In the 19 th Century, the visual arts had adhered increasingly closely to a set of fundamental notions of perspective, form and modeling which governed composition, especially of the two dimensional kind. The two-dimensional surface of the canvas was something that had to be overcome; something that the artist could, if he succeeded, completely destroy with his brush and replace with a three-dimensional representation as close to nature as possible. Although Pablo Picasso and George Braque would not come into contact until several years into the 20 th Century, they shared a mutual dissatisfaction towards the legacy that had been left by the Art of the 19 th, specifically regarding the staunch rules which governed the transition of three dimensional space onto a two dimensional surface. It is the changes in this method of transition and the concepts behind it which form the basis of the apparent dissections of form, light and space which are fundamental to Analytic Cubism. As its name suggests, the genre of Analytic Cubism, despite its almost abstract appearance, is not the result of a disregard for the composition of subject matter, but rather the opposite. The fractured, incoherent, disjointed appearance of a work in this style is a result of an intimate analysis of every facet of an object and its relationship with the surrounding space.
This has led to a widely accepted conclusion that the works of Braque and Picasso during this period were the result of a desire to portray an object from every angle. This is a half-truth, appropriated from a comment by Picasso stating that Cubism provided on canvas all the information one would require to view a three dimensional object. (One must also keep in mind that the masters' comments justifying their style of Cubism were often contradictory and evasive. ) If anything, it is an excess of visual information which makes these works largely unrecognizable as compositions containing the objects in their titles. Girl with a Mandolin, (BELOW LEFT) painted by Picasso in 1910, seems to be an anomaly in that it is his only piece of the high analytic cubism period which is, at first glance, even vaguely recognizable for what the title claims it to be. Compared with a work of similar subject matter painted in the same year by Picasso, The Guitar Player, (BELOW RIGHT) it is clearly more com positionally "intact." It is interesting then to note that Picasso considered Girl with a Mandolin unfinished.
Perhaps the image of the girl with the mandolin was not sufficiently deconstructed for Picasso to be satisfied. While a 19 th century painter would be unsatisfied until the subject matter was portrayed as closely to nature as possible, Picasso had not yet provided in his work enough information regarding the content. It was still too much picture and not enough essence. Picasso would have desired his picture to contain detailed instructions as to how a viewer should conceptualize a girl with a mandolin, and tell in detail the story of her journey from studio to canvas.
The apparent reversal here of usual artistic constructive method gives an excellent indication of the motives of Picasso and Braque, and the processes which were involved in the systematic deconstruction and reconstruction of form. Among their motives was the desire to rationally accept a canvas as a two dimensional surface. Where other artists had fought against the constraints of two dimensions, using tools such as perspective, foreshortening and chiaroscuro to deceive the eye, Picasso and Braque discarded these methods, and instead allied themselves with the single plane of the canvas. Instead of hindering the depiction of physical space, however, the cubists believed their methods to be much more comprehensive of the essence of an object and its dimesional transition, or "Planar Articulation" as Cezanne called it, than any single-viewpoint linear perspective work of the 19 th century.
In Braque's early 1910 work Violin and Pitcher (LEFT), it is impossible to conceive that the physical objects were regarded from only one angle as they were being put to canvas. Instead, the work seems to be a kind of collage of viewpoints, or a record of the artist's progress as he moves around the studio, regarding the scene from infinite angles. The strings of the violin move up the body of the instrument and then hang suspended in space as they come into contact not with the fretted fingerboard and tuning pegs as they would in nature, but the convex underside of the neck, onto which the volute head is attached at 90 degrees. Conversely, the movement of the subject matter itself can be recorded in this style; in Girl with a Mandolin, we are given the distinct impression of strumming motion of the girl's right hand over the strings. The faint lines of her four fingers portrayed left to right as well as diagonally off her hand parallel to the strings. A less subtle version of a similar method can be seen in Marcel Duchamp's 1912 work Nude Descending a Staircase (LEFT) where Duchamp employs a more dynamic form similar to Cubism to portray successive movements of a single body.
Light, too, is subject to manipulation and dissection for the sake of the essence of the scene. The pin which attaches the document to the wall at the top of Violin and Pitcher casts its shadow to the right, whereas the dog-ear on the corner of the page below casts its shadow left. Such blatant irregularities in logic almost instruct the viewer not to be bound by the constraints of fundamental laws like light and gravity when analyzing the picture for themselves. Indeed, if the works were taken at face value and such physical laws applied to them, aside from their aesthetic appeal they would be nonsense. The composition is more than just a multi-angular view of a scene, however. It is a profound observation on the fundamental notions of art / nature relationships.
Instead of using paint to manipulate the surface of a canvas so it depicts true nature, Braque and Picasso manipulate nature in order to adapt it to the surface of the canvas. Instead of attempting to give the canvas an extra dimension, they detract one from what they see. At a glance, one of the pieces most detached from its apparent subject matter would definitely be Picasso's Ma Jolie (RIGHT), a portrait of his lover Marcelle Humbert, who suffered from tuberculosis in secret for fear of being left by Picasso if he found out. In this piece especially, the detachment of the Cubist style from nature as well as from the principles of previous movements is most apparent. Picasso tried to capture the effect of his muse on himself and the environment, rather than loyally record her physical features through a lover's eyes, as would have been the norm only a few years previously. Perhaps the reason this work seems especially disjointed is due to Picasso's particular intimacy with the subject.
The concepts he desires to portray are so fervent that no trace of the physical can be left to dilute their purity. It seems that he paints more of the process of rationalizing the infinite facets of a lover, both physical and emotional, into a form that can be accepted by the canvas, than of the lover herself. Indeed, apart from a pair of stylized hands constituted of geometric shapes, there is little to suggest that there is any human subject in the piece at all. What is it then which makes this portrayal of a lover any different from the portrayal of any woman in the same style? In regard to the misogynistic Picasso, the answer is probably very little, or if not, known only by the artist himself.
Picasso finally did learn of Marcelle's condition when she was hospitalized in 1915 and, true to her fears, he almost immediately took up a neighbor as his new lover. The deconstruction of Picasso's life into a plethora of fleeting infatuations which lasted as long as they were passionate, convenient and inspiring parallels the deconstruction of his images. By the nature of the Analytic Cubist works of Picasso and Braque from 1909 to 1911, fundamental concepts, such as form, space and light, may at first glance appear to have been severely neglected by the artist. The dislocation of the components of the subject matter mean the actual content is often only discernable after scrutiny of the work's title. The resulting work of art could be seen as a "side effect" of the process that is Cubism.
When applied to a subject matter, this process makes for a composition which, however indecipherable to the eye, is infinitely discriptive of its transition from three-dimesional space to two-dimensional plane. BIBLIOGRAPHY Rubin, W. Picasso and Braque: Pioneering Cubism. 1989, Museum of Modern Art Press, New York. Cottington, D. Cubism: Movements in Modern Art.
1998, Cambridge University Press, England. Shapiro, M. The Unity of Picasso's Art. 2001, George Brazil ler, USA. Rosenblum, R. Cubism and Twentieth-Century Art.
2001, Harry N Abrams, England. Cooper, D. The Cubist Epoch. 1995, Phaidon, USA..