What is common to all the studies is the general design of the picture (inspired by Cézanne's bather compositions, as well as by a certain influence of El Greco in the abstract breaking of the planes), and the incontestable predominance of form over color, which, in the left part, still suggests the warm monochromes of the Rose Period. The archaic severity, particularly of the figure at the extreme left, struck even the first viewers as "Egyptian"; after Gauguin, this was not unusual in a Parisian painter. Equally incontestable is the primitivism of the two central figures, particularly in the forms of their heads, inspired by the pre-Roman Iberian bronzes, whose sober, compact expression had strongly influenced Picasso as early as 1906.
On the other hand, the peculiarities of the two right-hand figures—such as, apart from the heads, the handle-like arm of the sitting woman and the enormous hand which supports her head—point to Picasso's acquaintance with Negro sculptures; we know that these even induced him to experiment with carvings in wood. There is some dispute as to when Picasso became acquainted with African masks, which had become popular among Paris painters a few years earlier. Presumably he first saw them only during his work on the large canvas so that the painting reflects both his short "Iberian" and "Negro" periods.
The Negro sculptures radically abstract from natural forms: with their large noses protruding at sharp angles from the concave faces, they are the very opposite of everything Classical. Under their influence Picasso completely negated the natural form, for the first time in the Demoiselles d'Avignon. The doglike face of the standing figure at the right, and the unnatural arrangement of eyes and mouth in the seated figure, show his determination to use signs whose form can no longer be directly measured by natural standards. But the painting, particularly the head at the upper right, also discloses a new attempt to reconcile solid and flat treatment through the delimitation of volumes by measurable planes: we are actually witnessing here the birth of Cubism, so named only one year later. In painting this head Picasso still compromises between the use of local color and the use of color as a means of distinguishing between various planes: this accounts for the green and red hatchings executed with the brush, which appear also on the breasts. The head of the seated woman also shows hatchings, but here they are confined to the closed blue planes, which are contrasted with the terracotta-colored face; in this Picasso unconsciously anticipates his later works.
With this painting, which was not understood even by broad-minded contemporary artists, Picasso entered a period of "horrible moral solitude." Kahnweiler testifies to this by quoting Derain who said that some day Picasso would hang himself behind his painting. Derain was mistaken: the Demoiselles d'Avignon, now in the Museum of Modern Art in New York with other epochal works by Picasso, became a landmark in the history of art of our century, and even though it was at the time accessible only to an insignificant number of European art lovers, it opened up entirely new horizons.
In the course of 1907 Picasso produced a number of other works in which the style of the elongated, concave, and pointed Negro masks with their large convex eyes and angular noses is combined with broad hatchings and an expressive, angular composition; among these is the representative Nude with Drapery. Then he went to another extreme of sculptured treatment, characterized by a stable order of sharply defined volumes, for instance, of a head. The charcoal and chalk drawing, beside which the "archaic" head of 1906 seems almost naturalistic, clearly derives from abstract Negro sculpture, which for all its rigidity is anything but dead. It was precisely the stimulating, magic vitality of the exotic sculptures that aroused the enthusiasm of Picasso and his contemporaries and helped them to dethrone the academic concept of beauty.
The frontal head of this drawing, with its symmetric outlines, the delicately tapering chin, the noble mouth, and the vigorously protruding nose under the unseeing eyes are evidence of Picasso's deep insight into the religious, hieratic spirit of that so-called "primitive" art. The form is of an overwhelming, self-sufficient magnificence, which the artist seems merely to reproduce. Actually a great, if not the greater, part of this effect must be attributed to the draftsman's consummate interpretation. He contrasts the angular blocky frame of the hair with the delicate plastic transitions in the face; the nose and the mouth, which is clearly divided into two lips, are assigned a mediating function. He conjures up the swellings by means of freely drawn hatchings and faint rubbings, and through the lateral curves rounds off the section reproduced here into a compositional whole. Following this austere, plastically stylized figure, Picasso in 1908 drew a number of figures, whose structure, defined by intensive shadows, is reminiscent of woodcarvings. To some extent the same may be said of still lifes dating from the same year. Of crucial importance for his subsequent development, however, were above all the landscapes he painted in the Rue des Bois during the summer.
Landscapes lend themselves more readily to the clear delineation of volumes, which was the main objective of the first great phase of Cubism, than representations of the human body—partilcularly rocky landscapes stripped of organic growth, in which human figures, if any, are subordinated to the general organization of the picture. Such structures of crystalline purity were anticipated decades earlier by Cézanne's L'Estaque landscapes. In 1908, in the same L'Estaque, Georges Braque, who had met Picasso in 1907, painted landscapes very similar to Picasso's; this is another confirmation of the view that the evolution of art has supra-personal causes, for we have no reason to doubt that the two painters worked independently. It was also in 1908 that the self-explanatory term Cubism was used for the first time, either by Matisse in a conversation, or by the critic Louis Vauxcelles in a review of an exhibition of Braque's works. Later the expression Analytic Cubism was used to characterize the process of breaking down the natural appearance into stereometric elements. A culminating point of severe crystalline treatment is reached by Picasso in his austere landscapes painted at Horta de Ebro in 1909, with their hard, block-like forms of buildings.
In contrast with the dominant tendencies of the immediately preceding period, these works are essentially concerned with form, not color; against the claims of color the Cubists launched the slogan of "drawing for drawing's sake" (Raynal). The "return to linear discipline," for which Picasso had paved the way long before, gave an entirely new direction to painting, as Coeteau realized when he described Cubism as "a classicism opposed to the romanticism of the Fauves." Color was for the time being assigned a subordinate function—it was regarded as an obstacle to the solution of plastic problems. But it recovered its importance where the natural appearance had to be disregarded, and where the purpose was to create an autonomous "pictorial individual," for such a purpose could be achieved only by strengthening the picture surface at the expense of one-sided Cubist modeling.
For this reason, Picasso, for instance in his Horta de Ebro landscapes, extended large parts of the colored surface beyond the system of the individual cubes, gearing together the element of the picture surface. At the same time he produced works of a pronounced coloristic charm, among them still life compositions with gentle curves and pyramidal structures, whose predominant color seemed to some critics a sufficient reason for speaking of a Picasso "Green Period."
Pablo Picasso, Cubism, Pablo Picasso Biography, Picasso Paintings, Picasso Drawings, The Blue Nude, Don Quixote, Enamel Saucepan, Evening Flowers, Femme A La Fleur, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, Spanish Art, The Dream, The Pigeons, Guernica, Musse, Bull with Bullfighter, Mediterranean Landscape, Nude and Still Life, Toros y Toreros, Mother and Child, Girl with Red Beret, Frau Mit Turban, The Bathers, The Lesson, The Old Guitarist, Three Bathers, Violin and Guitar, Lovers, Evening Flowers, The Kitchen