Definition of Analytic Cubism by Picasso & Braque (1909-1912)

Analytical cubism – a short period in the work of the legendary painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist Pablo Picasso that changed the direction of the development of the whole 20th-century world art and lasted only 2-2.5 years.

The best examples of the style were created in 1910 and 1911, although some works were written in 1909, at the end of the so-called Cezanne or African period, and even later, in 1912, at the beginning of the colorful and concrete synthetic cubism period. Picasso believed that art is capable of more than just showing the things that our eye sees. He thought that there must be a way to show the world as it is “in reality”.

The Reservoir by Picasso (1909) (analytical cubism)
             The Reservoir by Picasso (1909)

Main Characteristics of Analytical Cubism

We should not paint something that we see, but something that we know, try to show things and phenomena that are not visible but exist. Not the things themselves but their Platonic ideas so to say. But how can we do that? First of all, we need to get rid of color, the “coloring” of the world.

The fact that the world is colorful is just an optical illusion. One of the most distinguishing features of the paintings painted during the period of analytical cubism – monochrome. “Color weakens!” – stated Picasso, while watching Matisse’s experiments in painting and focusing mostly on the form and the size of subjects.

The second thing that we need to refuse from is accentuality, severalty of objects, their differences in texture and material. Careful depiction of dust, hairs, silks, and velvet by painters of the past is no longer relevant. All these differences only seem but the reality is one and the same.

The “substance of the world”, from which all these things are “made”, is also the same. In the picture “Girl with a Mandolin”, you will not distinguish the “material” out of which a girl or a mandolin is “made”. Moreover, the table in “The Architect’s Table” is made from the same substance.

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And the third thing is that any perspective fully disappears in analytical cubism. If the goal is to portray the concept of the subject itself, where exactly it is located, far or near, it is irrelevant. As a result, in cubist paintings we can see a very strange, fantastic, flickering monochrome image which creates the illusion of metaphysical space, bulging with its edges of the canvas plane.

A subject and the background surrounding it – are one and the same. The separate items in this unified structure of the reality do not have clearly defined borders. All sort of figurativeness disappears. We just see incomprehensible, icy, fragmented, homogeneous mass which has no texture, no internal differences. We can guess what is depicted only with the help of specific details, hints that Picasso called “attributes”.

The Accordionist by Picasso (1911) (analytical cubism)
        The Accordionist by Picasso (1911)

Analytic Cubism & The Theory of Relativity

Sometimes it may seem that a hand, a mustache, a key or a neck of the guitar is visible but they are “made” of one and the same conditional “substance”. Sometimes in the jumble of broken planes, you can manage to catch the shoulder line, a hint or the outline of the bottle. But these are only the signs and the symbols of those objects, not the objects themselves. Cubism thus set itself not a pictorial but a philosophical task. Obviously, it’s way easier to draw some particular thing than the very notion of this thing or, in the words of Picasso, “the knowing” of this thing.

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Try not to picture a room filled with objects, but the very “fullness”, that very “materiality”. Some art critics make hypotheses that one of the roots of cubism could be the interest of contemporary artists in the natural-scientific picture of the world, which was forming just at that period of time. It is known that Picasso and Braque were keenly interested in the theory of relativity. And here, in particular, could stem their search of methods which imagine the things that lie beneath the visible world.

Houses on the Hill Horta de Ebro by Picasso (1909) (analytical cubism)
           Houses on the Hill Horta de Ebro by Picasso (1909)

They wanted to find out, to “analyze” (hence – “Analytical Cubism”) the way the world is really “made” or organized, not the way it looks. They tried to “open” the external, previously veiled with the gloss of traditional realistic painting, a form of the subject, gut it, turn it inside out, show what’s inside.

And all these objects, landscapes, people in their paintings appear as an abstract “matter” taken to pieces. These pieces were also called “cubes” by some arrogant critics. As you can see, the artists are also looking for the fundamental principles of a human being. Perhaps this is the way cubism interprets the primeval chaos, hidden under the surface of habitual things.

    The Founders of Analytical Cubism

It is believed that the founder of the cubism art movement was not only Picasso but also his friend and colleague Georges Braque, who managed to estimate the value of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon – most essential Picasso’s cubist work. Since 1907, he joined Picasso’s artistic search and later became an equal partner in their creative union. It was a real co-creation – continuous meetings, discussions, sharing their findings and experience.

So it can be said that they began to create their artworks almost as one person. The early works of analytical cubism include landscapes, still made by Picasso in Horta de Ebro – Factory, the Reservoir, Houses on the hill (1909). Later in 1910, he painted several portraits of his art dealers – Wilhelm Uhde, merchant, businessman, entrepreneur Ambroise Vollard, and Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler.

Daniel Henry Kahnweiler by Picasso (1910) (analytical cubism)
   Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler by Picasso (1910)

The Most Famous Painting of This Period of Cubism

The portrait of Henry Kahnweiler is considered to be one of the best examples of this stage of cubism. A great desire to penetrate into the inner nature of the three-dimensional object, to comprehend the essence of space which it occupies, as well as that space, within limits of which it is situated, brought a closer analysis to life, making all the familiar surface contours of an object deprive of their usual opacity.

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An impenetrable screen of appearance was forced to undergo crystallization, which gave it more transparency. Each facet is set on the edge in order to allow us to assess the volumes lying beneath its surface. We don’t need to caress with our look, a smooth external rind – the shell of the phenomena. Instead, a transparent structure similar to a cell appears right before our eyes, in which both surface and depth are equally accessible to vision.

A portrait of Wilhelm Unde by Picasso (1910) (Analytical Cubism)
   A portrait of Wilhelm Unde by Picasso (1910)

Then Picasso creates the masterpieces of the cubism style, the samples of “high”, refined cubism – The Poet, Accordionist, Clarinet, Still Life with Bottle of Rum. Finally, in 1912, the last artworks of analytical cubism period appear – A Man with A Guitar, Ma Jolie (1911-1912). After this, the cubist compositions are becoming more colorful and decorative – a period of synthetic cubism starts.

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2 thoughts on “Definition of Analytic Cubism by Picasso & Braque (1909-1912)

  1. “It is believed that the founder of the cubism art movement was not only Picasso but also his friend and colleague Georges Braque”

    Good grief.
    Braque was essential to the idea of cubist, not some incidental side note in its history

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