Cubism

Cubism

Browse All Cubist Artists Browse All Cubist Paintings

Origin of the movement

Cubism was originated by two masters – Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Picasso in the end of the 19th – beginning of the 20th cent. was close to protofauvism – his vector was parallel to Matisse and his friends. By finally he started polemizing with them, choosing monochrome blue and rose harmonies. Polemics ended with “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” (1907) – one of the first major vanguard works of a new century. Specialists consider it the beginning of Cubism.

Coming-to-be of Cubism coincides with 1908-1909. It’s a new attitude towards modeling forms, which are not mere plastic equivalents of real objects, but have their own physical existence and symbolism. Generally, Cubism geometrizes form, but it’s just an instrument each artist used to his own hand.

Term

The term “cubism” was first mentioned on November 14, 1908, in the newspaper “Gil Blas”. Louis Vauxcelles, who had already given name to Fauvism, used it in the review of Georges Braque’s exhibition at the gallery of Daniel Kahnweiler. That show was patronized by Guillaume Apollinaire and became a sensation in the European artistic life. Public liked the word, so the new “ism” in the avant-garde appeared. The inventors of Cubism itself thought the definition to be too narrow for their art, though also picked it up.

Analytic Cubism

Early cubism, at suggestion of Juan Gris, gained name “analytic”. It’s defined by accent on crystallization of volumes and fan-like structures. The meaning of the middle distance increased and big masses were often fragmented. Deformation of objects was submitted to the inner logic of composition – painting form seemed to live their independent life, which was given to them by the rhythmic conformity of all parts. Artists depicted not what they saw but what they knew. They didn’t imitate the surrounding, creating a new artistic reality instead. Picasso often said he worked “not from nature, but like nature”.

Analytic cubism was evolving: coloring brightened, shapes became even more subdivided. Picasso and Braques applied technique of tiny brushstrokes at certain stage. Sometimes edges and plains were executed in silvery or green-ocherous, typically cubistic monochrome scale. An effect of transparency, so the objects behind them could be seen, was also common. A special type of unfolding of image in space led to combining several standpoints in one composition. This wasn’t a total innovation as this principle had existed in the Egyptian art or and used in Byzantine icon-painting, for instance. Partly, spreading of this method in Cubism was inspired by legacy of Paul Cezanne. His still lifes demonstrates attempts to show things sideways and a little bit from above simultaneously. This notion was crucial for all vanguard mentality, since it was the first step towards space-time synthesis.

“Le Bateau-Lavoir” (“Wash-barge” in French) was an influential group during analytic period of Cubism. It gained its name after the house located at № 13 Rue Ravignan in the Montmartre a bunch of avant-gardists settled in. Apart from Picasso and poet Max Jacob, Guillaume Appolinaire and his friend Mary Laurencin, poet Andre Salmon, Juan Gris, critic Maurice Reynal, Gertrude Stein and others settled there. There were more writers in the group then artists. Anyway, communication with such poet as Jean Cocteau had a noticeable influence on further development of the movement.

Cubism and science

A significant role for Cubism was acquaintance of the artists with mathematicians and newest physico-mathematical conceptions. Apollinaire in his only book on art, “The Cubist Painters” wrote: “Today, scientists no longer limit themselves to the three dimensions of Euclid. The painters have been led quite naturally, one might say by intuition, to preoccupy themselves with the new possibilities of spatial measurement which, in the language of the modern studios, are designated by the term: the fourth dimension”. The artists strived for creating a visual equivalent of the scientific image of the world.

Nevertheless, Picasso later opposed exaggerated theorization of his pieces: “Mathematics, trigonometry, chemistry, psychoanalysis, music, and what not, have been realted to Cubism to give it easier interpretation. All this has been a pure literature, not to say nonsense…”. But the fact remain that at the dawn of Cubism theories of Minkowski, Poincare, Bergson were widely discussed at the studios of Montmartre and stimulated creative experiments of the artists.

Synthetic cubism

The world was changing rapidly at the beginning of the 20th cent. The amount of information increased abruptly and that couldn’t remain human’s psychology and aesthetical values unaffected. Cubistic painting of 1910s have a lot of figures, separate words, randomly painted over the canvas’ surface. These were mostly imitation of shop-signs, car numbers, identification marks on the airplanes or allusions on certain addresses, wine or cigarette brands etc. Some words were transformed or shortened that made sense even more ciphered and understood only for an artist and his close friends.

