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Cubism, collage and constructions: 1910–1915

Cézanne was my one and only master! I spent years studying [his pictures] ... Cézanne! It was the same with all of us – he was like our father.

- Pablo Picasso

For Picasso and many of his contemporaries, no recent artist was more significant than Paul Cézanne. A retrospective of Cézanne’s work, held after his death in 1906, galvanised his influence, and it was around this time that Picasso met Georges Braque.

Over the following years the two artists worked in tandem, visiting each other’s studios almost daily and sharing ideas about painting. Picasso’s Paysage aux deux figures (Landscape with two figures) 1908 typifies their early shared style – a Cézannesque, jagged landscape with blocky, visible brushwork. Their collaboration ultimately produced perhaps the most significant innovation in modern painting: cubism, which combined several possible views of a three-dimensional object in the one image. Braque described their collaboration as ‘like two mountaineers roped together’, evoking at once their co-dependence and the pioneering exhilaration of their artistic endeavour.

In the wake of their six-year collaboration, Picasso and Braque each took cubism in different directions. Picasso continued to work in collage, incorporating wallpaper, cut pieces of canvas, newsprint, lettering and other materials into his compositions. His innovative constructions in wood and sheet iron, painted and wall-mounted, combine the qualities of painting and sculpture. Dispensing with the time-honoured methods of carving or modelling, this was an entirely new way of creating sculpture.

Cubism opened up infinite possibilities for painting, including pure abstraction, and was developed in many forms by artists across Europe, America and Australia. However, the classical realism of the unfinished Le peintre et son modèle (The painter and his model) 1914 proves that even at the height of his cubism, Picasso was not constrained by it as a style.

Homme à la guitare

oil on canvas, 154 × 77.5 cm, Pablo Picasso gift in lieu, 1979, MP34 © Succession Picasso, 2011/licensed by Viscopy, 2011 © Paris, Réunion des Musées Nationaux/René-Gabriel Ojeda © Musée National Picasso, Paris

Homme à la guitare
Man with a guitar

By 1911 Picasso’s and Braque’s work had become practically indistinguishable. The distinctive grey and ochre ‘scaffolding’ of this painting is typical of their work of this time, known as ‘analytical cubism’. The extremely limited colours focus our attention on the complex interlacing of lines and shaded planes. Enigmatic lettering in the top right-hand corner seems to be a reference to the newsprint Picasso had begun to incorporate into his cubist collages.