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Movements Cubism

Cubism

Started: 1907

Ended: 1922

Quotes

"I have transformed myself in the zero of form and fished myself out of the rubbishy slough of Academic Art. I have destroyed the circle of the horizon and escaped from the circle of objects, the horizon-ring that has imprisoned the artist and the forms from nature. The square is not a subconscious form. It is the creation of intuitive reason. The face of the new art. The square is the living, royal infant. It is the first step of pure creation in art."
Kazimir Malevich, from "From Cubism to Futurism to Suprematism: The New Realism in Painting"
"He commenced the long struggle not to express what he could see but not to express the things he did not see, that is to say the things everybody is certain of seeing but which they do not really see."
Gertrude Stein, on Picasso's early art

KEY ARTISTS

Pablo Picasso Pablo Picasso
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Pablo Picasso Page
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Georges Braque Georges Braque
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Georges Braque Page
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Fernand Léger Fernand Léger
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Juan Gris Juan Gris
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Robert Delaunay Robert Delaunay
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Sonia Delaunay Sonia Delaunay
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Jacques Lipchitz Jacques Lipchitz
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Raymond Duchamp-Villon Raymond Duchamp-Villon
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Jean Metzinger Jean Metzinger
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"Cubism is like standing at a certain point on a mountain and looking around. If you go higher, things will look different; if you go lower, again they will look different. It is a point of view."

Synopsis

Cubism was one of the first truly modern movements to emerge in art. It evolved during a period of heroic and rapid innovation between Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. The movement has been described as having two stages: 'Analytic' Cubism, in which forms seem to be 'analyzed' and fragmented; and 'Synthetic' Cubism, in which newspaper and other foreign materials such as chair caning and wood veneer, are collaged to the surface of the canvas as 'synthetic' signs for depicted objects. The style was significantly developed by Fernand Léger and Juan Gris, but it attracted a host of adherents, both in Paris and abroad, and it would go on to influence the Abstract Expressionists, particularly Willem de Kooning.

Key Ideas

Analytic Cubism staged modern art's most radical break with traditional models of representation. It abandoned perspective, which artists had used to order space since the Renaissance. And it turned away from the realistic modeling of figures and towards a system of representing bodies in space that employed small, tilted planes, set in a shallow space. Over time, Picasso and Braque also moved towards open form - they pierced the bodies of their figures, let the space flow through them, and blended background into foreground. Some historians have argued that its innovations represent a response to the changing experience of space, movement, and time in the modern world.
Synthetic Cubism proved equally important and influential for later artists. Instead of relying on depicted shapes and forms to represent objects, Picasso and Braque began to explore the use of foreign objects as abstract signs. Their use of newspaper would lead later historians to argue that, instead of being concerned above all with form, the artists were also acutely aware of current events - in particular WWI.
Cubism paved the way for geometric abstract art by putting an entirely new emphasis on the unity between the depicted scene in a picture, and the surface of the canvas. Its innovations would be taken up by the likes of Piet Mondrian, who continued to explore its use of the grid, its abstract system of signs, and its shallow space.

Most Important Art

Mandora (1909-1910)
Artist: Georges Braque
In this early example of Cubist painting, Braque was forging experiments with composition and representation of a musical instrument rather than with vivid color. The neutral palette is indicative of his first attempts to create different views of the same item. Mandora also indicates Braque's affinity for studio based still-lifes rather than painting street scenes, as did his Futurist contemporaries. This factor, the careful selection of still-life objects in studio versus the depiction of street scenes, is one that helps differentiate the two movements.
Oil on canvas
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Beginnings

Two events marked the beginning of Cubism. The first was Picasso returning to Paris from his home in Catalonia with his painting, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907). In its radical distortion of the figures, its rendering of volumes as fragmented planes, and its subdued palette, this work predicted some of the key characteristics of later Cubism. Secondly, Braque made a series of landscape paintings in the summer of 1908, in which trees and mountains were rendered as shaded cubes and pyramids, resembling architectural forms. It was this series that led French art critic Louis Vauxcelles to describe them as "bizarreries cubiques," thus giving the movement its name.

The close contact between Picasso and Braque was crucial in the style's genesis. The two artists collaborated very closely, regularly meeting to discuss their progress, and at times it is hard to distinguish the work of one artist from another. Both were living in Montmartre in the years before and during World War I. The other artists who came to be associated with the style - Robert Delaunay, Sonia Delaunay, Jean Metzinger and Raymond Duchamp-Villon - occupied different social circles, gathered elsewhere around Paris and later exhibited together. This group came to be known as the 'Salon' Cubists.

