Lesson 9: Picasso and Cubist Composition
Students will understand the use of geometric shape, color, and pattern in a cubist composition of a reflective portrait.
To have students understand the use of geometric shape, color, and pattern in a cubist composition of a reflective portrait.
Image of the painting Girl Before a Mirror by Pablo Picasso, a mirror, paintbrushes, pencils, sketchpads, and acrylic color paints
SET UP AND PREPARE
1. Search online for an image of Girl Before a Mirror to show the students. What do they see? Students may make the following observations: a girl standing before an oval mirror, her arms holding the frame, or a person made of shapes that looks a bit odd. Some may list shapes or colors or patterns they notice.
2. Have students describe the shapes they see in the left-side figure. Then find them again in the right-side figure. Are they exactly the same, a mirror image?
3. Ask students to identify the body position in both figures. How did Picasso create two sides to the images of each figure? They may note that they appear to be side and three-quarter views. They may also note the use of shapes and angles that utilize a value change or contrasting color, and the use of center side body line and use of pattern.
4. Explain to students that this is a reflective portrait of Marie-Therese Walter, a favorite subject of Picasso in the early 1930s. She was often his model. Explain that when Picasso looked at a human being, he broke up the body into the shapes and angles that he presents on the canvas. Marie-Therese is standing before a mirror, but seeing a reflection of reality.
Ask students the following key questions about the painting:
What do they think the woman is seeing in Picasso's reflective image?
Note the use of Picasso's style of face, which includes a profile view and a three-quarter view of the face. This style is somewhat smaller in the reflection, where more of the three-quarter view is visible. This placement gives the viewer the illusion of flat planes or sides seen in the same perspective view.
Can students tell how Picasso continued this viewpoint in the body composition?
To guide them, point out that from the neck through the shoulder we see a center line that continues to a hip joint and on through the thigh. This helps us see the side and frontal view of the figure.
Note the use of the oval around the head, much like a glow. Ask students how the reflection uses the same shape.
Ask students if both figures look happy or sad. How did Picasso use color to help them come to that observation?
Ask students what they think Picasso is saying here in this dual image.
Is the girl seeing the future? Looking inside herself? Seeing a loss of innocence? Herself at an old age?
5. Discuss how to break the body down into geometric shapes and planes. Teach students how to use a profile and three quarter view in one circular plane for a face.
Explain how at the beginning of the cubist movement, Picasso and other artists used a muted color palette to help show sides and angles. Point out that in this work, he uses color to help convey feeling and meaning. Textures and patterns are arranged to help the viewer see the accented body parts.
The diamond pattern in the background represents Picasso himself, in his favorite harlequin patterning. Draw attention to the red stripes that connect both images.
1. Have two students about the same height stand facing each other. Ask them to play "mirror image" striking reflective poses.
2. Have students sketch the volunteers in quick-gesture drawings or contour-line sketches to understand body placement. Then ask one model to portray a happy emotion, and the other to portray a sad emotion. Student models should show the emotion through their body postures in additions to their faces.
3. Point out the differences and similarities of the two figures. Emphasize the geometric shapes that the models can be broken down into and have students now draw the figures in a cubist style using shapes and planes.
4. Explain that students will be creating a work in the style of Picasso's Girl Before a mirror.
Using their sketches from class, students will draw themselves before a mirror and have one of the following options for how to portray themselves in the mirror reflection:
a). An emotional image using color to represent feelings (color has many meanings-they will have to define how they use color)
b). A future image or ideal of what they hope to become in the future (career or goal)
c). A fantasy image or alter ego
Remind students to include only geometric shapes and planes, as well as to add textures and patterns to support their concept. The figures and the edge of the mirror should be clearly seen, as in Picasso's work.
5. Have students do a rough-draft sketch or two in their sketch pads organizing the composition. When they have completed an acceptable rough draft, have them select oil pastels or acrylic paints for their art work.
6. Students should lightly sketch their composition on the paper or canvas, making sure to account for the enlargement of paper or canvas. The figures should fill the area. The frame of the mirror should be the line of symmetrical balance in the center of the work, helping to define the real figure and the reflected image. Make sure students have used profile and three-quarter views for the faces and bodies.
Remind students that the body placement need not be exact in reflection but close enough to convey the concept of reflection.
7. Display finished work and have students discuss positively what they see in each work. Have each artist present their concept of Girl Before a mirror, explaining what their image represents and why they chose their color palette.
1. Have students write an essay on how their work is similar to Picasso's.
2. Note that Picasso used his understanding and appreciation of African art in his own work. Have students research African masks, writing about the similarities of the cultural masks and the cubist movement.
Have students design a Picasso cubist mask face by scoring and folding paper to create a relief sculpture that could be left as a flat relief or folded to stand as a cubist paper sculpture. Students may want to add color to enhance their mask or let light hit the planes of the face, creating value tones.
Resources: MoMA Highlights. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p.161
Picasso interview with Edward Quinn DVD