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Movements Cubism

Cubism

Started: 1907

Ended: 1922

Quotes

"The goal I proposed myself in making cubism? To paint and nothing more... with a method linked only to my thought.. Neither the good nor the true; neither the useful nor the useless."
Pablo Picasso
"What greatly attracted me - and it was the main line of advance of Cubism - was how to give material expression to this new space of which I had an inkling. So I began to paint chiefly still lifes, because in nature there is a tactile, I would almost say a manual space... that was the earliest Cubist painting - the quest for space."
Georges Braque
"If I have called Cubism a new order, it is without any revolutionary ideas or any reactionary ideas... One cannot escape from one's own epoch, however revolutionary one may be."
Georges Braque
"Cubism is moving around an object to seize several successive appearances, which fused in a single image, reconstitute it in time."
Juan Gris
"It was a tradition to represent a dancer frozen in a chosen position, like a snapshot. I broke away from this tradition by superimposing postures, blending light and motion and scrambling the planes."
Sonia Delaunay
"Enormous enlargements of an object or a fragment give it a personality it never had before, and in this way, it can become a vehicle of entirely new lyric and plastic power."
Fernand Léger
"Let the picture imitate nothing; let it nakedly present its raison d'etre."
Jean Metzinger
"Whether it is Juan Gris taking objects apart, Picasso replacing them with objects of his own invention, or another who replaces conical perspective by a system based on the relations between perpendiculars, all that only goes to show that Cubism was not at all born out of an authoritative theory [mot d'ordre]; that it only marked among a few painters the will to be finished with an art that never ought to have survived the condemnation pronounced upon it by Pascal."
Jean Metzinger
"Cubism was an attack on the perspective that had been known and used for 500 years. It was the first big, big change. It confused people: they said, 'Things don't look like that!'"
David Hockney
"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
"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

KEY ARTISTS

Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso
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Georges BraqueGeorges Braque
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Fernand LégerFernand Léger
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Juan GrisJuan Gris
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Robert DelaunayRobert Delaunay
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Sonia DelaunaySonia Delaunay
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Jacques LipchitzJacques Lipchitz
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Raymond Duchamp-VillonRaymond Duchamp-Villon
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Jean MetzingerJean 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."

Key Ideas

The artists abandoned perspective, which had been used to depict space since the Renaissance, and they also turned away from the realistic modeling of figures.
Cubists explored open form, piercing figures and objects by letting the space flow through them, blending background into foreground, and showing objects from various angles. Some historians have argued that these innovations represent a response to the changing experience of space, movement, and time in the modern world. This first phase of the movement was called Analytic Cubism.
In the second phase of Cubism, Synthetic Cubists explored the use of non-art materials 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, particularly WWI.
Cubism paved the way for non-representational art by putting new emphasis on the unity between a depicted scene and the surface of the canvas. These experiments would be taken up by the likes of Piet Mondrian, who continued to explore their use of the grid, abstract system of signs, and shallow space.

Most Important Art

Les Desmoiselles d'Avignon (1907)
Artist: Pablo Picasso
Picasso's painting was shocking even to his closest artist friends both for its content and for its formal experimentation. The subject matter of nude women was not in itself unusual, but the fact that Picasso painted the women as prostitutes in aggressively sexual postures was novel. Their blatant sexuality was heightened by Picasso's influence from non-Western art that is most evident in the faces of three of the women, which are rendered as mask-like, suggesting that their sexuality is not just aggressive, but also primitive. The unusual formal elements of the painting were also part of its shock value. Picasso abandoned the Renaissance illusion of three-dimensionality, instead presenting a radically flattened picture plane that is broken up into geometric shards. For instance, the body of the standing woman in the center is composed of angles and sharp edges. Both the cloth wrapped around her lower body and her body itself are given the same amount of attention as the negative space around them as if all are in the foreground and all are equally important.

The painting was widely thought to be immoral when it was finally exhibited in public in 1916. Braque is one of the few artists who studied it intently in 1907, leading directly to his later collaboration with Picasso. Because it predicted some of the characteristics of Cubism, Les Desmoiselles is considered proto or pre-Cubist.
Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York
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Beginnings

A watershed moment for the development of Cubism was the posthumous retrospective of Paul Cézanne's work at the Salon d'Automne in 1907. Cézanne's use of generic forms to simplify nature was incredibly influential to both Picasso and Braque. In the previous year, Picasso was also introduced to non-Western art: seeing Iberian art in Spain, and African-influenced art by Matisse, and at the Trocadero anthropological museum. What drew Picasso to these artistic traditions was their use of an abstract or simplified representation of the human body rather than the naturalistic forms of the European Renaissance tradition.

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The Breakthrough: Les Demoiselles d'Avignon

These varying influences can be seen in Picasso's groundbreaking work of 1907, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, which is considered a work of proto or pre-Cubism. In its radical distortion of figures, its rendering of volumes as fragmented planes, and its subdued palette, this work predicted some of the key characteristics of later Cubism.

