Whaddaya lookin’ at? Braque’s Analytical phase of Cubism!

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Violin and Palette (1909-1910), Braque

The Analytical phase of Cubism involved, despite forms still remaining legible, the breaking of closed form, and the incorporation of illusionism. As seen in Violin and Palette, Braque has fragmented the outlines of the violin in order to express volume through the interlocking cubes. This extreme fragmentation allowed Braque to get “closer” to the simplest elements of his objects, “within the limits that painting would allow” and establish “space and movement in space.”

As well as a limited colour palette, there is also little sense of directional light and instead, it is the depiction of the structure of forms which have taken priority. As one of the first to express the concept of the ‘tableau-objet’, Braque paints at the top of the picture an illusionistic nail. This is very significant as, with the shadow the nail casts, Braque brings to light the perhaps overlooked fact that the canvas is simply a flat, painted surface which is tacked to a wall. This implies that the painting has its own reality, a “new reality” that the Cubists so strived to portray in their work. Reflecting the social changes of the 20th century, Braque questions reality- merging what we conceive to be real, and what we take to be an illusion, in order to create a new and ambiguous reality.

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Le Portugais (1911-1912), Braque

In this late stage of Analytical Cubism, figures and objects are very hard to read and come close to Abstraction. ‘Hermetic’ means concealed, and it is no doubt then that the image is hidden amongst contrasting elements on the picture plane. The subject of this painting, a guitar player in a cafe, blends into his ambiguous background through passage and from this, the vertical and horizontal lines create a “scaffold”, a ‘web-like’ structure on the picture plane, clouding the clarity of the subject. Keys and clues enables us to reconstruct the image… a sounding hole and the strings of a guitar enable us to detach the presence (if not the total image) of a musical instrument from the compositional fabric into which it is woven.

This was the first Cubist painting to incorporate letters and numbers. In conjunction to the subject matter (cafe lifestyle and music), the letters ‘BAL’ -or dance- is advertised along with the time 10.40pm. During the early 20th century, it was still quite novel to see shop/cafe windows decorated with signs and prices and so, through incorporating these letters and numbers, Braque is alluding very much to the ‘new’ way of life adopted by those living in the modern and buzzing society of the time.

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