The First Cubist Sculpture: Pablo Picasso
Picasso modelled in raw clay in Barcelona in 1902, his first sculpture, a very naturalistic Seated woman, with basic and massive curved planes, in which only the features of the face and the curls of the hair are detailed. Several other works followed, among which Le Fou, a Head of a Woman, the future Alice Derain, in 1905, and a Head of Fernande with more pronounced volumes, prelude to several plastic experiments inspired by the primitive masks of the Gosol period of African totems, a series of isolated studies including also some ceramic and embossed copper coins.
With the 1909 Head of Fernande, made after his return from Horta, and an Apple (in tribute to Cezanne?), fractionalisation into broken multiple plane facets relays pictorial space and plastic function, and breaks up the classical face. Concave and convex volumes, light and shade emphasise the contours and create a discontinuous form. Picasso reaches another turning point, he is indeed, as his friend the sculptor Gonzales will say, ‘the man of form’; cubist sculpture is born.
The Salon d’Automne opens on the 1st October, 1910. Braque and Picasso visit it and are fascinated by the revelation of twenty-four ‘Figures of Corot’. Is there, as suggested by the American art historian William Rubin, expert on Picasso, a connection between The Woman with the Fur Hat and the Girl with Mandolin of the Museum of Modern Art, in which the fragmented geometric monochrome planes underline specific realistic details, the mandolin, the girl’s round breast, her hair and the boldly turned profile of her face. The model, Fanny Telleir, is said to have been so shocked at being thus mistreated, that she gave up posing, claiming that she was unwell.
It is the fort of a series of ‘cubist’ portraits in which Picasso breaks away from form through impressive dissections of the face. Wilhelm Uhde’s portrait shortly precedes Vollard’s, both of which were carried out in the spring of 1910, the latter was completed after Picasso’s stay in Cadaques in August. Cut out in monochromatic facets, the faces seem to emerge, like ‘lifelike’ apparitions, from the fragmentation of the surrounding space, to which they are integrated by subtle ‘passages’. A third portrait is achieved in the autumn, the Portrait of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (found in the Art Institute in Chicago), much more conceptualised than the previous ones, it is constituted of abbreviation networks geometrically cut out and overlapping in harsh monochromatic effects. As in the case of Vollard , it had demanded many sittings.