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Art Diary

Cubism and the Trompe L’Oeil Tradition

28 October 2022

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (20 October–22 January 2023) reveals how the modern masters who invented Cubism were influenced by time-honoured illusionary tactics. Pairing works by European trompe l’oeil painters from the 17th–19th centuries with Cubist paintings, the exhibition looks at how Picasso, Gris and Braque each drew on the attempts of their forebears to trick the viewer into thinking that the image they are looking at exists in three dimensions. Works by the 19th-century Irish-American painter William Michael Harnett, who specialised in still-life paintings of musical instruments such as Still Life – Violin and Music (1888), are presented alongside Georges Braque’s Violin and Palette (1909); both attempt to distort the viewer’s perception of depth. Another particularly striking pairing is that of Picasso’s Still Life with Compote and Glass (1914–15) with J.S. Bernard’s Still Life with Violin, Ewer and Bouquet of Flowers (1675), with both artists manipulating the perspective to give the illusion of objects tumbling off tables and out of the canvas. Find out more on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website.

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Still Life – Violin and Music (1888), William Michael Harnett. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Violin and Palette (1909), Georges Braque. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. © 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

Still Life with Four Bunches of Grapes (c. 1636), Juan Fernández. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Fruit-Dish with Grapes (1914), Pablo Picasso. © 2022 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Still Life with Violin, Ewer, and Bouquet of Flowers (1657), J.S.Bernard. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Still Life with Compote and Grapes (1914–15), Pablo Picasso. Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio. © 2022 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York