Friday, April 24, 2015

Deconstructing Form: Cezanne to Picasso

Paul Cezanne, a French Post-Impressionist painter is known for emphasizing form and color in his paintings. He used planes of color and small brushstrokes to build up the form of the objects and also tended to ignore rules of linear perspective, allowing objects to be independent within the space of a picture. Cezanne was working during a transition in the arts and successfully referenced the past while being forward thinking, and influencing those who came after him. His still life paintings are a great example of his instinct to deconstruct and simplify the form, which later became a fundamental goal of cubist and modernist painting. Cezanne was working during a transition in the arts and successfully referenced the past while being forward thinking with his art, and influencing those who came after him.

Cezanne’s work in informed the development of cubism and other similar movements in the early twentieth century. The Fauves, using vivid, unnatural colors were the first to adopt his style of color planes, though Fauvism was more of a transitional phase for many artists. Finding a renewed interest in the order and structure of nature, artists like Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque turned to the logic found in cubism. Adapting Cezanne's planes of color and perspective, the Cubists toned down the vivid color palette of the Fauves and put more emphasis on deconstructing objects into planes and geometric forms.

As a genre, still life paintings offer artists the opportunity to focus on form and perspective. The influence of Cezanne can clearly be seen in the early modernist painters desire to deconstruct forms and this exhibit traces the development of the still life in the first quarter of the 20th century.

Paul Cézanne, Still Life with Apples and a Pot of Primroses, 1890

 Oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession Number: 51.112.1

This painting by Cezanne presents a mature example of the artists work and process and shows his dedication to the representation of form and local color. While the round objects and folds of the cloth gave him ample opportunity to use lights and darks, the forms were rendered without much use of light and shadow. In the place of powerful contrasts, Cezanne used the local colors of the objects and rendered the forms through gradations of color to depict the round forms of the apples and the angular lines in the folds of the table cloth. He used delicate facets on the forms to almost form a patchwork of colors. This painting also exhibits a slightly skewed perspective. There is suspense between the tightly cropped composition of being in a corner and the simultaneous sense that the apples are about to roll off the table into the viewers space.

Henri Matisse, Still Life with Vegetables, 1905

Oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession Number: 1999.363.38

The influence of Cezanne and Van Gogh’s Post-Impressionism and Seurat’s Neo-Impressionism, led Matisse to reject the classical rules of perspective and build form with color planes. He became the leader of sorts of a group of artists known as the Fauves. In his paintings Matisse rendered both space and objects in flat color planes, using vivid colors that were often straight out of the tube. In this still life the objects are simply scattered across a tilted table instead of being carefully arranged like traditional still lives.

Jean Metzinger, Fruit and a Jug on a Table, 1916

Oil and sand on canvas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Accession Number: 57.3

Metzinger was one of the early Cubist painters. Like many other cubists Metzinger also uses limited color palate. Instead of using planes of color to build form, he deconstructed his objects into geometric shapes, and flattened them out. Metzinger tended to retain recognizable forms in his objects so we can see the round fruits and bottles on an oval table, thought it is difficult to separate the objects from each other in the flattened two dimensional space.

Georges Braque, Violin and Candlestick, 1910

Oil on canvas, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

This painting by Braque is a classic example of the Cubist style that sought to break down and depict three dimensional objects in flat planes without the use of traditional linear perspective. The objects are carefully arranged and the violin and candlestick are clearly visible but it is hard to tell what the other objects are. Painted in a monochromic style, Braque intentionally blends the objects with the background. The forms in this still life are also broken into planes, fractured, flattened, and reconstructed in multiple-point perspective on a two dimensional space.

Pierre Bonnard, The Checkered Tablecloth, 1916

Oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession Number: 1998.412.1

This painting by Bonnard is part of a series depicting dining room interiors. Interested in connecting art to ordinary life, Bonnard created many variations of this subject. In these painting there are usually figures bordering the table, with the objects on the table forming the main subject. But in this scene the figures are absent and the table is tilted so far upward that it dominates the composition. While Bonnard’s style is not as abstract as the Fauves or the Cubists, he was working during the same time and use planes of color in a similar manner to Cezanne and tends to exaggerate perspective in his paintings.

Fernand Léger, Still Life with a Beer Mug, 1921

Oil on canvas, Tate Museum, Accession Number: T02035

In this later painting by Leger, his style has moved away from the abstraction of analytic cubism, to a more stylized simplified treatment of the subject. In this painting we can see how he puts emphasis on order and harmony. The work depicts a relatively naturalistic scene of a workman's lunch on a table. The primary colors in the foreground contrast with the geometric black and white patterns in the background. He uses stable geometric forms to construct the background, but the table is so tilted that it appears the mug is about to fall off.

Pablo Picasso, Mandolin, Fruit Bowl, and Plaster Arm, 1925

Oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession Number: 1996.403.2

In this painting the Spanish artist Picasso used simple forms and a limited color palette to depict the mandolin, fruit, arm, and table with a graphic quality. The painting simultaneously shows the objects from different points of view. The mandolin is shown from the side and front, and we see the fruit in the bowl from above and below. The fractured and flattened space makes it difficult to define the foreground and background and gives the overall painting a shifting, active quality.

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