In this painting, the subject indicated by the title is barely decipherable: the figure has been broken into individual facets, to the point of its dispersal in space. Rendered in a limited palette of brown, green, and gray tones, the shapes seem to shift and interpenetrate, oscillating between surface and void before finally dissolving into an atmospheric background. Nevertheless, it is not an abstract picture. To keep the painting tethered to the real world, Braque included several identifiable details, such as the man’s profile at the top, a sharp angle that seems to represent the crook of his elbow, the guitar’s sound hole, and a realistically painted nail and coil of rope.
The artist began Man with a Guitar in the summer of 1911, a high moment in the development of the style that came to be known as Analytic Cubism. Rather than depict depth through traditional perspectival recession, Braque, together with Pablo Picasso, sought to create a new, nonnaturalistic vocabulary for articulating form, challenging the orthodoxy of illusionistic space in painting. Braque later recalled that in this intense period he and Picasso visited one another’s studios every day: they were “like mountain climbers roped together.”
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
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.
Gallery label from 2011.