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Cubism

Explore how Cubist artists shattered conventions of representation and perspective.


Man with a Guitar

Georges Braque
(French, 1882–1963)

1912. Oil on canvas, 45 3/4 x 31 7/8" (116.2 x 80.9 cm)

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 a lifelike rendering of a nail and rope (top left corner), with a nearly indecipherable rendering of a man playing a guitar.

Abandoning traditional use of perspective, Braque created a convincing three-dimensional illusion of space, challenging viewers to understand a subject broken down into its geometrical components and often represented from several angles at once. He once said, “Fragmentation helped me to establish space and movement in space.”

A work of art made from paint applied to canvas, wood, paper, or another support (noun).

The visual or narrative focus of a work of art.

A distinctive or characteristic manner of expression.

The visual portrayal of someone or something.

Technique used to depict volumes and spatial relationships on a flat surface, as in a painted scene that appears to extend into the distance.

Resembling or using the simple rectilinear or curvilinear lines used in geometry.

Originally a term of derision used by a critic in 1908, Cubism describes the work of Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and those influenced by them. Working side by side, they developed a visual language whose geometric planes and compressed space challenged what had been the defining conventions of representation in Western painting: the relationship between solid and void, figure and ground. Traditional subjects—nudes, landscapes, and still lifes—were reinvented as increasingly fragmented compositions. Cubism’s influence extended to an international network of artists working in Paris in those years and beyond.

Shifting Style
Braque’s early landscapes were bright and Impressionistic, similar to those of his contemporary Henri Matisse. After viewing Paul Cézanne’s retrospective in 1907, Braque intensified his study of the effects of light and perspective on common objects, breaking the still life apart into abstracted fragments.