Analytical Cubism
History, Characteristics of Abstract Analytic Art Invented by Picasso & Braque.

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Analytical Cubism (c.1909-12)

Characteristics of Analytical Cubism
Analytical Cubism Rejected Single Point Perspective
Simultaneity: the Fourth Dimension in Painting
Structure is Paramount: Colour Downplayed
Similarity of Style
Superceded By Synthetic Cubism
Importance of Analytic Cubism
Greatest Analytical Cubist Paintings


Picasso's Portrait of Ambroise Vollard (1909-10) ushered in a new style of Cubism - known as Analytical or Analytic Cubism. In this painting, Picasso disassembled a human figure into a series of flat transparent geometric plates that overlap and intersect at various angles. Suddenly all the cube-like imagery of early Cubist painting has disappeared. Indeed, from now on, there are no more cubes in Cubist art. Instead, the basic element of this painting style becomes the plane or facet - a small plate-shaped area, bounded by straight or curved lines, typically laid out in overlapping layers.

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Mandora (1909)
Tate Collection, London.
By Georges Braque.

Girl With Mandolin (1910)
Museum of Modern Art, New York.
By Picasso.

Tea Time (1911)
Philadelphia Museum of Art.
By Jean Metzinger.

Female Nude (1910-11)
Philadelphia Museum of Art.
By Picasso. This work obscures
rather than reveals the subject.

Characteristics of Analytical Cubism

A particularly austere form of avant-garde art, analytical Cubism was the most intellectual and uncompromising stage of the Cubism movement. In this style, the relatively solid masses of Braque's and Picasso's early paintings give way to a consistent process of composition in which the forms of the objects depicted are fragmented into a large number of small intricately hinged opaque and transparent plates or planes - all set in low relief at a slight angle to the picture plane - that fuse with one another and with the surrounding space. What's more, the edges of these planes dissolve, allowing their contents to leak into each other. Typically, forms are compact and dense in the middle of the painting, growing more diffuse toward the edges, as in Picasso's Girl with Mandolin (1910) and Braque's Mandora (1909). In very simple terms, this semi-abstract analytic Cubist approach can be likened to that of a photographer who takes a large number of photographs of an object, all from different angles and different times. These photographs are then cut up and rearranged almost at random on a flat surface, so that they overlap with each other.

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Analytical Cubism Rejected Single Point Perspective

Ever since 15th century Florentine Renaissance painters like Masaccio and Piero Della Francesca mastered the art of linear perspective, painting has been based on the idea of a single viewpoint. Thus a scene or object depicted on a canvas is always viewed exclusively from one fixed point in space, and at a fixed point in time. Picasso and Braque decided that this strict optical approach was insufficient, even dishonest, because it failed to represent the "truth". For instance, it couldn't show the side or rear view of the object; nor could it show the object at different times of the day. Picasso and Braque's solution was analytical Cubism, a revolutionary type of modern art which rejected single point perspective and sought to show the object from multiple angles, in differing lights. It was a conceptual image of an object, based upon what was known about it, rather than an optical image, based upon what was seen. In short, a type of intellectual experimentation with structure.

Note: To understand how Cubism is related to classicism, see our article: The Classical Revival in modern art (c.1900-30).

Simultaneity: the Fourth Dimension in Painting

After 1909 and up into 1912 the introduction and development of a complication known as simultaneity brings Cubism into its own as a revolutionary concept. The idea behind simultaneity is simple enough. The forms in Jean Metzinger's Tea Time (1911, Philadelphia Museum of Art), which suffers the unfortunate secondary title 'Mona Lisa with a Teaspoon', are broken into large facets or planes. But something else is happening too: in places these planes grow transparent in order to reveal other planes behind them; they cross and merge with these other planes. At the left a teacup and saucer are divided down their middle by a line, on one side of which they are seen head on, while on the other side they are seen from above. Theoretically we know more about the teacup because we see it from two angles at once, which is impossible when a teacup and saucer are represented in conventional perspective allowing a view from only one angle at a time.

Metzinger's teacup demonstrates in an elementary way the device of simultaneity - the simultaneous revelation of more than one aspect of an object in an effort to express the total image. In the case of the teacup the process is simple. Elsewhere in the picture the crossing and merging transparent planes are a more complicated application of the same idea. The left half of the head, if the right half is ignored or covered up, yields a profile. At the same time, it is included in a view of the full face. The argument that we have neither a good profile nor a good full face by usual representational standards is beside the point. The Cubist is not interested in usual representational standards. It is as if he were walking around the objects he is analyzing, as one is free to walk around a piece of sculpture for successive views. But he must represent all these views at once.

This is the famous "fourth dimension' in painting. For centuries painters had been satisfied to represent an illusion of three dimensions on a 2-D surface by means of a systematic distortion known as perspective. The third dimension in painting is depth by perspective; the fourth dimension is movement in depth, or time, or space-time, by the simultaneous presentation of multiple aspects of an object. A new systematic distortion is necessary for this new dimension, since the old one of perspective has been outgrown. But as the process of Analytical Cubism was explored, the objects subjected to its elaborations were destroyed. Picasso's Female Nude (1910-11, Philadelphia Museum of Art) is a fourth-dimensional complication of forms which began, no doubt, as forms similar to those in his earlier Seated Nude Woman (1908, Philadelphia Museum of Art). But as the planes overlap, turn on edge, recede, progress, lie flat, or turn at conflicting angles, the object from which they originated is lost rather than totally revealed. Note: For an explanation of some of the great Cubist paintings, see: Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).


