Guggenheim
Introduction

Pablo Picasso
Bottles and Glasses
Paris, winter 1911-12
Oil on paper, mounted on canvas
64.4 x 49.5 cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection, By gift
© Sucesión Pablo Picasso. VEGAP, Bilbao, 2016

“In my opinion to search means nothing in painting. To find is the thing”. [1]

Pablo Picasso (b. 1881, Málaga, Spain; d. 1973, Mougins, France), one of the most dynamic and influential artists of the 20th century, experimented with many different artistic styles during his long career, including the historic introduction of Cubism.

Cubism is widely regarded as the most innovative and influential artistic style of the past century. Inspired by the volumetric treatment of form by the French Post-Impressionist artist Paul Cézanne, Picasso and Georges Braque (1882– 1963) embarked on Cubism’s first stage of development. Although both artists worked independently in their own studios, they met frequently to discuss their progress and learn from each other. Beginning in 1908, Picasso and Braque deepened their relationship until it verged on collaboration. During the summer of 1911 they spent time together in the south of France in Céret, a popular artists’ colony. They compared their work and debated new possibilities. They were inventing a new style together, and both artists are credited for the development of Cubism. Some of their paintings are so similar that many critics find it difficult to tell them apart. As Braque would recall, “Picasso is Spanish and I’m French: we know all the differences that entails, but during those years the differences didn’t count” [2]. The Cubist style emphasized the flat, twodimensional surface of the picture plane, rejecting the traditional techniques of perspective, foreshortening, and modeling as well as refuting time-honored theories of art as imitation of nature. Cubist painters were not bound to copying form, texture, color, and space; instead, they presented a new reality in paintings that depicted radically fragmented objects whose several sides were seen simultaneously. The monochromatic color scheme was suited to the presentation of complex, multiple views of the object, which was now reduced to overlapping opaque and transparent planes. Cubism led to abstraction and necessitated new ways of looking at art.

At its climax, Braque and Picasso brought Analytic Cubism almost to the point of complete abstraction. In Landscape at Céret, painted during that summer of 1911, patches of muted earthy color, schematized stairways, and arched window configurations exist as visual clues that must be pieced together. For this painting, as with all Cubist works, the total image must be “thought” as much as “seen” (adapted from Jan Avgikos’s entry in the Collection Online).

Questions

Before showing students Picasso’s Bottles and Glasses tell them that they are going to see a work by the artist Pablo Picasso that he painted in Paris during the winter of 1911-1912—a hundred years ago. On the Internet browse photos of still life paintings. Ask students to imagine and perhaps create a list or sketch of what they expect to see in the painting.

Show Bottles and Glasses:

What do you notice?

How is the painting different from what you imagined? Are there any ways that it is similar to what you expected?

How is this painting different from a traditional still-life?

What clues does Picasso provide to let us know that the subject of this painting is a still life?

Activities

The Cubists developed a new way of depicting space from multiple and mixed perspectives. They believed that there was no single fixed view of nature, and that objects and spaces surrounding them (figure and ground) should be given equal importance and broken into geometric components or facets.

For your Cubist work, set up a still life composed of common objects. Bowls, bottles, jugs, fruits, and musical instruments are common subjects for Cubist works. Draw the still life from several different perspectives, overlapping the various views on a single sheet of paper. You may want to move to the left or right, or vary your perspective by raising or lowering your viewpoint. You will now have a layered drawing reflecting multiple perspectives. Then, using colored pencils or paint, emphasize the portions of the drawing that appeal to you most. Although your drawing was based on observation, the finished drawing may bear little resemblance to its original inspiration; nevertheless your work is a record of your multiple perceptions.

In order to “see” Bottles and Glasses, the viewer must piece together the fragments and clues that Picasso provides into a vision of a place. The total image must be “thought” in order to be “seen,” and each person will see it differently.

To demonstrate this, provide an 8.5 x 11 photocopy of Picasso’s Bottles and Glasses to each student. Then give each student a piece of tracing paper to cover the photocopy. With colored pencils ask students to find the bottles and the glasses, and create their still life using the photocopy as a starting point. When done, remove the photocopy and replace it with a white sheet of paper underneath so that only the student work can be seen. Discuss the varied interpretations.

Some of the paintings that Braque and Picasso created are so similar that even critics and art historians have difficulty telling them apart.

1. Picasso, in Herschel B. Chipp, Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996, p. 263.

2. Alex Danchev, Georges Braque: A Life. New York: Arcade Publishing, Inc., 2005, p. 117

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