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Allison Campbell

Dr. Susan Caldwell


Readings in 20
th
-Century Art
March 12, 2013
Portrait of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler
Pablo Picassos Portrait of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, featuring the famous art
dealer, is commonly used as model for analytical cubism. Housed permanently at the Art
Institution of Chicago the painting was completed in Paris in the year 1910. The portrait
is a study in the reduction of detail dissolving into geometric forms.
Straight and angular lines penetrate the monochromatic sepia tones; while the
lines do not completely enclose the space around them, a suggestion of flat planes is seen
throughout the painting. An ambiguous composition is constructed by building forms
from the background up to the foreground, yet areas also recede as lines overlap and
intersect frontal planes. Recognizable check bones, hair and clasped hands give an
accessible form of Kahnweiler for audience members. Picasso uses hard lines and
flattened forms instead of rendering the flesh of the subject in naturalistic or neo-classical
style with color, light, and chiaroscuro in traditional portraiture like Ingres or David.
A new solution to the treatment of space is seen with Kahnweilers features pulled
to the surface of the picture plane. This demystification of portraiture is a direct
influence from Czanne, who treated his subjects in his paintings into objective flat
forms. Kahnweilers exterior form is a disjointed, deconstructed examination of physical
human existence. Picasso may have been exploring the human experience, with infinite
sensations simultaneously taking in new information while recalling memories. The
portrait Kahnweiler, who was Picassos art dealer for a time, may possibly be Picassos
memories of the man as well as his present state while he was painted. Instead of
physical representation, the deconstruction of Kahnweiler does not necessary match the
physical resemblance.
Picasso opens his portrait of Kahnwiler up into more than the outside form of
flesh. The dark lines expose the skeleton or scaffolding of Picassos process while also
suggesting a human shape. Instead of using the lines and geometric shapes to decorate
the surface, Picasso finds a way to give a tangible form without using illusionary,
representational techniques such as linear or atmospheric perspective. The intersection of
planes is critical to the visual idea of materiality. Instead of blending different areas
together to structure a solid composition, Picasso intersects geometric shapes and
hardedge lines to break apart the organization of the overall work. Czanne used the
technique of passage to break up the contours that define objects so that surfaces flow
together. Picasso uses this technique to fuse the background and foreground; Kahnweiler
is present throughout the painting taking on more than just a human form.
Picasso does not falter from the fact that a flat canvas is used to capture his
portrait. He said this painting In its original form it looked to me as though it were
about to up in smoke. But when I paint smoke. I want you to be able to drive a nail into
it. So I added more attributesa suggestion of the eyes, the wave of the hair, an ear lobe,
the clasped handsso now you [drive a nail into it]
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. This creates a tension allowing
the viewer to complete the work by simultaneously breaking the composition down and
finding relationships between the formal elements. The strokes of paint capture the
passivity and wetness of oil, and the luminosity of skin is captured without using the
color pink.
Many critics who wrote on cubism, including Kahweiler, felt that many audience
members could not understand cubism without teaching themselves how to look at the
new style. Kahnweiler felt that viewers imaginations would take over. He felt that
viewers would have to be taught that a higher importance on the deconstruction of natural
forms could give a suggestion of their original state. This suggestion is an important
bridge between the painter and the viewer. His canvas of Kahnweiler portrays a moldable
subject matter in multiply layers. Picassos analytic cubist style is an exploration of a
suggestion for the brain to complete an object for the eye.






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Taking from label text from Art Institute of Chicago exhibition Picasso and
Chicago