Main content

1911-1920 Cubism: Still lifes

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]

Read more


The innovation that cubism proposed in terms of alternative ways of pictorially representing objects had an equivalent in sculpture. Cubism encouraged the radical questioning of conventional rules of sculptural practice. In Pablo Picasso’s case, particularly between 1909 and 1914, this led to hybrid works in which painting enhanced the status of sculpture as an image.

One key sign that confirms this break with the canons of sculptural tradition can be seen in the handling of volume in Head of Fernande(1) (1909), the bronze in which the single volume has been fragmented and becomes a sequence of consecutive planes. The result is novel in the way it speculates on the relationships between the void and filled space, frontal and lateral views, the plane and the three dimensions. In 1912, Picasso wrote to George Braque, telling him that he was “in the process of imagining a guitar”, with reference to an instrument he had constructed out of cardboard, strings and boxes, with Guitar(2), 1912. This proved to be a fundamental new discovery that consisted of introducing into the conventional art of sculpture industrial materials and objects that had been manufactured, recycled or made using unrelated artisanal techniques. The result was the new and revolutionary concept of sculpture being an object constructed from various elements, rather than modelled or carved. In addition to these changes in technique and the treatment of volume, there was also the choice of common themes, such as the musical instruments, glasses, newspapers and bottles that were to be the new recurring motifs in bohemian circles, displacing traditional sculptural values and symbols.

With the collage method, Picasso progressed in his exploration of sculpture’s potential, constructing experimental forms half-way between painting and sculpture. A series of object-paintings or relief paintings dating from 1914 incorporate the third dimension by using physical elements and distorting the laws of optical perspective, amongst which were Glass, Pipe, Ace of Clubs and Dice(3) and another Glass, Newspaper and Dice(4). The Glass, Newspaper and Dice currently on display at Museo Picasso Málaga was made by turning a cigar box into the background and frame and using pieces of cut-out overpainted metal from a tin of powdered milk, which was popular at the time - you can still read part of the brand name, Compagnie Française du Lait Sec – along with pieces of wood to represent a partially constructed glass and dice. The use of the pigment and the colour scheme heighten the sense of a “sculptural” construction that also functions as a picture, emphasizing the trompe l’oeil effect that highlights or diminishes the relief. This is accentuated by the piece of tin protruding from the frame.

In 1914 Picasso also made seven different versions of Glass of Absinthe. This cubist sculpture is unusual in that it appears to be a synthesis of his work from this period because, although it was modelled in plaster and cast in bronze, in the traditional manner, it also incorporates a real object - a spoon - and it retains the cubist fragmentation of planes.

- BOZO, Dominique; [et al.]. Musée Picasso París: catálogo de las colecciones. Vol. I.Barcelona: Polígrafa, 1985, nº. 245, pp. 129-133 y 141-142 
- TEMKIN, Ann and Anne Umland (dirs.). Picasso Sculpture. [Expo Cat.: The Museum of Modern Art (Nueva York), 2015–2016]. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2015, pp. 78 y 90]