Summary of Analytic Cubism
In 1920 the leading promoter of Georges Braque's and Pablo Picasso's work, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, published his book Der Weg zum Kubismus (The Rise of Cubism). It would become the first authoritative text on Cubist history and practice and it was here that the term Analytic Cubism was first introduced. Cubism was a movement that ran for close to two decades, but historians have tended to single out for special consideration its two most important phases: the Analytic phase (1910-12) and the subsequent Synthetic phase (1912-14).
Analytic Cubism defines a style of Cubism that fractured the subject into multi-layered, angular, surfaces that brought still lifes and portraiture close to a point of total abstraction. Following a two-year period of experimentation where Cubist artists took their lead from the faceted landscapes of Paul Cézanne, Picasso and Braque retreated to the studio where, over the ensuing two years, they honed the style of Analytic Cubism. The cadre of Cubist painters, meanwhile, have been put by critics into one of two camps: the "Gallery Cubists", namely Picasso and Braque, and a "second tier", the so-called "Salon Cubists", namely Juan Gris, Jean Metzinger, Fernand Léger, Robert Delaunay, and Albert Gleizes. Gris, however, would command equal status with Picasso and Braque when the Synthetic phase came to the fore.
Key Ideas & Accomplishments
- At a time when Impressionism had "progressed" from the avant-garde into the mainstream, and Fauvism was ruling the Salons, Picasso and Braque instigated an avant-gardist movement that would all but insist that the viewer re-evaluate the status of art. Using multiple perspectives to produce images that featured only snatched glimpses of everyday objects, the phase of Analytic Cubism initiated a way of thinking about art that went beyond the limits of fixed perspective compositions.
- Analytic Cubism brought a higher level of cognitive engagement to art. In a conscious decision to distinguish itself from the seductive styles of the Impressionists and the Fauves, Analytic Cubism's preference was for a limited range of colors and tones. Excessive color would have only served as a distraction from a style of art that was intent of encouraging the viewer/reader to analyse, rather than simply experience, art.
- In order to keep one foot rooted in realms of reality, Analytic Cubism introduced into its system of geometric grids and planes what Picasso called "attributes". Attributes were the fragments or details of everyday life; points of illusionistic reference that made the image aspects of the image accessible (realistically rendered) and thereby stopping the work from drifting into pure abstraction.
- Considered to be somewhat deferential to Braque and Picasso, the so-called Salon Cubists were nevertheless instrumental in broadening the appeal of Cubism beyond an elite class of art critics. Important historical figures such as Delaunay and Gris employed some of the techniques of Analytic Cubism but brought to their canvases a more luminous and energetic use of color. Through works such as Delaunay's Windows Series and Gris's Pears and grapes on a table their contribution allowed for a more wistful quality to impact on an art practice that had become, in the hands of Braque and Picasso, a strictly analytical practice.
Overview of Analytic Cubism
Before Picasso and Braque had (seemingly) single-handedly reinvented approaches to pictorial perspective, Paul Cézanne had been the primary influence on the exploration of artistic form and plasticity. During the late 1800's Cézanne began to represent the landscape through spheres, cones and cylinders allowing for the various perspectives of the picture plane to lead the eye towards a dedicated focal point. As Jean Metzinger and Albert Gleizes wrote in Du Cubisme (1912), Cézanne's work, "proves without doubt that painting is not - or not any longer - the art of imitating an object by lines and colors, but of giving plastic [solid, but alterable] form to our nature".
The Important Artists and Works of Analytic Cubism
Art critic Roberta Smith observed that Braque's contribution to Cubism can be traced back to "his early training in his father's trade [...] which included sign painting and the painting of imitation wood and marble". His "apprenticeship" was, according to Smith, "clearly the basis for his interest in what he called the 'tactile' or 'manual' space of a painting". For his part, Braque explained that "When fragmented objects appeared in my painting around 1909 [as they do here] it was a way for me to get as close as possible to the object as painting allowed".
