Mather Brown, A Cubist Before Picasso

THE DAILY PIC: In 1787, the American's portraits were built from angles.

Mather Brown

This is the earliest Cubist painting I know – although it was painted in 1787, and lives among the early American holdings of the National Gallery in Washington. Mather Brown was its painter, and the sitter is one William Vans Murray, a Maryland worthy painted by Brown when both were living in London. (Brown never went home to America.) Although it may seem to be a perfectly standard realist picture, its illusions are built up in a series of rectilinear brushstrokes – get a load of that cheekbone – that are the direct ancestors of the so-called passages used by Braque and Picasso, 125 years later, to signify depth without actually depicting it. I’d love to see someone trace precisely how those brushstrokes got from Enlightenment London to the bohemians of Montmartre.

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