The Table

871 x 1164 157.9K
157.9K, 871 x 1164

The Table
Painted: Spring 1914
Pasted paper and gouache on canvas
Philadelphia Museum of Art

The surfaces of collages such as The Table are nearly entirely covered with a wide variety of overlapping papers. These fragments, moreover, are now deployed in increasingly complex ways: the shape of a piece of paper may correspond to the shape of the depicted object or it may itself provide a ground for figuration, whether drawn, painted, or in the form of additional, superimposed collage elements. And Gris continued to appropriate materials for their literal representational function as mere images, as he had in his earliest collages. In The Table, for example, Gris glued a page of a Fantomas detective novel to his drawing of an open book and part of a real newspaper headline to his canvas in lieu of imitating these images with pencil or paintbrush. But these collage elements also take on a metaphoric value: the spectator's attempt to distinguish the true and the false (alluded to in the newspaper clipping) from the myriad paradoxical and contradictory clues contained in the collage may be compared (not without some humor) to the investigative work of the detective in the novel...

Whereas Picasso had demonstrated the multiplicity of ways in which the material aspect of a signifier is not transparent to its signified, Gris sought to show the coincidence of substance and meaning. For Gris, the transparency of glass was embodied (rather than arbitrarily signified) in the transparency of a paper whose two faces had merged and become one. Transparency, however, is always contingent on the presence of light. Gris made this clear in The Table by dividing his composition into two, antithetical zones; a dark blue and black peripheral zone is spotlighted by an oval field in the center. The projecting edges of the rectangular table in all four corners of the canvas have been constructed by pasting thin paper to the canvas ground and then painting both the paper and remaining canvas with the same dark blue paint. Shading, executed in charcoal over the paint, brings these nearly obliterated differences in texture to the threshold of visibility. In dramatic contrast, the golden tonality that pervades the central oval allows for a wide range of differences in material textures, patterns, weight, and color as well as subtleties of drawing to be perceived...

In The Table, Gris represents the still life table as both an upright oval, which coheres to the vertical plane of the canvas, and as a rectangular table receding in depth. Although the disparity in point of view might be explained as an attempt to give the spectator more information about the table than a single view could provide, the contradiction between an oval and a rectangular table can only work to undermine the spectator's confidence that any information at all about the table has been provided. This opposition, long central to Picasso's still lifes, Gris adapted to good effect in The Table, although in doing so he gave it a new burden of meaning: the metaphorical opposition between a realm of shadows and a realm filled with light.
-- Christine Poggi, In Defiance of Painting