In what can be cited as a prototype of Analytic Cubism, Braque paints multiple picture planes in order to fracture and distort images of a violin, a palette, and sheet music. The arrangement of the objects emphasizes the canvas's vertical axis, while the limited color palette stresses (rather than distracts from) the overlapping forms, creating a density that seems somehow tactile. Braque would further emphasize the breaking down of the subject in this way it works such as Piano and Mandola (1909-10) which was described by art historian Jan Avgikos as, "an otherwise energized composition of exploding crystalline forms".
According to art historian Francis Frascina, Braque and Picasso's still lifes become "more difficult to decipher without knowledge of the systematic [language] that the artists appear to be using [and for] many Modernists, the works are on the 'threshold' of a formal development to abstraction", even though the artists themselves were seeking a "realistic orientation" through their work. We find clear evidence of this at the upper left of Violin and Palette, where we notice that Braque has painted a trompe-l'oeil nail, from which hangs the palette of the work's title. It is an illusionist technique that serves to illustrate the contrast between the nascent Analytical Cubism as measured against the traditions of single-perspective illusionism.
Broken down into planes and facets, and rendered in a limited palette of gray, black, white, and brown, we can begin to put together an image of Picasso's sitter (the art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler). The viewer can discern his clasped hands at the bottom of the frame, the knot of his tie, and the almost geometric intersection of the bridge of the nose with the eyebrows. Due to the intricacy of the overlapping opaque and transparent planes and the limited color palette the central subject takes on a kind of density that dissolves at the edges into the abstract background. As art critic Jonathan Jones put it, the famous art dealer "haunts [the painting] like a shadow of himself, a nuclear ghost imprinted in space [...] It is not a picture of him. And yet he is fully there, his identity glimpsed with a strange warm intimacy through the shattered glass of the modernist age".
Jones said this work was "Revolutionary and discomforting" and a masterpiece that brought on "a comprehensive dismantling of traditional portraiture" that was "intangible" and "indescribable". The difficulty in deciphering these near-abstract artworks, however, prompted several critics to refer to Analytic Cubism as a hermetic practice. This concept relates to the idea that the language of Analytic Cubism was so revolutionary it had no precedence in art history and was so airtight (so hermetic) it had to be learned from scratch. At the same time, what Picasso called "attributes," such as the wave of hair and the clasped hands (the more highly discernible aspects of the image), helped the viewer by anchoring the subject to reality giving her or him an initial point of reference; giving the viewer "something to build on", in other words.
Employing a somber palette of gray, white, grayish blue and green, this work is a complex and energetic layering of conic, cylindrical, and tubular planes. Léger described it in fact as a "battle of volumes" explaining that "I thought that I shouldn't give it any color. The volumes alone were enough". Though it is a landscape, which places it closer generically to the early phase of "Cézannian" Cubism, the painting is in keeping with the Analytic preference for a restricted color palette and a willingness to test the limits of figurative art. As if solving a picture puzzle, the trained eye eventually discerns the three nudes, one standing at the right and left and the other reclining on the ground in the center, and the resemblance of some tubular shapes to the trunks and roots of trees.
Léger's works take Cézanne's vision of a natural world composed of cones, spheres, or cylinders as the basis for a distinctive approach that also accommodates the mechanized forms of the modern world. Léger became associated with the Salon Cubists under whose auspices his idiosyncratic Analytic approach became a vital part of its aesthetic and theoretical explorations. As contemporary art critic Nechvatal put it, "Léger's early Cubist works are full of astonishing, automated, compulsive, and practically cinematic stutter effects". Léger subsequently developed his use of cylindrical and tubular shapes and a progressively bolder color palette to develop a signature style that became known as "Tubism". Nechvatal added, "his brand of Cubism evolved into an automaton-esque figurative style distinguished by his focus on cylindrical forms. These cylindrical android figures express a synchronization between human and machine that is most relevant today".
