Modern Art and the Object: A Century of Changing Attitudes

By Ellen H. Johnson | Go to book overview

4 The Painting Freed

On the Role of the Object in Analytic Cubism

'I put all the things I like into my pictures. The things - so much the worse for them; they just have to put up with it.' This remark, 1 made by Picasso in 1935 to Christian Zervos, underlines the dual nature of Picasso's relationship to objects, his dependence upon them and his subjugation of them, in terms of forms working in a painting. The remark also serves to point up the Janus-like position of cubism in the history of modem painting. Cubism looks backward in its analysis of visual reality and forward in its subjugation of visual reality towards the complete disregard of the object in 'non-objective' painting. Emphasis on the latter, the revolutionary, aspect of cubism has tended to cloud the former, the traditional, aspect of cubism. The following study of a single cubist painting by Picasso was undertaken as a means of determining as precisely as possible the nature and degree of the dependence, as well as independence, of the cubist composer in his treatment of objects.

Picasso says 'There is no abstract art. You must always start with something.' 2 An attempt is made in this essay to identify some of the objects with which Picasso started in the process of painting a given cubist picture. To do so is not to minimize the role of Picasso the transformer and creator, as he forces the objects 'to put up with' his use of them. On the contrary, the intent of this analysis is to discover how the forms of objects aid Picasso in creating pictorial form as he represents, modifies, and transforms objects around him which interest him, partly for themselves and their associational value for him, and partly because their forms suggest pictorial form to him.

In 1933, Roger Fry declared, 'Le Verre d'absinthe by Picasso at least is a more or less pure painting in the sense that, as there is no recognizable object, we cannot look for associated ideas.' 3 That picture, The Glass of Absinthe (68), painted in I9II and now in the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College, is an excellent and characteristic example of analytic cubism, wherein objects are viewed, remembered, and conceived in several aspects and from several observation points at the same time. The object images are invaded, concealed and enriched by overlappings, reflections, transparencies, shadows, repetitions, variations from shifting angles, rotating positions, and differences in scale, and

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