Structure is Paramount: Colour Downplayed

This emphasis on structure led to colour being downplayed, so as not to distract the viewer, and archetypal analytical Cubist paintings are virtually monochromatic, painted in muted browns or warm greys. Ochres are often used for the planes or facets, black for the required outlines and contours, and white for surface highlights. This one-tone colour scheme (like the simple subject matter - faces, figures with musical instruments, still lifes) was ideally suited to an intricate multiple-layered abstract picture, where a degree of deciphering was required. Such an austere colour scheme avoided any suggestion of mood and emotion, and left the composition devoid of naturalistic and other symbolic or narrative associations, to allow the viewer to focus on the structural aspect of the painting. Picasso and Braque also saw it as a complete break from the decorative traditions of earlier avant garde painters, such as the Impressionists, Les Nabis and Fauvists. Other artists, however, notably Robert Delaunay and Andre Lhote (1885-1962) were not satisfied with this monochrome effect, and introduced more colour into their Analytic Cubist paintings. In Delaunay's case, this led him to pioneer a new form of painting which became known as Orphism or Orphic Cubism.

Note: despite its monochrome palette and emotional neutrality, analytic Cubist painting could swing from melancholy (Picasso's Seated Nude (1909-10) Tate Gallery) to sensuousness (Girl with a Mandolin (1910) private collection).

Similarity of Style

Both artists collaborated extremely closely during this period. As a craftsman's son, Braque was quick to fasten on new techniques, although his partner was able to use them more creatively. Examples of paintings which show how similiar the two were in style at this date - are Braque's The Portuguese (1911, Kunstmuseum, Basel) and Picasso's The Accordionist (1911, Guggenheim Museum, New York). It was in The Portuguese that Braque first incorporated stencilled letters, thus perhaps inadvertently signalling the shape of extraneous things to come.

Superceded By Synthetic Cubism

As we have seen, analytical Cubism involved the deconstruction of objects, and their reformation as multi-layered arrangements of overlapping panes, in order to enhance the "reality" of the painting process. As this deconstruction process increased in severity (compare Picasso's Portrait of Ambroise Vollard with his later Portrait of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler), pictures became less and less recognizable, verging on non-objective art. Then abruptly in 1912, they abandoned the style altogether and turned to what has become known as Synthetic Cubism - an equally revolutionary form of painting which used real-life materials as well as paint and canvas.

Importance of Analytical Cubism

For many laymen, analytical Cubism is Cubism. By comparison, the vivid colours of earlier Cubist-style paintings and later synthetic Cubism are far less well known. So was analytical Cubism as revolutionary as the art critics say? Did Picasso and Braque really create a new visual language in the visual arts? It is almost impossible to provide a proper answer to these questions a century after the event. Analytic Cubism was certainly hailed as revolutionary at the time, but not by the public: it was other artists, critics and dealers who were most impressed. This was largely because, with the exception of the 1913 Armory Show in New York, neither Picasso nor Braque exhibited their analytic Cubist works in public before the First World War. Even so, the idiom was adopted and developed by many painters in Paris, and promoted by art dealers like Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler and Leonce Rosenberg (1879-1947), so that by 1911 commentators were talking of a "Cubist School". Picasso continued to employ multiple-viewpoint Cubist-style imagery for much of his life (eg. Portrait of Dora Maar, 1937, Musee Picasso, Paris; Female Nude and Smoker, 1968, Galerie Rosengart, Lucerne), while Braque devoted much of his life to still life painting, in a variety of styles. Perhaps the fairest comment is to say: Yes, analytic Cubism was truly revolutionary, but not really for itself. It was revolutionary because it stimulated painters to rethink the canons of traditional art.

Greatest Analytical Cubist Paintings

Here is a short list of some of the best works of Analytical Cubism by Picasso and Braque.

Pablo Picasso:
Nude (1909) Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.
Young Woman (1909) Hermitage Museum.
Seated Nude (1909-10) Tate Gallery.
Woman Seated in a Chair (1910) Musee National d'Art Moderne.
Portrait of Ambroise Vollard (1910), Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts.
Portrait of Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler (1910), Art Institute of Chicago.
Girl with a Mandolin (Fanny Tellier) (1910) Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Portrait of Wilhelm Uhde (1910) Joseph Pulitzer Collection, St Louis.
Woman with a Guitar (1911), MoMA, NY.
The Pont-Neuf (1911) private collection.
Man with a Clarinet (1911-12) Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.
Table in a Cafe (Bottle of Pernod) (1912) Hermitage Museum.

Georges Braque:
Still Life with Herrings/Fish (1909-11), MoMA, NY.
Mandora (1909-10), Tate Gallery, London.
Still Life with Violin and Pitcher (1910), Kunstmuseum, Basel.
The Factories of Rio-Tinto in Estaque (1910) Musee National d'Art Moderne.
Violin and Candlestick (1910), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Violin and Palette (1910), Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York.
Still Life with a Violin (1911) Musee National d'Art Moderne.
Man with a Guitar (1911), MoMA, NY.
Still Life with Glass, Dice, Newspaper, Card (1913), Art Institute Chicago.

For works of art by other Cubists, see Cubist Painters.

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