Painted in 1917 Nature morte aux biscuits marks a period of significant transformation in the career of Auguste Herbin, when his works moved from a cubist style towards a more abstract language. Herbin had begun to experiment with Cubism in 1909 when he moved to Bateau-Lavoir, where he shared a studio with Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Juan Gris. However with the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, his painting was put on hold and he was recruited into working at an aeroplane factory near Paris.
Returning to his art in 1917 Herbin developed a more abstract and geometrical aesthetic, which would lead the way for his New Objectivity style in the 20s and pure abstraction in the 30s. As seen in Nature morte aux biscuits, canvases were now divided into interlocking sections of different colours and patterns, creating a surface of seemingly superimposed planes. Eschewing any form of representation, Herbin creates a visual space that is determined by the relation of geometry and colours. By juxtaposing layers of different tones, patterns and seemingly different textures, Herbin creates a highly striking and dynamic, yet ultimately unreadable image. Discernable only by the title and one or two clues, such as the flower insignia to the left and the central pink swirling motif, which could signify the edge of the table, Herbin creates a uniquely stylized image, which rejects nature and the traditional notions of perspective, modeling and foreshortening. Not unlike the Analytic Cubism of 1910-1912, objects are here dissected into multiple facets, which are in part reassembled to evoke objects, however colour is not reduced to near-monochromatic tones but instead is a mirage of bright tonalities. Deploying a series of abstracted graphic elements, Herbin emphasises the superficiality and manipulation of image making, and yet still succeeds to engage the viewer, intriguing them with clues and the promise of a hidden detectable picture.
Herbin’s burgeoning abstract style, exemplified by Nature morte aux biscuits attracted the attention of the art dealer Léonce Rosenberg, who invited Herbin to exhibit at his Galerie de l’Effort Moderne, where the present work was displayed. In the Bulletin, Rosenberg reserved the most praising words for Herbin, regaling, ‘the perfection of all perfections, the absolute of all idealism is always Herbin’. Herbin’s continued devotion to geometrical abstraction earnt him a considerable international reputation and left a lasting influence on younger abstract artists, substantiating him as one of the most significant abstract artists of the day.