Black chalk on ribbed hand-made paper (watermark: Ingres 1871)
Inv. No. SG 3334
31.4 × 48.2 cm
A single cup, its saucer and a spoon: in the drawing we see here, the young Pablo Picasso focussed his attention solely on these three objects and the interpretation of their spatial interrelationships.The Cup is one of a group of drawings and watercolours produced in 1908/09 in which the subjects are vessels and still lifes. This was the period when, with his painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907; Museum of Modern Art, New York), Picasso had left his early work behind him and was developing the basic principles of Cubism.
The cup’s surroundings are not described in any way. It does, however, stand firmly on a flat surface, a fact that is optically conveyed by the base of the saucer. The latter is visible as a horizontal in relation to the picture plane and accordingly responsible for a certain sense of stability. At the same time, like the bulbous cup, this deep saucer is seen from above. But like its handle, the cup is seen from the side too, as well as from below, where its stem joins the bowl. Finally, the upright spoon, visible almost in its entirety, projects high up beyond the interrupted line of the cup’s rim and seems to lead an unstable life of its own in its hemispherical container.
Picasso has drawn the outlines of the cup with short, rapid, mostly curved, repeating strokes of the chalk; the repetitions are superimposed. The zones of shade he has introduced give rise to dynamic reflections, but do not correspond consistently to any single source of light. The artist has captured the shape of the cup in the drawing process, but has ignored its material qualities. At the same time, departing from the rules of perspective, the multiple viewpoints heighten the impression of the cup’s volume, so that it seems quite autonomously to take possession of the surrounding space. This novel and puzzling treatment of the object arises from Picasso’s preoccupation with Cézanne, a major retrospective of whose work he had seen in Paris in 1907, a year after Cézanne’s death. In 1908/09, in accordance with Cézanne’s demand that the subject of a picture be reduced to basic geometric shapes, Picasso and Georges Braque developed the formal principles of Cubism. In a radical manner they analytically broke down objects and spaces and showed them in multiple facets. The catalogue of Picasso’s works lists more than twenty thousand drawings, among which The Cup bears striking witness to the emergence of Analytical Cubism, here exemplified in an everyday object presented in such a way that it appears monumental.