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Difference Between Analytical and Synthetic Cubism Compare & Contrast Essay

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Updated: Oct 3rd, 2019


In the early 20th century, the art culture in France took a dynamic turn from conventional art to adopt a contemporary form of art known as cubism. Initially, cubism was not widely accepted but pioneer cubists such as Pablo Picasso and George Braque played a pivotal role in perpetuating the new form of art to the mainstream. There are two distinct types of cubism; analytical and synthetic, the main difference between them being in the composition.

The basic principle of cubism is the degeneration of an image, which is then re-assembled into an abstract image to articulate several viewpoints. The aim of cubism is to use a single image to depict different ideas hence allowing one single image to portray different perceptions. Cubism heavily relies on randomness thus the artwork generally lacks depth but is greatly enriched in expression.

A significant influence to early cubism is Paul Cézanne (1839-1906); Cézanne was the first artist to paint with hints of cubism after he abandoned the application of depth in all of his paintings. He was of the view that paintings should embrace a two dimensions scope in order to show the difference between art and real objects (Becker 1).

In line with this ideology, Cézanne abandoned the conventional three dimension perspective approach and removed special features and perspective elements from his work. In order to accentuate his paintings and still underscore his two dimension approach, Cézanne opted for abstract work and the tonal variation of color. This approach is prominent in most cubist paintings.

Comparison between analytical and synthetic cubism

Analytical cubism focuses more on breaking down an image into its many forms and viewpoints in order to “analyze” the image in all the possible angles and context, to the illusion of a three dimension appearance (Honour & Fleming 121). Synthetic cubism on the other hand focuses more on the imitation of an image usually using bright colors or collage hence the artwork is more often two dimension.

A typical Cubist painting depicts real or natural objects from variable viewpoints, showing many parts of the subject at the same time (Becker 1). Such paintings can be viewed from different angles and this is achieved by reconstructing an image into a composition of geometric shapes planes and colors. The end result is the illusion of reconfiguration of space, where all sides of an object can be viewed on a two dimension plane (Hunter et al 19).

History and composition

Analytical cubism was the first form of cubism to be developed in the early 20th century and that was between 1905 and 1912. Analytical cubism aimed to reduce natural forms into geometric subjects with altered viewpoints and spatial cues. This form of cubism did not rely much on color and usually dark colors like grey and blue were used (Honour & Fleming 122). Rather than color, analytical cubism tried to portray natural forms in geometric shapes like spheres, cubes and cylinders.

Synthetic cubism was the latter of the two types of cubism and was developed between 1912 and 1920(Hunter et al 66). In comparison with analytical cubism, synthetic cubism was more detail oriented and focused more on texture and color (Becker 1). In addition, synthetic cubism also ushered in collage elements as an integral part of subject matter.

Subjects and content

Subjects such as ‘The Mandolin’, 1910, ‘Landscape with bridge’, 1909, ‘The Portuguese’, 1911, ‘violin and Jug’, 1910, ‘Ma Jolie’, 1911, and ‘Ambrose Voilard’, 1910 oil on canvas paintings, were analytical cubism paintings. As can be observed, these forms of art were more focused on pensiveness than portrayal, only giving subtle clues to the real forms involved.

Analytical cubism was meant to portray the deep ideology the artist possessed in reference to the real world (Honour & Fleming 119). Modifications to analytical cubism led cubist to introduce a more vibrant and colorful variety of cubism that was expressed in art works such as ‘Still Life with Chair Cane’, 1912, and ‘Guitar, Sheet Music and Glass’, 1912 (Becker 2).

The introduction of collage elements can be seen for example in Picasso’s ‘Still Life with Chair Cane’, which incorporates oil cloth that was printed to look like chair caning pasted onto an oval canvas and the use of rope to frame the painting. Synthetic cubism was used mainly to show the creativity and imagination of an artist and the artist’s effort to imitate a given form (Hunter et al 72).

Cubism as a modern movement

The introduction of cubism came at a time when there was an exponential growth in progress through out the globe. It was during this period that several inventions had emerged and were still emerging in regard to technological development. However, the most significant invention to the artists was the introduction of photography.

It was evident that the technological revolution was ushering in a new era of modernization (Becker 1). Cubism was an effort by artists to deviate from the tried and tested traditions of Western art which were being challenged, for they were viewed as old fashioned and rigid.

Conventional forms of representation were questioned as artists demanded to be in tune with the growing modernization with the introduction of a new form of artistic expression. In addition, photography was taking over most of the artistic fields that involved real images like portraits and so artists needed to conceptualize a new form of art that would uphold the appreciation for artistic expressions.

Artists needed a form of art to challenge photography, and they did this by exploiting the perspective of photography (Hunter et al 49). Conventional pictures and photographs were limited in terms of perspective for they could only give one viewpoint which artists viewed as deficient in composition.

Another challenge artist faced was on how to express modern trends using the conventional forms of art which they felt had no correlation. Consequently, the challenges were overcome by Picasso and Braque in 1905, when they introduced cubism as a form of art.

Cubism can therefore be viewed as a modern movement because it was founded amidst the need to deviate from conventional western forms of art (Honour & Fleming 122). Moreover, cubism was essentially intended to express modern images such as the emerging technology at the time.


Though both forms of cubism are popular, it is dependant on an observer to decide which form of cubism they have preference over. Analytical cubism tends to have less use of color and places more focus on shape, giving the paintings a more intricate appearance. Synthetic cubism on the other hand is heavily dependant on color rather than shape and thus such paintings are usually bright and simpler when compared to analytical cubism.

The force behind the emergence of this work of art was the need for a newer form of art since conventional forms were being phased out with the emergence of new technology. Picasso and Braque can generally be attributed to have founded this form of art; however, it is evident that there was extensive influence from Cézanne’s work that led to the emergence of cubism.

Works Cited

Becker, Robert. Art Movements in Art History: . Art World, 2002. Web.

Honour, Hugh. A world history of art (6th Edition). New York: Laurence King Publishing, 2002. Print.

Hunter, Sam, Wheeler, Daniel, & Jacobus, John. Modern Art. (3rd Edition). New York: Prentice Hall, 2004. Print.

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