Futurism: room guide, room 3, Paris: Cubism Room 3, Paris: Cubism

Pablo Picasso, ‘Head of a Woman (Fernande)’ 1909
Pablo Picasso
Head of a Woman (Fernande) 1909
Lent from a private collection 1994
© Succession Picasso/DACS 2018, courtesy Private Collection

In 1911-12, many among the international community of artists drawn to Paris acknowledged Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque as the most radical. Collaborating closely in their Montmartre studios, their analysis of the form of everyday objects was far more penetrating than the simple term ‘Cubism’ implied. Under their investigation, form fragmented so that multiple views of objects were built into scaffolds of fine structures. They drift in and out of legibility, accumulating snatches of the familiar. In this they resemble the poetry constructed from comments overheard in the street by their friend Guillaume Apollinaire.

In 1911 Picasso and Braque’s near-abstract Cubism was at its most complex and hermetic. It was at this moment that Severini urged Boccioni and Carrà to visit the Parisian avant-garde salons and studios. There is no doubt that they learnt the formal lessons fast. When they returned to Paris with their 1912 exhibition, they astounded the art world with their ability to combine the latest style with their own particular concerns. The reception could be hostile; as Apollinaire wrote of the States of Mind: ‘This is the most dangerous kind of painting imaginable. It will inevitably lead the Futurist painters to become mere illustrators.’