A New Take on Cubism

Hanging amongst many other thought-provoking pieces in the Contemporary Arts Gallery of the Philadelphia Arts Museum, Tea Time stands out from the sea of color-blotched canvases that we call modern art.

Hanging amongst many other thought-provoking pieces in the Contemporary Arts Gallery of the Philadelphia Arts Museum, Tea Time stands out from the sea of color-blotched canvases that we call modern art. It depicts a woman looking to her left with a teaspoon in hand. Metzinger, a pioneer of this style, plays heavily with dimension and form.

To provide background, Tea Time was first exhibited at the Salon d'Automne in 1911. Upon exhibition, it was labelled by prominent art critic André Salmon as “the Mona Lisa of Cubism.” In contrast to the works of other celebrated artists at the time, such as those of Pablo Picasso, Metzinger’s works retain degrees of legibility whereas Picasso focused on complete decomposition of his figures. This distinct stylistic identity makes his painting seem realistic from afar.

In the piece, Metzinger used his own take on chiaroscuro, the use of strong contrast and shading to create the illusion of three-dimensional volume, to accentuate geometric shapes and lines. Instead of using an ombre effect that creates depth, he used angling of shapes and perspective of forms. For example, he used dark gray and black when painting around the eyes of the woman but chose to use a light nude color for the nose. This contrast makes the nose more prominent and three-dimensional. In addition, the neck of the lady appears almost normal. However, the face has depth built off the placement of shapes and their orientation.

In the bottom left-hand corner, the tea cup is perhaps the most eye-catching element of all. Half of the cup is drawn from a side-view perspective, whereas the other half is from an aerial one. This play on dimension is seen throughout the piece, such as in the lady’s right arm, breast, shoulders, and so on. He also used organic lines to contrast the softness of the fabric from the rest of the piece, which is geometric and almost robotic. They create movement that allow the eye to circle back to the center, where it is the most highlighted. The color palette is different from most contemporary art at the time because it leans towards traditional, darker tones. We can see green, blue, and a little red, but the colors are matted and most of the piece is of shades of gray or brown.

As art styles move from post-impressionism to contemporary, Metzinger’s piece speaks about the blending of perspectives and dimensions. It creates a bridge between two periods of art and merging modernity with classical techniques and subjects.

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