Illustrated companion

Cubism was chiefly created by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque between 1908 and 1913 and developed further by them until at least 1921. Picasso and Braque were joined in 1912 by Juan Gris. It was Gris who in 1925 wrote that, at the start, Cubism was 'simply a new way of representing the world' and one way of approaching Cubism is to look at in terms of a game played with the conventions of representation in painting. The principal convention that Cubism overturned was that which states that everything in a painting must be seen from a single fixed viewpoint. This was the basis of Renaissance perspective, which enabled the creation on a flat surface of the illusion of space and solid form. In 1907 Braque did a drawing showing the same figure drawn from the front, the back and the side, and in 1908 in an interview he said that it was 'necessary to draw three figures in order to portray every physical aspect of a woman just as a house must be drawn in plan, elevation and section.' Cubism began to develop its typical faceted, fragmented structure when these extra aspects were grafted on to a main view of the motif. This effect quickly led Picasso and Braque to extend the game by freely distributing the component parts of the motif. 'A face' said Picasso, 'consists of eyes, nose, ears, etc. You can put them anywhere in the picture, the face remains a face'. Something of this extreme fragmentation can be seen in Braque's 'Clarinet and Bottle of Rum on a Mantlepiece' [Tate Gallery T02318]. 'Seated Nude' the model is still very recognisable, indeed she is a powerful if somewhat mechanical presence. However, her neck appears to be hollow and Picasso has also simply left out, or put elsewhere in the picture, a substantial wedge-shaped piece of her left shoulder.

An earlier stage of this process of shifting viewpoints and faceting of the image can be seen in Picasso's 'Bust of a Woman' of about a year before, where the process of fragmentation has hardly begun [Tate Gallery N05915]. The head in this painting also reveals his interest in the structure of West African tribal masks. Particularly since they are, by coincidence, of virtually the same motif, these two paintings in the Tate Gallery collection form an interesting document of Picasso's evolution at this formative time in the development of Cubism.

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.118