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Picasso: The Artist's Studio
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Picasso: The Artist's Studio

Who Was Picasso?


<I>The Architect's Table,</I> early 1912<BR>Oil on canvas mounted on oval panel
<BR>The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The William S. Paley Collection, 1971
<BR>[Cat. no. 11]
The Architect's Table, early 1912
Oil on canvas mounted on oval panel
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The William S. Paley Collection, 1971
[Cat. no. 11]
©2001 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Primitivism and Cubism

In 1907 Picasso shocked fellow artists with his painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Incorporating violent distortions of form and space, the painting synthesized Picasso’s recent studies of ancient Iberian and African sculpture. Early signs of Cubism appear in the radical breaking and reconstruction of space, the flattened forms, and the reversal of figure/ground relationships. Even Picasso found the painting so unsettling that he did not exhibit it for nearly a decade. Many art historians now recognize Les Demoiselles d’Avignon as a landmark in the history of art, the first Cubist (or proto-Cubist) painting, and perhaps the most important painting of the 20th century.

From 1908 to 1914, Picasso worked closely with Georges Braque (1882–1963) in the invention and development of Cubism. Building upon Paul Cézanne’s discoveries, Cubism radically altered the way Western artists had structured pictorial space since the Renaissance. Rather than creating an illusion of space moving away from the viewer, Cubism introduced a new freedom to break up and rearrange space. Foreground and background often merge in Cubist compositions; objects may be depicted from several sides simultaneously, implying that the viewer is not fixed, but is actively moving around the object. Positive and negative shapes are often reversed, so that solid objects become transparent, and space rendered like a solid, geometric form.

Picasso and Braque developed Cubism through stages art historians define as Analytic (1908–11) and Synthetic (1912–24). During the Analytic phase, Picasso analysized the essential, geometric shape of objects and their relation to surrounding space. During the Synthetic phase, he often constructed images from a prior mental idea, thereby signaling a shift from perceptual to conceptual vision. In 1912 Picasso and Braque also took the revolutionary step of incorporating into their paintings real or found objects, such as pieces of newsprint and wood, thereby inventing the new techniques of papier-collé and collage.

During the early stages of Cubism, Picasso and Braque rarely contributed to large public exhibitions. By 1909 Picasso enjoyed sufficient support from private collectors and dealers that he no longer needed to participate in large public salons. Consequently, his early Cubist paintings were known mostly to a small group of connoisseurs and fellow artists, many of whom adopted the style and brought it to public attention. Other artists developed Cubist principles of spatial construction in new directions. Cubism provided the foundation for an astonishing variety of avant-garde styles, including Futurism, Orphism, Constructivism, and Neo-Plasticism. Its influence appears ubiquitously in 20th-century art and design, from the International Style in architecture to Abstract Expressionism and other art movements. Many critics regard the invention of Cubism by Picasso and Braque as the most important event in the history of modern art.

<I>Self-Portrait with Palette</I>, 1906<BR>Oil on canvas
<BR>Philadelphia Museum of Art. A. E. Gallatin Collection
<BR>[Cat. no. 8]
Self-Portrait with Palette, 1906
Oil on canvas
Philadelphia Museum of Art. A. E. Gallatin Collection
[Cat. no. 8]
©2001 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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