Elizabeth Choi - Picasso and Early Cubism with Braque


In the spring of 1907, Georges Braque visited the studio of Pablo Picasso for the first time. In the years that followed, the two artists, apparently so different in background, temperament, and possibly even in aesthetic, became essential to each other. They forged a relationship that was part intimate friendship, part rivalry, and part two-man expedition into the unknown. The young men were constantly in each other’s studio, scrutinizing each other’s work, challenging, stimulating, and encouraging each other. They went off to paint in different places and returned to compare results. They invented nicknames for each other, shared jokes and pranks, dressed up in each other’s clothes and took photographs. Along the way, they invented a new language of painting that shattered time-honored conventions of representation: Cubism.


Geo. Braque at Picasso's Studio



The works of Paul Cézanne inspired Picasso and Braque in the early 20th century. Particularly, they examined the fragmented space of Cézanne’s paintings, the ambiguity of forms in space, the ambiguity of foreground/background - of whether an object is in from of or behind another object, objects that tended to dissolve, leading to abstraction, and the simple forms of cubes, spheres, and cones. African art was also influential. Picasso and Braque looked at the simple geometric forms and masks. From these various types and components of art, they developed the style that came to be known as Cubism.

Some important aspects of Cubism include facetted forms, a very limited palette, and multiple views of the subject. In some of Picasso’s portraits, you can see the frontal view and profile of the person. The Cubist style emphasized the flat, two-dimensional surface of the picture plane, rejecting the traditional techniques of perspective. Foreshortening, modeling, and chiaroscuro (the arrangement of light and dark elements in a pictorial work of art) were included, and time-honored theories of art as the imitation of nature were refuted. Cubist painters were not bound to copying form, texture, color, and space. Instead, they presented a new reality in paintings that depicted radically fragmented objects, whose several sides were seen simultaneously.

Picasso painted Les Demoiselles D’Avignon in 1908. It was a radical departure from the artistic ideas of the preceding ages and is now considered the most significant work in the development of Cubism and modern art. Its fragmented forms and unprecedented distortions are apparently inspired by the work of Cézanne and African art. The painting began as a narrative brothel scene, with five prostitutes and two men — a medical student and a sailor. But the painting metamorphosed as he worked on it. Picasso painted over the clients, leaving the five women to gaze out at the viewer with their terrifyingly bold and apprehensive faces. There is a strong undercurrent of sexual anxiety.

Picasso painted one of his several Self-portraits in 1907. The eyes are staring at the audience full in the face. However, if you look at the nose, the nose does not come down straight but appears to be turned towards the right. This suggests a three-quarters view of the face, which contradicts the full-face view suggested by the eyes. Also, the eyes make such a strong impression because the left eye has been turned round to look out full-face (in relation to the nose). This makes a more arresting effect, not because it is arbitrary or brutal but it is counterbalanced by the hair, head and ear being turned round towards the front on the opposite, right-hand side.


House in a Garden (House with Trees) was painted in 1908. The painting mostly consists of greens and cream colors. The leaves and grass are fragmented. The tree’s branches have curves as well as sharp angles. The house in the garden and the wall around the garden are made of simple geometric figures.

In 1907, Picasso painted Vase, Bowl, and Lemon. Paul Cézanne’s influence was evident in this piece. His doctrine of Cubism during this time defined what Cubism was made of. "Everything in nature takes its form from the sphere, cone or cylinder." Simple geometric shapes were used. The background tends to dissolve and the shapes on the left of the vase are indistinguishable. Picasso used darker colors on the left side of the painting and he used warmer colors on the right side.

In 1908, The Peasant Woman was created. The Cubist feature of geometric shapes is found in this piece. It appears that the woman’s head is facing downward and the top of her head faces the viewer. However, after looking a bit more closely, the top of her head may actually be her face. There is a shape in the middle of the head that could be her nose and she could be wearing glasses. Her dress or skirt meets at a point in the center and it seems that her knees and arms are bent. The woman’s feet are rectangular and the toes are not distinct. The background is a bit fuzzy and it is hard to tell whether the woman is sitting on something or if she is standing. She does cast a shadow, however, against the wall she is in front of.

Landscape with Bridge, 1909, Picasso

Picasso painted Landscape with Bridge in the next year. He used many different shades of brown. The pieces of rock are broken into fragments and you can see the different textures of the rock by the variety of brushstrokes he used. The land on top of the bridge is also made of different pieces. The water under the bridge is hard to distinguish from the rocks making up most of the picture. The straight stick-like figure on the left appears to be a tree trunk.

Cubism is a highly influential visual arts style of the 20th century that was created principally by the painters Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in Paris between 1907 and 1914. Cubism derived its name from remarks that were made by the painter Henri Matisse and the critic Louis Vauxcelles, who scornfully described Braque's 1908 work House at L'Ebstaque as composed of cubes. In Braque's work, the volumes of the houses, the cylindrical forms of the trees, and the tan-and-green color scheme are reminiscent of Paul Cézanne's landscapes, which deeply inspired the Cubists in their first stage of development, until 1909.

It was, however, Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon in 1907 that forecast the new style. In this work, the forms of five female nudes became fractured, angular shapes. As in Cézanne's art, perspective was rendered by means of color, the warm reddish browns advancing and the cool blues receding. The influences that Cubism gave on the other forms of art and other artists are significant.  During the years when Picasso and Braque were developing Cubism, the movement influenced the other artists. The movement also inspired much of modern architecture, sculptures, clothes, and even literature.