Curator Emeritus, John Elderfield: We know that the title of the movement, Cubism, owes to a quip that Matisse made in 1908 when he saw some landscapes which Braque had submitted to an exhibition and referred to these as having little cubes in them. But certainly by 1911, the date of this picture, the aim was to analyze the volume of figures into a succession of planesthat is flat surfacesvisible to the eye.
So, what are we looking at here? The title tells us that its a man with a guitar. Braque actually helps you by giving certain clues. In the center of the picture, little lines indicate where the guitar is, and then, a big diagonal, running from the right hand side down to the bottom left corner. Once you lock onto that you then can see the actual shape of the figure. To the left of the picture that broad diagonal is the right arm bending in to touch the guitar. And the general pyramidal shape has to end at the top with the figure's face.
You really have this sense of reality deforming, reforming as your eyes move across the painting, that something which looks like shading could also be color, something which seems to be curved forward could be curved back, you know? And this is one of the great, great pleasures of Cubist painting, that they are really thrilling fields for visual investigation.
Braque painted Man with a Guitar in a mode that came to be called Analytic Cubism. In works created in this style, he and Pablo Picasso experimented with different types of representation to challenge the orthodoxy of illusionistic space in painting. Here Braque paired an accessible, lifelike rendering of a nail and rope, at left, with a nearly indecipherable rendering of a human figure playing a guitar. Braque and Picasso's collaboration was so close when they developed Analytic Cubism that Braque later compared them to two mountaineers, bound together. In order to remove the mystique of the maker from their paintings, they both habitually signed the back of their works instead of the front.