Analytic Cubism – Pablo Picasso, Ma Jolie 1911-12

Analytical Cubism  was the early phase of cubism  (from about 1908-12) which was  characterised by the pronounced use of geometric shapes, fragmentation, multiple viewpoints and monochromatic use of colour.

Paintings produced at this time were often more detailed than later cubist works, with images often gathered tightly toward the centre of the painting, growing sparser toward the edges. Although figures and objects were dissected or “analysed” into a multitude of small facets, these were then reassembled in a different format to evoke those same figures or objects.

An excellent example of Analytical Cubism is a work by Pablo Picasso called Ma Jolie.

The name Ma Jolie, (My pretty girl) came from a popular song performed at a Parisian music hall. It was also Picasso’s nickname for his lover Marcelle Humbert (also known as Eva Gouel). So, we can assume that the painting would reference both a woman, probably Eva, and music.

Picasso composed the figure into different planes, angles, lines, and shadings, completely abstracting the face of the woman.

Pablo Picasso, Ma Jolie, 1911-12

Before looking at the other images and reading the rest of the article, please look at the overall picture and examine it to see what shapes you can identify  – look for both musical references and the figure of a woman.

I can see a woman’s head in the large triangular shape on a 45 degree angle in the top right quarter, just above the centre. Straight lines (running diagonally from near top left towards the lower right)  represent her shoulders, with a slim neck at the centre. The sharp angle at the top of the left shoulder line suggests an elbow, and what could be the right arm (in cream) coming from below the shoulder and then bent back towards the shape of a musical instrument, possibly a guitar, as if she is holding it.



This is what I interpret to be her face. There seems to be two images here. One of the larger triangular face, and within this, a softer more traditional drawing of a woman’s face, with a clearly identifiable eye on the left, and part of an eye on the right, with a lopsided smile. Perhaps the dashes above the forward are her hair, or a hat.


In this section, below the woman’s shoulders I can see her fingers (quite thick cylindrical shapes) on the left, strumming the guitar – you can see the vertical strings of the instrument.

Here Picasso has given us the clue as to what the image is about. We have the play on words of Ma Jolie, and the treble clef to let us know that this is image contains both a musical reference and a reference to his lover.


This is a photo of Eva – I think you can see the similarity in the profile in this photo and the faint drawing of her face in Ma Jolie.

Picasso was devastated by her early death in 1915.



Does this picture work for you as a faceted (broken up) image which combines both a women’s face and music? What other clues can you find which might tell us more about what Picasso was attempting to show us?

If you would like to know more about Cubism, or any other style of Modern Art, visit my website, Introduction to Modern European Art.

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