail in Gil Bias in November 1908 that the term "cubism" was coined. Portraits were often of the painters' dealer and collector friends, such as Kahnweiler, Vollard, and Uhde, while the still lifes show fragments, silhouettes, and profiles of objects that appear to interlock tightly as if within a web. Musical instruments were often represented, chosen partly for their formal values - piano keys relate well to spatial rhythm, and the shape of the mandolin echoes the curves of the female body - and partly in the ever-present hope of achieving a synthesis of painting and music. Within two years, the process of dismantling form started by Picasso and Braque took fragmentation and obscurity to such extreme lengths that it led to cryptic and indecipherable works.

This phase is known as Analytical Cubism, when pyramidal structures of geometrical solids tend to dematerialize through the effect of light shining through them, making them crystalline and forming schemes that have been mistaken as abstract. In fact, Cubists sought to penetrate reality to its very depths, investigating its most hidden aspects in order to provide as much information about it as possible. According to
Jean Metzinger (1883-1957) and Albert Gleizes (1881-1953) in Du Cubisme (published in 1912), the Cubists wanted to circle around the object and, under the control of the intellect, give a concrete representation of several successive aspects of it. Although Picasso and Braque were acknowledged as the two most significant exponents of Cubism in its analytical phase and subsequent stages, neither of them took part in the movement's first official viewing held in April 1911 at the Salon ties Independants. Works by participating artists - Metzinger, Gleizes, Fernand Leger, and Robert Delaunay (1885-1941) - showed very different artistic experiences, but were now-grouped under one name, which acquired its own resonance and historic significance. The five painters of the Salon were soon joined by Roger de la Fresnaye, Marcoussis, and the so-called "Puteaux group", comprising the three brothers Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), Jacques Villon-Gaston Duchamp (1875-1963)
(Gaston Duchamp was the elder brother of: Raymond Duchamp-Villon, Marcel Duchamp, Suzanne Duchamp-Crotti (1889-1963), painter) , and the sculptor Raymond Duchamp-Villon (1876-1918). Later on, the Spanish painter Juan Gris (1887-1927) was associated with the group, albeit loosely. Also in 1911, contacts were made with the Blaue Reiter at Delaunay's exhibition in Munich, and with the Cubo-Futurists Malevich, and Burliuk.

In the same year,
Gris' Homage to Picasso acknowledged Picasso
as the father of a new, historic artistic-era, and the Cubist exhibition in Brussels, which was organized by Guillaume Apollinaire, marked the close of the movement's first phase. Other Cubist developments followed, such as so-called Synthetic Cubism, and the distinctive Orphic Cubism. In these, the object, which had initially been analysed and broken into parts, losing any recognizable features, was reconstituted. depicted according to its essential structure, and expressed in terms of its most significant components. Cubists now sought to avoid the danger of abstraction and mystification. Instead, they favoured a subtle linguistic game of metaphors and cross-references between reality and illusionism. Works now featured letters, numbers, and "pieces of reality", such as cloth, newspaper cuttings, stamps, and other objets tronres. The use of these items by Cubists launched the technique of collage and papier colle, which was later adopted enthusiastically by Dadaists and Surrealists. Impelled by the need to achieve order, clarity, and increasingly repelled by the drab and uniform colours of the majority of Cubist paintings, Juan Gris and, subsequently. Fernand Leger adopted a rigorous structure and more luminous and brilliant colours. The Cubism of these artists is a simple, essential, and schematic language of geometric shapes, enriched by flat areas of clear, pure colour.


Pablo Picasso
Le guitariste, 1910
Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.
An example of Analytic Cubism



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