In the early 20th century, several art movements emerged to sow the seeds of the modern art era. Cubism is one of the most influential art movements of that era. It defied archaic artistic styles and rejected mainstream ideas. Pablo Picasso and other Cubist artists worked on giving art its modern-day rebirth for it to be in harmony with the modern age. They created the first abstract style in modern art. At the turn of the 20th century, the world was subjected to several changes, from new technologies to new politics, in addition to social changes. Artists had to adapt to these changes. Paintings were replaced with photography that was used to document important events; it was also even used for portraits. Painters had to come up with new creative ways for their art.
Artists felt that a new creative style was necessary to bond with a modern audience and connect with contemporary struggles. Artists diverged from the three-dimensional viewpoint that had been the standard in art ever since the Renaissance. As an alternative, they painted from a two-dimensional perspective to deliver a sense of totality in an exceptionally modern manner. They simplified natural forms into geometric shapes. A new approach in painting time, volume, mass, and space emerged. Artists like Picasso distilled the essence of their subjects into abstract forms. Picasso's La Bouteille de Suze portrays the characteristics of the cubist movement and reflects the political events of the modern art era.
To create this masterpiece, Picasso used fragments of newsprint, wallpaper, charcoal, and gouache. The fragmented elements come together to create the image of a liquor bottle, an ashtray, and a cigarette. These items appeared on a blue table, with a noticeable background of the newspaper. These newspapers added the social and political aspect to the painting, mainly because the articles refer to the events of the First Balkan War. This type of art became a fragment of the artist’s reality, something from his own experience. This experience enhanced the authenticity and self-sense the artist put in his work, which we call the representation of his modern-day reality.
According to Art Before World War I (n.d), Cubism’s achievement, under its unprecedented technical innovation, was that it succeeded in imbuing the form of art with modernity. Furthermore, the painting gives the vibe of a typical Parisian afternoon: sitting in a café while drinking liquor, smoking a cigarette, and reading the newspaper. Picasso’s life in Paris left a significant imprint on his artwork. Some art critics consider this painting as a juxtaposition between the atrocious events of the Balkan War with the simplicity and fun of the Parisian lifestyle. This contrast makes the art piece more exquisite and closer to the reality of modernity in times of war.
In addition to the political aspect of the painting, Picasso also conveys the social aspect of his modern era. According to Krauss (2002): "Picasso alludes to contemporary political and moral issues in a form which suggests the custom or rituals of café talk, references and connections understood by a particular social group". His painting became a form of communication between him and his audience. There are endless possibilities and ways to interact with art. It reflects the ideas, values, and beliefs of a society. Picasso’s choice of the Suze label wasn’t just random. The beverage chosen has its social connotations and significance. Items in such a masterpiece are symbolic and affect his representation of realism. It also reflects the reality of the French working class and their struggles before World War I. The left column of the newspaper used in the collage refers to the French labor movement. It communicates the war resistance and the Marxist-inspired revolutionary fight against the ruling powers which caused the war.
To sum up, Picasso presented several messages on the historical, social, and political levels, through this seemingly simple painting. He reinforces and reflects his society’s worries about the ongoing and upcoming wars that were a source of never-ending stress to the Parisian individual. Picasso creates a contrast between pleasure and fear to highlight the need for a compulsory end to the troubles the world was facing at the time. He also uses his painting as a call for revolution against the leaders that drowned the country in this abyss of horror, terror, and needless deaths. With the beverage in the painting, he reminds the viewer to think about the good old peaceful days when one could drink for pleasure and not to temporarily forget his trauma and grief over a lost loved one, a lost country, a lost hope.
Anonymous. (n.d), Art Before World War I: Intro. to Part II in Art in Theory, pp. 126-129.
Cranshaw, R. D. (1985). Notes on Cubism, War, and Labour. Art Monthly (Archive: 1976-2005), (85), 3.
Krauss, R. (2002), Ch.2 “Realism and Ideology: An Introduction to Semiotics and Cubism”, pp.84- 102, “Realism and Representation”, pp. 102-104 & “Art and Semiotics” pp.104-109.