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Cubism's Radical Innovations
Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection, Purchases and a Gift in celebration of the Museum's 150th Anniversary
Episode 7 / 2020
First Look

These were artists who were always inventing.”
– Leonard A. Lauder

In 2013 Leonard A. Lauder promised his unsurpassed collection of Cubist art to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He has continued to add to the collection, most recently with the three acquisitions celebrated here: Pablo Picasso's Seated Female Nude, 1908; Picasso's Woman in a Chemise in an Armchair, 1913 and Juan Gris's The Musician's Table, 1914. Each work exemplifies the radical innovations of Cubism, which destroyed traditional illusionism and hierarchies in Western painting and redefined the means and materials of art.

Pablo Picasso's Seated Female Nude deliberately confounds the viewer, beginning with the setting, which reads as both a verdant exterior and studio interior. The shifting points of view recall the compositions of Paul Cézanne, whom Picasso once called "my one and only master." Despite the title's reference to the sitter's gender, the pose, anatomy, and monumentality of the nude combine conventional signs of both the masculine and the feminine. The face has been simplified into a rigid mask, influenced by the African and Oceanic art that Picasso saw in Parisian collections, notably the Musée d'Ethnographie du Trocadéro. How Picasso himself understood the non-European ritual objects that he appropriated for his own art is a subject of continued debate

As Mr. Lauder has said of the Cubists, "These were artists who were always inventing." In 1913 Picasso's Woman in a Chemise in an Armchair marked a breakthrough in the style known as Synthetic Cubism, wherein independent, abstracted shapes coalesce into a figurative image, while emphasizing the reality of the flat picture plane. The painting represents a female figure seated in a velvety purple armchair; her left arm is raised, and her right hand holds a newspaper. Picasso includes references to Fang and Baule sculptures from Gabon and the Ivory Coast, as well as to the sensuous imagery of the French neo-classical painter, Jean Auguste Dominque Ingres. The painting's visual rhyming of hair and fringe, nipples and pegs, feet and hooves has elicited strong reactions: some see it as a misogynist image, others as a parody of sexualized depictions of woman in both high and popular culture. These disturbing juxtapositions of realism and abstraction and of the animate and inanimate directly influenced Surrealism. This painting is acknowledged as one of the most important and provocative works of Picasso's Cubist period and his entire career.

Synthetic Cubism developed from experiments in collage and papiers collés (cut and pasted papers) that Picasso initiated with Georges Braque in 1912. However, it was Juan Gris who developed these techniques into richly layered compositions such as The Musician's Table, which recently joined six other collages by the artist in the Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection, all from 1914, the apex of the artist's creativity in this medium. He included faux bois wallpaper to imitate the wooden table, transparent paper to mimic the sheen of glass, hand-drawn details in paint, pencil, and crayon, and pasted in two pieces of newspaper that appear as one. The headline "Explorateurs en désaccord" (Explorers in Discord) refers to an international dispute over a newly discovered tributary of the Amazon river, but it is also Gris's allusion to rivalries among the Cubists, themselves intrepid voyagers into new artistic territories. The ghostly outlines of a violin and staves awaiting notes suggest that The Musician's Table represented Gris' hope for harmony with his colleagues.

These extraordinary recent gifts attest to the manifold creativity, richness, and depth of Cubism and the possibilities it offered artists at the start of the twentieth century. The Lauder Cubist Collection, which now includes eighty-six works by Georges Braque, Juan Gris, Fernand Léger, and Pablo Picasso, has greatly enriched visitors' experiences at The Met and will for years to come.

Stephanie D'Alessandro
Leonard A. Lauder Curator of Modern Art and
Curator in Charge of the Leonard A. Lauder
Research Center for Modern Art
Modern and Contemporary Art
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