Guggenheim
Introduction

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Pablo Picasso
Head of a Man (Tête d’homme), 1908
Oil on woo
27 x 21 cm
Hermann und Margrit Rupf-Stiftung, Kunstmuseum Bern
© Sucesión Pablo Picasso, VEGAP, Madrid, 2016.

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

In the early 20th century, Pablo Picasso (Málaga, 1881—Mougins, 1973) moved permanently to France, after having spent some time living between Barcelona and Paris. In the summer of 1907, Picasso met Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1880–1962), who became his primary dealer. During this period, Picasso and Georges Braque (Argenteuil-sur-Seine, 1882—Paris, 1963) were experimenting with new forms of representation. Fascinated by Picasso’s work, Kahnweiler took his friend, the collector Hermann Rupf (1880–1962), on a visit to Picasso’s studio. At this initial meeting, Rupf decided to purchase two gouaches, and he thus became one of the first collectors of Picasso’s works [2].

The collaboration between Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque grew closer and closer. Even though the two artists worked independently, each in his own studio, they often met to discuss their progress and learn from each other. Together they ushered in a style known as Cubism, which rejected traditional ways of representing three-dimensional space, such as perspective and foreshortening. It also refuted all the enshrined theories which viewed art as an imitation of nature [3]. Cubist works spotlighted smooth surfaces, two-dimensionality, the pictorial plane and the objects captured via geometric planes which decompose and fragment the shapes so that the different sides of the objects are seen simultaneously [4].

One of Picasso’s first Cubist works was Head of a Man (Tête d’homme, 1908). In this work, Picasso painted facial features using geometric shapes instead of creating a figure with soft features. He also used different planes of overlapping color to create volumes.

Head of a Man, along with Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), were crucial works in Picasso’s career, since they signaled the beginning of the artist’s journey from the figuration of his early works to Cubist abstraction. Demoiselles d’Avignon signals a radical departure from traditional composition and perspective in painting and heralds the beginning of Cubism.

Head of a Man may also show the inclusion of elements from non-Western cultures: the palette of browns and grays and the man’s simplified facial features are reminiscent of the African wooden masks that Picasso discovered in the Trocadero Ethnographic Museum in Paris [5]. The snub nose, large eyes and shape of the mouth refer to Picasso’s “African period”, which lasted from 1906 until 1909 [6].

 

Questions

Carefully look at the portrait that Picasso painted. Describe the facial features that you see in the image. What is the head like? What position is it in? What are the eyes like? Do you think they are open or closed? What is the shape and size of the nose? How would you describe the mouth? How is this portrait different from other portraits you are familiar with?

In the works that Picasso painted between 1906 and 1909, we can see the influence of the African masks that the artist saw in the Trocadero Ethnographic Museum in Paris. Compare Head of a Man with the Mbangu mask from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is housed in the African Museum of Tervuren. In what ways are they similar and different? You can find a photograph of the mask at: http://www.africamuseum.be/home/treasures/Mbangu-oct2011/image/image_view_fullscreen

Now compare Picasso’s work with Head of a Woman (1909) created by his fellow painter Georges Braque, with whom Picasso co-founded Cubism. In what ways are these works similar and different? Write two parallel lists of similarities and differences. What conclusion can you reach after reviewing your lists? You can find the image here: http://www.mam.paris.fr/en/online-collections#/artwork/180000000000415?layout=grid&page=0&filters=authors:BRAQUE+Georges%E2%86%B9BRAQUE+Georges

Activities

Paint a Cubist portrait

To get started, choose a portrait of someone you know or find one in a magazine. Photocopy it on 8 ½ x 11” paper. At the beginning of Cubism, Picasso made the figures with volumes created by geometric shapes. Using a black pencil and a ruler, begin by marking any geometric shapes you find on the photocopy of the portrait. For example, transform the person’s nose into a triangle, their mouth into an oval, their forehead into a rectangle, etc. When you are satisfied with the transformation, you can trace over the lines with a black marker. After you have traced the geometric shapes over the image, copy your drawing onto another blank sheet of paper; set aside the photocopy and just keep the geometric transformation of the face. Show all 3 images side by side and reflect on the process.

Write a story:

Imagine a story involving the man painted by Picasso and the woman painted by Braque. What is their relationship? What would they say to each other? Where would they live? Write a story on the two characters.

NOTES:

  1. Herschel B. Chipp, Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1996, p. 263.
  2. http://www.rupf-stiftung.ch/?m=4&m2=1&lang=e&show=3&dirid=111
  3. http://education.guggenheim.org/new-york/education/school-educator-programs/teacher-resources/arts-curriculum-online?view=item&catid=740&id=166
  4. https://www.guggenheim-bilbao.es/guia-educadores/paisaje-de-ceret/
  5. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/486755
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Picasso%27s_African_Period

VOCABULARY:

Abstraction (abstract art): A tendency in art which focuses on materializing an unidentifiable idea or shape on the canvas as opposed to representing recognizable objects or figures.

Cubism: An artistic movement that emerged in 1907, when the artists Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso developed a visual language together which broke with classical representation and perspective through geometric planes that decompose and fragment the shapes of the objects. In Analytical Cubism (1909–1912), the artists focused on composition and the fragmentation of shapes; the use of dull colors like grays and ochers predominated. In Synthetic Cubism (1912–1914), they began to introduce objects into their paintings to create ties with reality – such as pieces of newspapers, paper, fabric and metal, as well as other materials – which became part of the composition, giving rise to “collage”.

Figuration: The representation of reality using recognizable images which imitate what is being depicted (mimesis).

Foreshortening: A resource used in painting, drawing and photography to give a sense of depth; the images which extend in a perpendicular or oblique fashion from the plane of the paper or canvas on which the work is depicted are represented by shortening them following the rules of perspective.

Perspective: A system of graphic representation based on the projection of a three-dimensional object over a two-dimensional plane, represented by lines that go through a point. The result is very similar to what the human eye perceives when standing at that point.

Portrait: The artistic representation of a person which primarily features the face and its expression, rendered with the intention of capturing the physical likeness, the personality of the sitter, and even their mood.

RESOURCES:

Picasso Museum Barcelona. Timeline of Pablo Picasso
http://www.bcn.cat/museupicasso/es/picasso/crono-flash.html

Collection of the Rupf Foundation
http://www.rupf-stiftung.ch/?m=4&lang=e&dirid=111

Resource for educators on the Picasso work Landscape in Ceret
https://www.guggenheim-bilbao.es/guia-educadores/paisaje-de-ceret/

Metropolitan Museum of New York
http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/486755

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