Cubist (modern) Portraits

Ambroise Vollard - Pablo PicassoPicasso painted countless portraits in the Cubist style. Between fall and spring of 1909 Picasso painted over 60 portraits of his mistress and companion, Fernande Olivier. This is an amazing series of portraits and no other painter has this scope of work devoted to the portraiture of a single person. Picasso remains the single most prolific Cubist portrait artist.

The facial features in Cubist portraits are broken up and re-assembled in a very abstract form. In this style the artist depicts the portrayed person in a myriad of viewpoints to represent the subject in a greater context as well as from many perspectives. As Cubism evolved, Cubist artists began to focus even more on structure. This created the period that was called “Analytical Cubism”.

At this stage, bright colors were removed and portraits became monochromatic and were painted with earth tones. This helped the artist focus primarily on the structure of the painting. In the portraits of this period all the facial features: eyes, ears, nose, hair, etc, were deconstructed and rearranged again within the painting. The goal of all this expression was to depict different viewpoints at the same time.

Up until this point, artists saw objects or people as always viewed from one specific angle and at one specific moment in time. Picasso and Braque found this to be too limiting, and desired to represent objects and portraits as if the person was viewed from many angles or at different moments in time.

While at early periods of Cubism, the viewer could somewhat recognize the person being painted but as cubism evolved recognizing the subject became more and more difficult. This was indeed innovative while portraits became completely incomprehensible to the viewer. It became extremely difficult to recognize the person behind the portrait. It is interesting to note here that viewing the subject from many different angles and perspectives makes one loose the reference of the person, at least as many of us understand it.

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