Still Life with Bottle of Marc (Nature morte à la bouteille de marc)

Pablo Picasso Spanish
Printer Eugène Delâtre French
Publisher Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler German

Not on view

Working closely together, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque revolutionized visual art by developing what came to be known as Cubism. For several years in the early 20th century, the two artists maintained constant communication and regularly visited each to compare works and ideas. Their close relationship and mutual desire to create a visual language that would reflect a new form of realism led Braque to reflect later that during this period, the two artists were "rather like a pair of climbers roped together."

Still Life with Bottle of Marc (Nature morte à la bouteille de marc) is considered to be not only Picasso’s most important Cubist print, but among the most important graphic works of the period. It illustrates how Picasso and Braque radically rethought both traditional artistic genres (such as the still life) and how a new form of realism could correspond to scientific and philosophical theories of the period. Its presents the principles and subjects of Analytical Cubism through its spare composition, rigorous arrangement of parallel lines strategically placed in an interlocking scaffold-like structure, and veiled references to café culture, which are visible in the playing cards, table, and bottle of "marc," or brandy. The print exemplifies both artists’ desire to rethink how three-dimensional forms and the space they inhabit could be portrayed in two-dimensional art.

Still Life with Bottle of Marc was created by Picasso during the summer of 1911 when he was living and working in the French Pyrenees town of Céret and visiting Braque, whose studio was also in Céret, on a daily basis. The two artists were each working on a commission from Kahnweiler, their dealer and the owner of a celebrated gallery in Paris, to produce a large intaglio print. Kahnweiler had a great interest in the graphic arts and had earlier commissioned artists, such as André Derain and Picasso, to create books with Apollinaire (L’enchanteur pourrissant, 1909) and Max Jacob (Saint Matorel, 1910-11) respectively. The similarity between the two prints that the two artists made during the summer of 1911—Picasso’s Still Life with Bottle and Braque’s Fox—illustrate just how close the artists were and how carefully they examined each other’s work during this critical period. For both artists, their prints reflected the ideas and aesthetic that were also found in their Analytic Cubist drawings and paintings, such as Picasso’s Accordionist and Braque’s Man with a Guitar, made during the summer of 1911.

The emphasis on line found in Still Life with Bottle of Marc shows the concern that Picasso and Braque had for structure during this period; the seeming simplicity of the black-and-white tones and the small, wiry lines found in the prints reveal the artists’ intent to concentrate nearly exclusively on depicting form, something they attempted with the reductive, nearly monochromatic palettes found in their paintings. In Still Life with Bottleof Marc, Picasso dramatically simplified the composition, reducing and even eliminating details and extraneous lines in order to convey the most essential elements with maximum impact. Clusters of small broken lines are scattered across the surface, which indicate a schematic, non-naturalistic depiction of shadow arrayed across the pictorial surface. Darker and more pronounced marks are either used to indicate specific objects (such as the bottle, glasses, cards, and the fanned pages of an open book) or to form a kind of linear, scaffold-like structure that both "holds" forms and directs the eye through the concentrated structure of the composition. The play between the different applications of line creates a dynamic tension felt throughout the print, which is reinforced by the contrast between the white of the paper and the lush, velvety tones of the black ink. Letters that evoke stenciled or mechanically printed forms spell "Vie Marc," a reference to the inexpensive brandy served in the café. At the same time, the letters—like the patterned playing cards indicated by the heart, club, and diamond—both reinforce the literal flatness of the pictorial surface in contrast with the illusion of three-dimensional objects, such as glasses, the table top, and the bottle, against which they are shown, functioning as another element of the new "realism," or engagement with, and depiction of, the visible world sought by Picasso and Braque through Analytical Cubism.

After 1912, Picasso and Braque moved away from the visual rigor of Analytical Cubism and adopted the Synthetic Cubist style, which they practiced until Braque was called to serve in the French army in 1914. In this new stage, the artists incorporated color, decorative patterns, and diverse shapes, sizes, and forms, which they layered like a jigsaw atop each other, reflecting the practice and influence of collage (developed in the spring of 1912) and papier collé (developed in the fall of 1912). Forms were more recognizable as the artists moved away from the scaffold-like structure and fragmented forms. By the late 1920s, Picasso was incorporating Surrealist elements in his work, reflecting the influence of writers and artists affiliated with the movement. After 1921, their work became more linear, reflecting the influence of Neoclassicism, yet for several years, both Picasso and Braque continued to use elements from both styles—Cubism and Neoclassicism—in their work.

Printmaking played an essential role in Picasso’s oeuvre. In 1899, Picasso made his first print--El Zyrdo (Le Gaucher)—and, over the course of his lifetime, he produced over 2,000 prints. He worked with the master printer Eugène Delâtre to pull the proofs for Still Life with Bottle of Marc.

Still Life with Bottle of Marc (Nature morte à la bouteille de marc), Pablo Picasso (Spanish, Malaga 1881–1973 Mougins, France), Drypoint on laid Arches paper

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