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4. The adventure of Cubism

Picasso and Braque invented Cubism in the years between 1908 and 1914. This style was characterized by the simultaneous representation of a single object from different angles, using geometric shapes and eschewing the traditional Renaissance rules of perspective. 

“Many think that cubism is an art of transition, an experiment which is to bring ulterior results. Those who think that way have not understood it. Cubism is not either a seed or a fetus, but an art dealing primarily with forms, and when a form is realized it is there to live its own life.”
Marius de Zayas. “Picasso Speaks” in The Arts, May 1923, p. 323

Fruit Bowl

[1919] | Oil on canvas, 45.5 x 45.5 cm
Museo Picasso Málaga. Gift of Christine Ruiz-Picasso
© Museo Picasso Málaga. Photo: Rafael Lobato © Sucesión Pablo Picasso, VEGAP, Madrid, 2017

Read about Fruit Bowl

The fruit bowl is a recurring theme in Picasso’s work, expressed in varying manifestations at different times. Notable from his early years are academic works with typically 19th-century traits, reflecting the fact that the still life was one of the key genres within academic art training. Subsequently the influence of Cézanne would become a marked and ongoing presence in Picasso’s works of this type, from the examples of 1901 to the unfinished, Cézanne-influenced compositions of early Cubism. At a later date we also encounter bowls of fruit in the semi-abstract Cubism created in Cadaqués in 1910 but this theme would reach its peak with Synthetic Cubism.

The arrangement of the elements in the present Fruit Bowl recall the syntax of the start of that same decade, in particular the papiers collés, one of the most distinctive contributions of Cubism in the period between 1912 and 1914. A number of artists, including Georges Braque and Henri Laurens, would make use of the iconography of the bowl of fruit at the same time as Picasso. In reality, however, what we see is a type of late Cubism in the sense that it echoes Cubist theatricality but now without its original virtuality and experimentation. In 1918 Picasso alternated bowls of fruit in a realist style with other, Cubist ones: works that appear to have been painted years apart but were in fact created within weeks or days of each other. 

Some of these bowls of fruit can be said to respond to a strictly figurative tradition, thus reaffirming the evident surprise provoked among critics and admirers of the artist which had first manifested itself in 1916. Between late 1918 and early 1919, the date of this work’s creation, an important change came about in Picasso’s career when he became closer to the art dealer Paul Rosenberg, resulting in an increase in his output. Notable at this point is a series of large-format Harlequins which can be related to this Fruit Bowl, given that there is a pentimento in this work, easily visible to the naked eye, of diamond shapes of a type found in the Harlequins of this period. Significant events in Picasso’s life from 1918 include his marriage to the ballet dancer Olga Khokhlova, his growing distancing from Montparnasse and his move to the rue de la Boétie. In 1919 he made one of his few trips outside Paris, going to London in connection with his collaboration with the Ballets Russes and their production of The three-cornered Hat with music by Manuel de Falla. From that point onwards Picasso’s output included continuous Cubist replicas in parallel with a wide range of Neo-classical forms (such as those employed in the ballets) which frequently seem more modern than any epigone of late Cubism.

Text: Eduard Vallés