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Art Movements in Art History - Development of Cubism 1909

Art Movements > Cubism > Development of Cubism 1909

Development of Cubism 1909*

1909 sees the beginning of the close collaboration between Picasso and Braque.

The problem of early 1909 has been described as the attempt to fuse the two sources,
Cezanne and African sculpture, which are in some ways diametrically opposed. Cezanne
relied on a specific motif, while African sculpture was not concerned with visual
appearances. This fusion was partly achieved in the work of Picasso during the summer
at Horta de Ebro and in Braque's work during the winter of 1909/1910.

In the Horta figures a combination of different views has been used. The object represented was
a summation of these different views. For example, in the Woman
with Pears, the head looks as if it has been carved in low relief. The reference to sculpture is
deliberate. It is a continuation of the sculptural tendencies evident in Picasso's work of
1908. But it is significant from the multiview/simultaneous viewpoint in that sculpture
inherently offers a sequential/simultaneous experience through its three-dimensional
existence.

By the end of the year the bloc-like facets in these paintings have begun to slip and the
sense of sculptural solidity of the Horta heads is on the point of disintegration, as can be
seen in the Portrait of Braque which Picasso painted toward the end of the year. In Still life
with Violin and Pitcher and Still Life with Violin and Palette painted during the winter of
1909/1910 by Braque, the fragmentation and slipping of the facets in the Cubist sections
of the paintings are even more marked. The outline is no longer continuous; the different views
have been partially displaced.

Picasso and Braque's use of simultaneous viewpoints - that is the combination of
views from various points into one image - had its origin in the work of Cezanne. However,
differences between Cezanne's work and the Cubist interpretation should be pointed out.
Cezanne was concerned with a specific motif and made an intense and direct visual study of
it. It seems indeed as if he sometimes showed more than could be seen from one viewpoint.
How deliberate and conscious these distortions were, is a moot point, although it is now
generally accepted as being the result of Cezanne's intense observations of solid form while
respecting the two-dimensional picture plane.

Note that simultaneous depiction, as used by Picasso and Braque, is not simply the
juxtaposition of separate views to form one image. It is not a combination of partial views as
they might have been recalled from memory or imagination. (Unlike Cezanne, Picasso and
Braque worked from memory.) If they had simply made this kind of straightforward
combination, it would have produced paintings of objects seen from different static
viewpoints, each with its own specific delineations. Each could still have incorporated
traditional devices which might, for example, be found in photo-montage. Clearly this was
not what happened. If this had been the method it would have had to be carried to extreme
lengths in order to explain the appearance of Cubist paintings. Picasso and Braque were
concerned with a spatial continuity based on a dynamic sequence, in which different
unrelated parts were recalled and noted in a summary and discontinuous way. The means
used to achieve this "dynamic sequence" consisted of opening planes, breaking contours,
arbitrary lighting, transference, ambiguity, overlapping and transparency.

Such pictorial structuring led inevitably to the disintegration of the image. Yet the
Cubist artists sought to maintain a rapport with the world of phenomena. The dilemma lay in
finding a means of conveying the "reality" of the image without resorting to traditional
devices. Ironically the exploitation of illusionist devices by Braque in three paintings
executed during the winter of 1909/1910 explores that dilemma. In Still Life with Violin
and Pitcher, an illusionist nail is painted above the Cubist analysis of still life objects, the
identities of which are still clear, but not as coherent as the identity of the nail. The contrast
between art and nature is immediately postulated, and the problems of representation are
raised. If, for example, both kinds of representation (illusionist and Cubist) are made in the
same material (paint), what are the differences? If the surface is flat, which representation is
more true?

 

<< Previous: Influence of Cézanne on Cubism


* Drawn from notes compiled by R. Becker for the University of South Africa

 




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