What Is Analytic Cubism in Art?

Look for the Clues in Analytic Cubism

© 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Georges Braque (French, 1882-1963). Violin and Palette (Violon et palette), September 1, 1909. Oil on canvas. 91.7 x 42.8 cm (36 1/16 x 16 13/16 in.). 54.1412. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris


Analytical Cubism is the second period of the Cubism art movement that ran from 1910 to 1912. It was led by the "Gallery Cubists" Pablo Picasso and Georges Brague.

This form of Cubism analyzed the use of rudimentary shapes and overlapping planes to depict the separate forms of the subjects in a painting. It refers to real objects in terms of identifiable details that become—through repetitive use—signs or clues that indicate the idea of the object.

It is considered to be a more structured and monochromatic approach than that of Synthetic Cubism. This is the period that quickly followed and replaced it and was also developed by the artistic duo.

The Start of Analytic Cubism

Analytic Cubism was developed by Picasso and Braque during the winter of 1909 and 1910. It lasted until the middle of 1912 when collage introduced simplified versions of the "analytic" forms. Rather than the collage work that popped up in Synthetic Cubism, Analytical Cubism was almost entirely flat work executed with paint.

While experimenting with Cubism, Picasso and Braque invented specific shapes and characteristic details that would represent the whole object or person. They analyzed the subject and broke it down into basic structures from one viewpoint to another. By using various planes and a muted palette of color, the artwork was focused on representational structure rather than distracting details.

These "signs" developed from the artists' analyses of objects in space. In Braque's "Violin and Palette" (1909-10), we see specific parts of a violin that are meant to represent the whole instrument as seen from various points of view (simultaneity).

For instance, a pentagon represents the bridge, S curves represent the "f" holes, short lines represent strings, and the typical spiral knot with pegs represent the violin's neck.

Yet, each element is seen from a different perspective, which distorts the reality of it.

What Is Hermetic Cubism?

The most complex period of Analytic Cubism has been called "Hermetic Cubism." The word hermetic is often used to describe mystical or mysterious concepts. It is fitting here because during this period of Cubism it is almost impossible to figure out what the subjects are. 

No matter how distorted they may be, the subject is still there. It's important to understand that Analytic Cubism is not abstract art, it has a clear subject and intent. It is merely a conceptual representation and not an abstraction.

What Picasso and Brague did in the Hermetic period was distort space. The pair took everything in Analytic Cubism to an extreme. The colors became even more monochromatic, the planes became even more complexly layered, and space was compacted even further than it had been before.

Picasso's "Ma Jolie" (1911-12) is a perfect example of Hermetic Cubism. It depicts a woman holding a guitar, though we often do not see this at first glance. That is because he incorporated so many planes, lines, and symbols that it completely abstracted the subject.

While you may have been able to pick out the violin in Brague's piece, Picasso's often requires explanation to interpret.

To the bottom left we see her bent arm as if holding a guitar and just to the upper right of this, a set of vertical lines represent the instrument's strings. Quite often, the artists leave clues in the piece, such as the treble clef near "Ma Jolie," to lead the viewer to the subject.

How Analytic Cubism Came to be Named

The word "analytic" comes from Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler's book "The Rise of Cubism" (Der Weg zum Kubismus), published in 1920. Kahnweiler was the gallery dealer with whom Picasso and Brague worked and he wrote the book while in exile from France during World War I.

Kahnweiler did not invent the term "Analytic Cubism," however. It was introduced by Carl Einstein in his article "Notes sur le cubisme (Notes on Cubism)," published in Documents (Paris, 1929).