In 1911 – 1912 a shift from analytic stage of Cubism to synthetic one was outlined. Synthetic cubism was interchange and superimposition of objects on the picture plane. Part of them we presented abstractly, sometimes only with contour-lines, which could break or turn into another image. Artists started applying non-artistic materials to the painting surface. Braque was probably the first one to combine painting and typed text. This way collage was born (from French collee – to glue on). Press-clippings, parts of posters, labels and so on and so forth, were used for it. Collage didn’t only enrich the texture of the work but extended its senses and meanings. Texts were nonrandom and dedicated to actual themes – sale of American cars, Balkan war, student demonstrations etc. Actually, Cubism itself could be seen as a creative rebel. Not accidently leftist magazines interpreted Cubism as “shock of bourgeoisie”. Press wrote “cubism is very dangerous”, since it is “an realization of principles of 1789 in aesthetics”.

Apart from texts cubists enthusiastically used illusionisticly painted elements, inspired by old “trompe-l’œil” still lifes: nail-head or wall-paper pattern, for instance. Such illusionism evoked another artistic method, typical for Cubism – combining paint with extraneous materials. This idea is genetically connected with Baroque, when a clock-face could be fixed into a canvas or a true cannon-balled installed into fresco with a battle scene. After paper, masters started using sand, chips, steel, glass, gyps, wood. A painting then changed into a certain material object, gained volume and three-dimensionality. Creating specific volumetric pieces – Counter-Reliefs, often colored – was the next step.

Tints of Cubism were gradually becoming more intensive and various. Paintings of Juan Gris can illustrated this process: the author wanted to add Cubism intentionally aesthetical character. Apart from typically cubistic technique he colored his works with elegant bright brushstrokes. Around 1913 artists started creating oval compositions that traced back to the art of the 18th cent. The term “rococo-cubism” even appeared. Synthetic cubism transformed into decorative one with plastic and coloring elements freely combined.

Cubist groups

One of main cubist groups was “The Section d’Or” also known as “Groupe de Puteaux”. Three brothers – Marcel Duchamp, Raymond Duchamp-Villon and Jacques Villon, as well as Louis Marcoussis, Roger de La Fresnaye, Juan Gris, Francis Picabia, Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger were its members. In 1912 they organized a collective exhibition “The Section d’Or” (the name given by its initiator Jacques Villon) at the Galerie La Boétie in Paris. One of founders of cubist sculpture, Alexander Archipenko, also its participants. All masters attempted to form discipline in art, paying a lot of attention to clarity of lines, colors and compositions. The group split in 1914.

Independent school of Cubism originated in Russia and Ukraine, Czehia and USA. Among Ukrainian-born masters, who worked for a certain time in Cubism stylistic, were Casimir Malevich, David Burluck, Alexandra Ekster and others. David Burluck in his article “Cubism” (1913) wrote that new art represented “colored time” through “timbers of textures”, “shifted constructions” and “intersection of different planes and surfaces”. Russian Cubism developed within such creative groups as “Bubnoviy Valet” (“The Knave of Diamonds”), “Osliniy Khvost” (“The Donkey’s Tail”) and “Soiuz Molodezhi” (“The Youth Union”). In the USA history of vanguard in general and Cubism in particular began from the “Armory Show” that opened in the building of former Arsenal in New-York in 1913. A wide range of new European art could be seen there together with works of its American adherents, like Max Weber, Marsden Hartley, John Marin and others.
Some of cubistic methods were organically absorbed by Futurism and Abstractionism, and later effected oeuvre of such masters like Rufino Tamayo, Renato Gutuzo and Andre Fugeron.

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required

Random Cubist Artists

Alexander Archipenko

Alexander Archipenko

Cubism

Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso

Cubism

Georges Braque

Georges Braque

Cubism

Fernand Leger

Fernand Leger

Cubism

Random Cubist Paintings

Woman Washing her Feet
The Station
A Disc in the City
Group of Nude Figures
Vase with Flowers
The Port of Antwerp: the Mast
Composition at Pitcher
The Staircase

Latest Articles

Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin: Synthetic Vision

February 15, 2016

There is a type of artists, whose legacy, despite being deeply national, embodies the highest achievements of European fine […]

READ MORE

Auguste Rodin: Embodied Passion

February 14, 2016

We would like to celebrate this special day – St. Valentine’s Day – with a selection of the works by […]

READ MORE

William Blake: Unrecognised Genius

February 12, 2016

Sadly but History of art is full of personalities who were deprived of the appreciation they deserved during […]

READ MORE

The birth of Photography: William Talbot

February 11, 2016

William Henry Fox Talbot, English inventor of photographic processes, was bon on this day in 1800. A man […]

READ MORE