Progression of Art
Violin and Palette
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.
Oil on canvas - Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, New York
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.
Oil on canvas - Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois
Nus dans la forêt (Nudes in the Forest)
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".
Oil on canvas - Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, Netherlands
Still Life with Banderillas
Braque painted this work in Céret, a village in the French Pyrenees, where he spent the summer of 1911 with Picasso. He recalled that during this period the two artists worked so closely together they often could not tell who had painted which work. Indeed, Braque later described how ''Picasso and I said things to one another that will never be said again [...] that no one will be able to understand". Given its subject matter - the complex intersection of multiple planes and angular shapes here evoke banderillas, the spiked sticks used in bullfighting - one might be forgiven for thinking that this piece was in fact painted by the Spaniard Picasso. Braque, a Frenchman, was not a fan of bullfighting but it is thought that the painting was conceived by him as a tribute to his close companion.
Historically the work is most noteworthy, however, because of the introduction of lettering and sand. As Braque stated: "I started to introduce letters into my pictures [since being two-dimensional they] were forms which could not be deformed". Letters therefore exist "outside three-dimensional space [and] their inclusion in a picture allowed a distinction to be made between [three-dimensional] objects which were situated in space and those which belonged outside space". In addition to the text, Braque includes sand (thereby incorporating another reference to the tangible world) to create texture and to emphasize the fact that a painting is a two-dimensional material object. As a result, this work can be classed as an early precursor of his and Picasso's move towards Synthetic Cubism which went much further in incorporating everyday materialist elements into their artworks.
The reluctance of the two men to let their works slip into pure-abstraction - to always declare in some way its links to a tangible reality - is not to suggest that their paintings were impersonal or lacked the element of intuition. It was in this aspect that the art historian Francis Frascina connects with the French philosopher Henri Bergson. According to Frascina, Bergson had had "an enormous cultural impact in France and beyond", promoting his ideas through prestigious public speaking events and through numerous books and articles. As Frascina noted: "Bergson's philosophy was profoundly anti-materialist and idealist. He claimed that 'reality' was that which 'we all seize from within,' that it is made up of each individual's experience and intuition of the world rather than external objectivity or 'simple analysis'".
Oil and charcoal with sand on canvas - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
In its catalogue, the Museum of Modern Art in New York describes Picasso's painting as "A kind of stand-in for the woman who can barely be seen [and as such it is] one of the most complex, abstract, and esoteric images of its day". With its dark palette and its complex layering of multi-fractured planes, this work's analysis of pictorial space obscures its representational and anecdotal content. Only the density of the triangular forms in the center of the canvas, the six lines representing the guitar's strings, and the inclusion of a treble clef at the lower center, subtly suggest the subject of this deconstructed portrait. Indeed, the portrait is only made legible because of, in Frascina's words, "A narrow pyramidal 'scaffold' structure of the central figure [that] 'anchors' the faceted planes". At the bottom of the frame, meanwhile, the words, "Ma jolie", or "my pretty girl", reference both a refrain in a popular music hall song and the nickname of Picasso's lover, Marcelle Humbert. Yet the dark palette and aggressive fragmentation undercuts any sense of romantic or personal feeling, as the work becomes what Picasso called "a sum of destructions", a reference possibly to the move from Analytic to the more comprehensible Synthetic Cubism.
Veering once more towards abstraction, yet tethered tangentially to the representational, this work does indeed exemplify Picasso's "high" Analytic method. The famous art historian E. H. Gombrich had summed up the artist's goals when he wrote: Picasso "assumed that [the public] did not come to his pictures to receive elementary information. He invited them to share with him in this sophisticated game of building up the idea of a tangible solid object out of the few fragments on his canvas". He continued by saying that "artists of all periods have tried to put forward their solution of the essential paradox of painting, which is that it represents depth on a surface. Cubism was an attempt not to gloss over this paradox but rather to exploit for new effects". Yet coming as it did towards the end of a two year period of fervent creative endeavour, "Ma jolie" represents the apotheosis of Analytic Cubism; that is representative of a stylistic high point from whence the move towards Synthetic Cubism was all-but necessitated in the name of seeking out "new effects".
Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York
La Femme au Cheval (Woman with Horse)
Metzinger's painting conforms to many of the stylistic preferences - multiple planes, volumetric, both rectilinear and curvilinear, forms - one would expect of an Analytic work. The nude herself is viewed both frontally and in profile while the horse is painted as if looking down from above. In the foreground, fragmented objects, including a vase and various fruits and plants are presented from multiple viewpoints too. But, as was typical amongst the Salon Cubists, color plays a stronger narrational role in this composition. Here for instance the brown shadows and luminosity of the figure and the warm grays of the horse bleed into the more subdued tones at the edges which evoke a forest setting. We even find dashes of luminous blue to represent the forest flowers.
Exhibited at both the Salon des Indépendants and Salon de la Section d'Or, this work was acclaimed by many, including Apollinaire, who subsequently included it in his only book The Cubist Painters, Aesthetic Meditations (1913). Metzinger was also central in developing the theoretical foundations of Cubism; his idea of the "total image" grounding it in the multiple subjective visions of the viewer. This work later even played a small role in the development of 20th century science when, in 1932, the noted Danish physicist Niels Bohr purchased the painting seeing it as the artistic expression and inspiration for his theory of quantum mechanics.
Oil on canvas - Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen
Windows Open Simultaneously (First Part, Third Motif)
Delaunay was considered one of the leading Salon Cubists following his exhibition, with Metzinger, Gleizes, Léger and Le Fauconnier, at the Salon des Indépendants in 1911. Though it is easy to discern the influence of the Analytical model in his near abstract, multi-planed view of the Eifel Tower, it is as much about the seductiveness (anathema to Braque and Picasso) of color. In this work, overlapping luminous planes, refracting bright colors bring the work close to abstraction, though one can finally discern the Eiffel Tower fusing at the center of the canvas. The composition's implicit geometric grid, fragmented through facets of color varying in tones and translucency, takes on an energetic fluidity; almost as if looking through the viewfinder of a kaleidoscope. As art historian Gordon Hughes wrote, Delaunay's Windows series demonstrates, "that vision, all appearances to the contrary, is precisely not like a window" while critic Bibiana Obler went further, suggesting that "Delaunay's paintings aim to incite awareness of the mediated processes of vision".
Delaunay's emphasis upon vibrant color, and what he called the "simultaneity" of modern experience (whereby the eye is asked to process a multiplicity of colors and shapes), were innovative additions to the development of Cubism and helped widen its popularity with the general public. This work also points towards Delaunay's transition to full abstraction, later named Orphism. Delaunay's work proved highly influential and informed works by the likes of Franz Marc, Paul Klee, Auguste Macke, and many others.
Oil on canvas - Tate Modern, London