CUBISM: Pablo Picasso and Juan Gris Paintings

Portrait of Pablo Picasso
by 
Juan Gris

If you are looking at a painting done by one of the best painters of the twentieth century, and you can understand nothing about the figures painted, then most probably the painting is done by none other than Pablo Picasso. 

Yes, he had drawn the figures on canvas in such a manner, you would need an artist's eye to appreciate it. His cubism style of painting did a revolution in the field of art. Cubist painting is unique in style and rhythm of putting paints on canvas, in a non-linear and segmented manner. Many of his canvases shake the people. He became more and more popular by shaking the people more and more. He kept shaking people for a period of more than half of a century. People kept buying his painting at a price of from $100 million to $200 Million.

In most of the conventional paintings, you would find one perspective. One focal point. The objects painted would look like their historically-assigned shapes. That is what all the artists do.  Picasso had taken a different direction. His style of painting, Cubism, was a movement of art wherein you would find multiple perspectives. In his paintings, it would be futile to search for a single viewpoint. While looking at a painting, we want to find the known shapes. That is what we do while appreciating the other artworks. 

Cubism is a departure. A long departure from the traditional ways of painting the objects. You would find the lines of one object painted conversing into another object. While looking at a cubist art piece, you would be on a special journey. You would feel that you have booked a long-distance air-ticket and landed on a virgin island of lush green geometric luggage. 

Spanish artist Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) initiated and enriched the painting style of cubism. Other important artists of the cubism style of paintings were French artist Georges Braque and Paul Cezanne. These artists basically disagreed with the concept that the artists should adopt the conventional methods of painting. They also rejected the belief that the artist should reflect nature, especially the forms of natural objects. 

The rejection of natural selection and the disagreements with the traditional concepts: these two concepts led the cubism artists to carve out a canvas-fresh style of painting named cubism. While doing a painting, a cubism artist breaks the surface or the painting area into small segments. Then he or she endeavours to covert the natural forms into geometrical ones. There emerges an abstract looking painting, a cubist painting. 

Pablo Picasso 
Argentina. Revista Vea y Lea

In one of his paintings, A Girl with Violin, Picasso would have imagined a girl in his mind like this: one square for head and neck and for the rest of the body there would be similar small squares. The painting titled A Girl with Violin by Picasso is one of the best cubist paintings. In this painting, Picasso had used a palette with relatively subdued colours. However, the painting that swept away the whole world of art traditions was the "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" painting by Picasso. This painting "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" was sold at the unprecedented price of $1.2 Billion. It is displayed in the Museum of Modern Art, New York City. Ar 

Cubism is a novel style of planting colours on the fields of canvases. Here the artists look at the objects as a normal person would look. Thereafter he would imagine the same object only as geometrical forms, like circles, triangles, cylinder, cones. Mainly in two-dimensional forms.  Following the imagined geometry, the artist transports that cubist imagination to the canvas. and finally, the mental image of an artist becomes a cubist art-piece.

About the colours, these artists follow the convention. Thank God. They use every hue of every colour and each shade of all the colours. Mainly in a cubist painting, the artists use both cool and bright colours. Picasso and Braque had used subdued colours, too, in some of their famous paintings.

The Musician's Table        Juan Gris    1926
Queen Sofia National Museum Art Centre, Madrid, Spain

In this innovative painting style, what attracts our attention most is how the artists deal with the objects they paint. Look what hey do. First of all, they break up these objects, they analysed the things to be painted, and conceive the reshaped images;  reshaped as per their mental image. Finally, they re-assemble them in a summarized form. Though the objects painted are discernible, we have to take artistic help to understand the paintings.  The reason is that the things painted are dissected or bisected into the things they really refer to; the natural part of it.

Cubism was really an innovative idea, a unique art form. In these types of paintings, the objects, or the limbs of a figure, would not create a feeling of logical depth. A cubist painting consists of the planes that might be semi-transparent and intertwined. The final output might look like an abstract painting. Cubism is such an art-form that while looking at it you would require a certain level of perception about the said art. 

Look what Pablo Picasso said once about the art of cubism. He said: 

Cubism is not a reality you can take in your hand. It's more like a perfume, in front of you, behind you, to the sides, the scent is everywhere but you don’t quite know where it comes from.

Africanism of Art:   Every artist gets inspiration from the work of art done by other artists. We take inspiration from other cultures, too. Picasso had that opportunity. His visit to a museum of African art in Paris inspired him. There he saw the African sculpture, the Egyptian culture. The presence of the masks attracted his attention most. He would use the masks in many of his future paintings. Picasso's single visit to a museum and his seeing the fascinating African art had ended on a creative land of wonderful art-forms.The Artis

         Portrait of Pablo Picasso by Juan Gris
         Oil on Canvas  Art Institute of Chicago

The cubist painters like Pablo Picasso and Braque had added new impetus and qualities in the movement in the art-forms in general and cubism paintings in particular. These painters, including their contemporary artists like Juan Gris and other art-followers, mainly concentrated on the geometrical figures rather than the colours. 

The colours in the cubist palettes remained much narrowed in number; mainly using ochre, grey and blue making the painting a monochromatic one. The beginning of the cubist movement of painting is also accredited to Paul Cézanne. About the colours, Cezanne had used all the shades and hues in his paintings. 

Juan Gris (1887 -1927), one of the artists who were Picasso's close friends, was a famous Spanish artist. He painted in the style of cubism. He was born in Spain in the city of Madrid, where he studied in the field of engineering. That helped him in his creative journey. Yes, education helps. Juan Gris travelled to France, an attractive platform of art; and he spent the years of his art-career in France. Juan Gris had a strong passion for painting. He was a man of humour, too. Look what he had said once: "I always pat a dog with my left hand because if he bit me I would still have my right hand to paint with."

Juan Gris, An Artist: Juan Gris's art pieces possess higher clearness; so far as the geometric composition on the canvas was concerned. However, as the cubist artists would do, he was used to blurring the line which divided the objects painted. The lines dividing the subject being painted, and the background of the subject was so directed that there will be some magical mix-up. Juan's engineering skill also found expression in his art. If we analyse his paintings closely, his depiction of the objects in a non-linear style had the fragrance of his engineering knowledge.  

Still Life with Checked Table Cloth           Juan Gris
Oil on canvas - Metropolitan Museum of Art,
New York City

Gris had exposed most of his artistic valour. Unlike other cubist painters, we can notice the peripheral lines of the object painted. Look at the different parts of the face that is painted: the nose, the eyes, the hairstyle, the lips and the coat. Really, we can identify these different parts of the face! However, the painting is surely a cubist one, as used the space on canvas as the other cubist artist would use.s, 

If the monetary aspect of the paintings done by an artist were to be referred to, Juan Gris was a successful artist. His paintings used to fetch a very good amount in the art market. 

One of his paintings, Still Life with Checked Table Cloth, which is given here, was sold for $ 57.1 million. It had passed all of the previous records of prices of Juan Gris's paintings. Presently this painting is displayed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. [All the images are in the Public Domain, taken from Wikimedia Commons]

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