“The Sculptor” (1931) – Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso painted “The Sculptor” (1931) between what art historians have posthumously identified as his Neoclassicist period and his Surrealist period. In addition to its date, this classification is supported by the painting’s focus on sculpture, a theme critical to neoclassicism, and its fantastical composition grounded in Picasso’s own vocabulary of shapes and hue, a marker of surrealism. Upon first impression, my eye was drawn to the top right corner which in isolation appears as two men’s faces locked in a seemingly sensual embrace. As my eye travels from the sculptor’s form to the also seemingly-erotic female bust, I am able to form a more complete understanding of the painting’s narrative; each unique geometrical shape relies on those that surround it to relay a coherent story despite objective confusion. Unlike Picasso’s Blue and Rose period, “The Sculptor” uses a more saturated and varied color palette. The paint is not mixed extensively but consists predominantly of primary colors situated next to their complements. Furthermore, the painting includes spaces left intentionally white, a practice fundamentally outside of the status quo in Europe’s formal art sphere during the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries.
The surreal composition and unmixed color palette that rely on an interaction between painting and viewer to complete its narrative rather than on extraordinary attention to realist detail reflect similar effects of impressionist work. Like Monet and Van Gogh’s deliberate application of hues side by side rather than combined pre application, or most exemplary the pointillism techniques used by Georges Seurat, the palette used in “The Sculptor” derives significance from the viewer’s eye’s absorption of each hue as a whole. However, unlike the geometrical vagueness of Monet’s impressionist works, the Cubist methods applied in this painting offer a more concrete description of how shapes sit in relation to one and other. The same confusion regarding where the forms end and environment begins exists in Picasso’s cubist dissolution of physical boundaries, however the clear geometrical classifications point to the cerebral quality of “The Sculptor” as opposed to the more observant nature of impressionist works. The use of contour outlines demands recognition of these figures existence. However, it is clear that their existence lies in the artist’s perception of “some transcendental version or Platonic form of a thing” (Baudelaire), rather than in their objective structures rendered by light, as in impressionism, or analytical accuracy, as in realism.