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Picasso, Braque and Analytic Cubism

In its early phase, Cubism developed in a highly systematic fashion. Later to be known as the 'Analytic' period of the style, it was based on close observation of objects in their background contexts. Picasso and Braque restricted their subject matter to the traditional genres of portraiture and still life; they also limited their palette to earth tones and muted silvers, better to maintain clarity between the forms' fragmented planes. Although their work was often very similar in appearance, over time, their separate interests showed through. Braque tended to show objects exploding out or pulled apart into fragments, while Picasso rendered them magnetized, with attracting forces compelling elements of the pictorial space into the center of the composition.

Synthetic Cubism

In 1912 both Picasso and Braque began to introduce foreign elements into their compositions. Picasso incorporated chair caning into Still Life with Chair-Caning (1912), initiating Cubist collage, and Braque began to glue newspaper to his canvases, beginning the movement's exploration of papier-colle. In part this may have resulted from the artists' growing discomfort with the radical abstraction of Synthetic Cubism, though it could also be argued that these experiments touched off an even more radical turn away from the real, and towards the use of abstract signs as codes for the real. At this stage, Juan Gris began to make important contributions to the style: he maintained a sharp clarity to his forms, provided suggestions of a compositional grid, and introduced more color to what had hitherto been an austere style.

Further Developments

Cubist Exhibition

Cubism spread quickly throughout Europe in the 1910s, as much because of its systematic approach to rendering imagery as the openness it offered in depicting objects in new ways. Critics were split over whether Cubists were concerned with representing imagery in a more objective manner - revealing more of its essential character - or whether they were principally interested in distortion and abstraction. As critics debated Cubism's definitions, artists made work that ranged from analytical explorations of form to the use of codes to communicate a semi-mystical expression of beauty. Some artists, like Fernand Léger, adapted Cubism to formal experiments with mathematical grids. Others, like the Sonia Delaunay and Robert Delaunay, took an interest in metaphysical notions of a fourth dimension, applying Cubist rules to works that illustrated multiple scenes overlaid onto each another.

The significance of Cubism began to decline in France in the mid 1920s as many of the style's early practitioners would turn to other focuses. Even as the style started to disperse, it would go on to be hugely important in seeding other movements in modern art. It lies at the root of a host of early modern styles such as Dada, Constructivism, and De Stijl, whilst also being the impetus for the later, romantic reactions such as Surrealism, which rejected Cubism's sometimes quasi-scientific approach to perception. The ideas in the movement also fed into more popular phenomena, like Art Deco design and architecture.

Original content written by Justin Wolf

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

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Useful Resources on Cubism

Books
Websites
Articles
Videos
More
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
The Cubist Painters (Documents of Twentieth-Century Art)

By Guillaume Apollinaire

Cubism A&I (Art and Ideas)

By Neil Cox

Picasso and the Invention of Cubism

By Mr. Pepe Karmel

A Cubism Reader: Documents and Criticism, 1906-1914

By Mark Antliff, Patricia Leighten

Review of "Picasso: Guitars 1912-1914" at MoMA

By Tyler Green
ARTINFO.com
March 23, 2011

Art in Review; 'Inheriting Cubism'

By Ken Johnson
The New York Times
December 7, 2001

Picasso and Braque, Brothers in Cubism

By Michael Brenson
The New York Times
September 22, 1989

Art: The Apprenticeship Of Stuart Davis as a Cubist

By Roberta Smith
The New York Times
November 27, 1987

Cubism as 4-Dimensional Art

From A&E Classroom Series

Picasso Posse: Reasonable Cubism

Curator Michael Taylor discusses the Salon Cubism gallery, with focus on Albert Gleizes' Man on a Balcony

