As part of our P credit class, “Paper: From Pulp to Fiction,” we investigated collage, defined in Grove Art Online as “incorporating the use of pre-existing materials or objects attached as part of a two-dimensional surface.” The definition might be dry but there seems to be a lot of contention regarding which 20th century artist collaged first. Grove gives credit to Picasso for the first use of the technique in “fine art” during the spring of 1912:
In The Letter (Location unknown, see Daix and Rosselet, cat. no. 275) he pasted a real Italian postage stamp on to a depicted letter, while Still-life with Chair-caning (Paris, Musee Picasso) included printed oil-cloth simulating a chair-caning pattern, the oval canvas surrounded by a ‘frame’ made of a continuous loop of rope.
The image above, Picasso’s “Bottle, glass and violin,” from the Modern Museum in Stockholm, shows an early example of a 20th century artist experimenting with collage. The technique of using “pre-existing materials” on a 2-D surface was not new. The organizers of last year’s Victorian collage exhibition at the Met point out that “sixty years before the embrace of collage techniques by avant-garde artists of the early twentieth century, aristocratic Victorian women were already experimenting with photocollage.” These Victorian ladies got quite creative with the technique, and showed a lot of sass in their work–in this work (detail above), Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, leans on the table where Lady Filmer has her collage materials laid out, while Filmer’s husband is placed in the corner of the page with the dog. Apparently Lady Filmer and the Prince of Wales shared a ‘flirtation’ that was carried out in pictures–they’d make great fodder for Gawker if they were members of Congress today… Anyway, check out more pictures of the collages featured in the Met show here.
So the technique of collage was nothing new, but when it found its way into Cubist circles–some say via Georges Braque and others, like Grove, say via Picasso–it seemed to spread like wildfire. The Columbus Museum of Art sidesteps the who did it first debate this way, saying, “in 1912, Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso, and Juan Gris began constructing images by combining painting with real objects.”
A curator from Philadelphia Museum of Art discusses collages by Picasso and Braque
Arne Glimcher’s 2008 documentary, “Picasso and Braque Go to the Movies,” offers another perspective. John Richardson, Picasso’s biographer, shares a story about when Picasso first saw Braque’s “Fruit Dish and Glass” (left, September 1912):
“I lived for many years in France with Douglas Cooper, who had the greatest private collection of cubist drawings. One of the most treasured things in this collection was the first papier colle ever done, the one that Braque did behind Picasso’s back in September 1912. And Picasso used to come to the house quite a lot because we were near the bullfighting country. After bullfights he’d come, we’d have dinner and go around the paintings. And one day he looks again and again, rather ferociously at the Braque collage. We know that the papers in the collage Braque had found in a wallpaper shop in Avignon. And so Picasso said, ‘I think on my way back, I’ll stop at the wallpaper shop and buy some more of that paper and show Braque how I would have done it.'”
MFTA recipients know they don’t need to go to Avignon to BUY wallpaper, they can come to Long Island City and get it free. I rarely see wallpaper move out of the warehouse. If only Picasso and Braque were MFTA members…
In 1913, Juan Gris, also a Cubist, completed “Playing Cards and Glass of Beer,” a picture the Columbus curators describe as “made up of multiple ‘realities.’ Here, there are real things (patterned wallpaper and playing cards), things realistically painted (mug, pipe, and faux marble), and abstract things (white silhouetted objects).”
After the 1912-1913 Cubist collage craze, the technique found its way into many other movements. The Futurists, Dadaists, Surrealists, Constructivists, Abstract Expressionists, and Pop artists–and many more–all use elements of collage in their work.
So I was unable to determine who really did it first, it seems like the kernel of the idea came from Picasso’s Still-life with Chair-caning, but others in Picasso’s circle and beyond found the technique compelling. We think collage is a perfect way to incorporate MFTA materials and making art. Here are some examples from our new P credit course, “Paper: From Pulp to Fiction.”
Lewis Kachur. “Collage.” Grove Art Online