Pioneering Cubism

The painting Clarinet and Bottle of Rum on a Mantelpiece was produced by Georges Braque during the early stages of Cubism. 006Certain elements of the piece can be identified as abstract as it does not conform to the traditional form of pictorial representation. It is not a straight forward depiction of a mantelpiece that has a clarinet and bottle of rum on it as it may appear in the physical world. Instead of having a foreground, middle and background to allude to an illusion of depth and realism, the picture plane is fragmented and the depicted objects are broken and reconstituted throughout the canvas. The clarinet can be seen partially just above the centre of the picture and the letters that are positioned near it are the first three letters from the French word for ‘rum’ as though this were the bottle’s label. The clarinet and the bottle are also shown elsewhere in the painting but from different angles and viewpoints, for instance the clarinet can be seen at an angle that runs diagonally down to the left from the bottom of the rum bottle.

The two defined parallel lines that run down the painting diagonally could be Braque’s representation of the mantelpiece and therefore all the fragmented objects that are contained within these lines could be what is on top of the mantelpiece. The identity of the scrolled object in the bottom right corner of the painting could possibly be the supportive aspect of the mantelpiece yet its curved form is also suggestive of a musical treble clef or the curled end of a stringed instrument such as a violin. The allusion to music is another element that is featured throughout the composition. The main reference is the clarinet but also, as well as the clarinet and scrolled object, is the letters ‘valse’ meaning ‘waltz’ which appear just below the centre of the canvas. This could be suggestive of a dance to accompany the music or that the music being played is that of waltz. Although this is not represented pictorially, the words are suggestive of a dance or music and it is the viewer that makes the association.

None of the actual colours of the objects are portrayed in the painting; the piece is painted in non-naturalistic colours in a narrow range of grey and sandy tones. The narrow range of colours and the fragmented portrayal of objects are elements that can be viewed as abstract. Although none of the objects are seen in their entirety Clarinet and a Bottle of Rum on a Mantelpiece is not a fully abstract work as the forms are still recognisable. The piece is a painting that has been reduced to a minimum so that the subject is not portrayed as a traditional still life painting yet the objects are still identifiable albeit in a broken format and redistributed throughout the canvas.

Clarinet and Bottle of Rum on a Mantelpiece is on display at Tate Modern, London

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