Grade School Cubist Lesson

How to create a Georges Braque inspired charcoal drawing

Picasso, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907

MoMA curators discuss the work in detail

Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso
Picasso dominated European painting in the first half of the last century, and remains perhaps the century's most important, prolifically inventive, and versatile artist. Alongside Georges Braque, he pioneered Cubism. He also made significant contributions to Surrealist painting and media such as collage, welded sculpture, and ceramics.
ArtStory: Pablo Picasso
Georges Braque
Georges Braque
Georges Braque
Georges Braque was a modern French painter who, along with Pablo Picasso, developed analytic Cubism and Cubist collage in the early twentieth century.
ArtStory: Georges Braque
Fernand Léger
Fernand Léger
Fernand Léger
Influenced by Cubism and Futurism, the French painter Fernand Léger developed a unique style of Cubism using cylindrical and other geometric forms with mechanically smooth edges. Often colorful and punctuated by patterns, his paintings range from still lifes and figures to abstract compositions.
ArtStory: Fernand Léger
Juan Gris
Juan Gris
Juan Gris
Juan Gris was a Spanish painter and sculptor, and one of the few pioneers of Cubism. Along with Matisse, Léger, Braque and Picasso, Gris was among the elite visual artists working in early-twentieth-century France.
Juan Gris
Abstract Expressionism
Abstract Expressionism
Abstract Expressionism
A tendency among New York painters of the late 1940s and '50s, all of whom were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes. The movement embraced the gestural abstraction of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, and the color field painting of Mark Rothko and others. It blended elements of Surrealism and abstract art in an effort to create a new style fitted to the postwar mood of anxiety and trauma.
ArtStory: Abstract Expressionism
Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning, a Dutch immigrant to New York, was one of the foremost Abstract Expressionist painters. His abstract compositions drew on Surrealist and figurative traditions, and typified the expressionistic 'gestural' style of the New York School.
ArtStory: Willem de Kooning
Piet Mondrian
Piet Mondrian
Piet Mondrian
Piet Mondrian, a founding member of the De Stijl movement, was a modern Dutch artist who used grids, perpendicular lines, and the three primary colors in what he deemed Neo-plasticism.
ArtStory: Piet Mondrian
Louis Vauxcelles
Louis Vauxcelles
Louis Vauxcelles
Louis Vauxcelles was an influential French art critic, and is credited with coining the terms "Les fauves" ("wild beasts), which became Fauvism, and "bizarre cubiques," which became Cubism.
Louis Vauxcelles
Robert Delaunay
Robert Delaunay
Robert Delaunay
Robert Delaunay was a French avant-garde painter. Early in his career he was associated with the Expressionist group The Blue Rider along with Kandinsky and Klee. Delaunay's singular style is referred to as Orphism; an approach that combines visual elements of Cubism, Expressionism and figurative abstraction.
Robert Delaunay
Sonia Delaunay
Sonia Delaunay
Sonia Delaunay
Sonia Delauney was a Jewish French painter and the husband of artist Robert Delauney, together with whom they began the Orphism art movement during the pre-War period, characterized by its use of strong color palettes and geometric, abstract forms. Delaunay's work also popularly incorporated the use of fabric, furniture design and clothing.
Sonia Delaunay
Jean Metzinger
Jean Metzinger
Jean Metzinger
Jean Metzinger was a French artist who was initially influenced by Fauvism and Impressionism, but then turned to Cubism. Metzinger was a member of the Section d'Or group of artists. In 1912, together with Albert Gleizes, he created the first major treatise on Cubism, Du Cubisme.
Jean Metzinger
Raymond Duchamp-Villon
Raymond Duchamp-Villon
Raymond Duchamp-Villon
Duchamp-Villon and three of the other five Duchamp children, including Marcel Duchamp, became famous artists. Duchamp-Villon was a self-taught French sculptor. He served as a juror in the Salon d'Automne in 1907 and helped promote the Cubist movement. He died in 1916 of typhoid fever.
Raymond Duchamp-Villon
Dada
Dada
Dada
Dada was an artistic and literary movement that emerged in 1916. It arose in reaction to World War I, and the nationalism and rationalism that many thought had led to the War. Influenced by several avant-gardes - Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism, and Expressionism - its output was wildly diverse, ranging from performance art to poetry, photography, sculpture, painting and collage. Emerging first in Zurich, it spread to cities including Berlin, Hanover, Paris, New York and Cologne.
ArtStory: Dada
Constructivism
Constructivism
Constructivism
Russian Constructivism emerged with the Revolution of 1917 and sought a new approach to making objects, one which abolished the traditional concern with composition and replaced it with 'construction,' which called for a new attention to the technical character of materials. It was hoped that these inquiries would yield ideas for mass production. The movement was an important influence on geometric abstraction.
ArtStory: Constructivism
De Stijl
De Stijl
De Stijl
Founded in the Netherlands in 1917, De Stijl was an avant-garde dedicated to isolating a single visual style that would be appropriate to all aspects of modern life, from art to design to architecture. Taking its name from a periodical, its most famous practitioners were Theo van Doesburg and Piet Mondrian, whose mature art employed geometric blocks of primary colors and vertical and horizontal lines.
ArtStory: De Stijl
Art Deco
Art Deco
Art Deco
Art Deco was an eclectic style that flourished in the 1920s and '30s and influenced art, architecture and design. It blended a love of modernity - expressed through geometric shapes and streamlined forms - with references to the classical past and to exotic locations. Its elegant sophistication made it the fashionable style of the wealthy during its heyday.
Art Deco