Useful Resources on Analytic Cubism
- 8k viewsPicasso and Braque's Cubist Experiment: "Like mountain climbers roped together"?Our Pick2012 / Lecture by conservators Claire Barry and Bart Devolde / Santa Barbara Museum of Art
- 4k viewsPicasso and Braque Symposium: The Different Facets of Analytic CubismLecture by Lisa Florman / Santa Barbara Museum of Art
- 1k viewsPicasso and Braque Symposium: Un-Self-ContainedLecture by Charles Palermo / Santa Barbara Museum of Art
- 7k viewsCubism: The Collaboration of Picasso & Braque 2014Our PickLecture by Leonard Lauder / Aspen Institute
- 4k viewsReasonable Cubism - Salon Cubists, Albert Gleizes Man on a BalconyLecture by Michael Taylor / Philadelphia Museum of Art
- 7k viewsThe Mona Lisa of Cubism Jean Metzinger Tea TimeLecture by Michael Taylor / Philadelphia Museum of Art
- 44k viewsThe Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde 2012Lectures by Emily Braun, Wanda M. Corn, Edward M. Burns, Richard L. Feigen
- 1k viewsThe Cubist Cosmos - From Picasso to Léger / Kunstmuseum Basel2019
- The Story of ArtBy E. H. Gombrich
- Picasso and Braque: Pioneering CubismOur PickBy William Rubin
- Primitivism, Cubism, Abstraction: The Early Twentieth CenturyBy Francis Frascina
- Cubism and its histories (Critical Perspectives in Art History)By David Cottington
- Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder CollectionOur PickBy Jack Flam
- Cubism (Art of Century)By Dorothea Elmert and Guillaume Apollinaire
- Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture. A Comprehensive Illustrated Catalogue, 1885 1973: Analytic Cubism, 1909-1912By The Picasso Project, Alan Hyman, and Pablo Picasso
- The Cubist Painters (Documents of Twentieth-Century Art) PaperbackBy Guillaume Apollinaire and Peter Read
- A Cubism Reader: Documents and Criticism, 1906-1914By Mark Antliff and Patricia Leighten
- Important Modern Paintings. Tremaine CollectionBy Christie's
- Georges Braque and Pablo PicassoMFA Masterworks / July 11, 201
- After him, who?Our PickBy Alex Danchev / The Guardian / May 7, 2005
- The Other Father of CubismBy Roberta Smith / New York Times / October 13, 2011
- Is Braque Finally Coming Out of Picasso's Shadow?By Coline Milliard / ArtNet News / June 13, 2014
- Development Issues: Georges Braque at Acquavella GalleriesBy David Carrier / Artcritical / November 10, 2011
- Picasso, Braque, and Early Film in CubismBy Bernice Rose / Brooklyn Rail / September, 2017
- ART VIEW; JUAN GRIS: THE OTHER CUBISTBy John Russell / New York Times / October 23, 1983
- The Complete History of Cubism in One Blockbuster ExhibitionOur PickBy Joseph Nechvatal / Hyperallergic / January 7, 2019
- Fernand Léger and the Rise of the Man-MachineBy Joseph Nechvatal / Hyperallergic / July 24, 2017
- Stealing beautyBy Andrew Meldrum / The Guardian / March 15, 2006
- Portrait of Ambroise Vollard, Picasso (1910)By Jonathan Jones / The Guardian / November 30, 2002
- Picasso Portraits review - tame exhibition sells his radical genius shortBy Jonathan Jones / The Guardian / October 4, 2016
- Carl Einstein, Daniel Henry Kahnweiler, Cubism, and the Visual BrainBy Charles W. Haxthausen / Article, issue #2 / June 12, 2011
- A Review of Gordon Hughes's Resisting Abstraction: Robert Delaunay and Vision in the Face of Modernism 2014By Bibiana Obler / February 16, 2017
- Picasso and Braque, Brothers in CubismBy Michael Brenson / New York Times / September 22, 1989
- On "Cubism" in contextOur PickBy Peter Brooke
- Three wise men, two worlds, and one ideaBy Professor Arthur I. Miller / Independent / February 23, 1997