Braque, on seeing Picasso's Les Demoiselles at his studio, intensified his similar explorations in simplification of form. He made a series of landscape paintings in the summer of 1908, including Houses at L'Estaque in which trees and mountains were rendered as shaded cubes and pyramids, resembling architectural forms. Cubism was introduced to the public with Braque's one-man exhibition at Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler's gallery on the rue Vignon in November 1908. It was this exhibit that led French art critic Louis Vauxcelles to describe them as "bizarreries cubiques," thus giving the movement its name.

The experiments of Picasso and Braque owe much to Kahnweiler, who was the major supporter of their work. Picasso and Braque were both quite poor in 1907 and Kahnweiler offered to buy their works as they painted them, thus freeing the artists from worrying about pleasing patrons or receiving negative reviews. After the 1908 exhibit, with few exceptions, the two artists exhibited only in Kahnweiler's gallery.

The Cubism of Picasso and Braque

The close collaboration between Picasso and Braque beginning in 1909 was crucial to the style's genesis. The two artists met regularly to discuss their progress, and at times it became hard to distinguish the work of one artist from another (as they liked it). Both were living in the bohemian Montmartre section of Paris in the years before and during World War I, making their collaboration easy.

In 1912, Kahnweiler gave his first public interview on Cubism, no doubt in response to growing public interest in (and some recognition of) the movement. When World War I began, Kahnweiler, as a German, was exiled from France. During the war, Léonce Rosenberg became the main dealer for Cubist art in Paris (including those of the Salon Cubists) with his brother Paul Rosenberg serving as Picasso's dealer during the interwar years.

Though Picasso and Braque returned to Cubist forms periodically throughout their careers and there were some exhibitions of work up until 1925, the two-man movement did not last much beyond World War I.

Salon or Section d'Or Cubism

Cubist Exhibition Salon d'Automne

The Salon Cubists, so-called because they showed their works at public exhibits such as the Salon d'Automne, did not work closely with Picasso and Braque but were influenced by their experiments. It was through the work of the Salon Cubists that the movement became widely known to the public in the early 1910s. These artists included Robert Delaunay, Albert Gleizes, Fernand Léger, Juan Gris, Henri Le Fauconnier, Robert de La Fresnaye, and Jean Metzinger. Metzinger and Delaunay, who had been friends at least since 1906, began collaborating with Gleizes as a result of the yearly Salon d'Automne. It was through Gleizes that they met Le Fauconnier who had published Note sur la peinture (1910) in which he praised Picasso and Braque for their "total emancipation" of painting.

These artists exhibited together at the 1911 Salon des Independants, introducing Cubism to the general public. The Independants was a non-juried exhibition where public reaction depended on how and where paintings were hung. The Cubists got control of the hanging committee from the Neo-Impressionists so that their works could be hung together in one room as a coherent school. The paintings created a stir, as Gleizes noted: "While the newspapers sounded the alarm to alert people to the danger, and while appeals were made to the public authorities to do something about it, song writers, satirists and other men of wit and spirit provoked great pleasure among the leisured classes by playing with the word 'cube', discovering that it was a very suitable vehicle for inducing laughter which, as we all know, is the principle characteristic that distinguishes man from the animals."

In addition to showing their works in large exhibitions, the Salon Cubists were also distinct from Picasso and Braque in that they often worked on a large scale, leading one art historian to coin the term 'Epic Cubism' to distinguish their work from the more intimate paintings of Picasso and Braque. While they broke apart objects and bodies into geometric forms like those of Picasso and Braque, the Salon Cubists did not challenge Renaissance conceptions of space to the same extent nor did they embrace the monochromatic color of Analytic Cubism or the collage elements of Synthetic Cubism.

On Cubism Book written by Metzinger and Gleizes

At the end of 1911 Gleizes and Metzinger, who lived closely together in the Parisian suburbs, and others in the group began meeting in Puteaux, a suburb where the painter and engraver Jacques Villon and his brother, the sculptor Raymond Duchamp-Villon had their studios (leading to them sometimes being called the Puteaux group). It is likely as a result of these meetings that the main ideas for Metzinger and Gleizes' On Cubism (1912) were formalized; it was the first published statement about the style.

The next year the group also planned the launch of the Salon de la Section d'Or (1912) that would bring together the most radical currents in painting. The term Section d'Or was a name the Salon Cubists adopted to show their attachment to the golden mean, i.e. the belief in order and the importance of mathematical proportions in their works that reflected those in nature. The Section d'Or exhibit was held after the 1912 Salon d'Automne at the Galerie La Boetie. It was at this exhibit that the art critic Guillaume Apollinaire coined the term Orphism to refer to the work of Delaunay. The next year Apollinaire published Aesthetic Meditations: The Cubist Painters (1913). These many exhibits and publications were calculated to make an impact, both in Paris and abroad.

As with the Cubism of Picasso and Braque, the Salon or Section d'Or group did not continue coherently after WWI, having only sporadic exhibits between 1918 and 1925.

Styles

The various stages of development in the Cubist style are based on the work of Picasso and Braque rather than on those of the Salon Cubists. The exact names and dates of the stages are debated and continually reframed to this day.

Cezannian Cubism (1908 -1909)

This early phase of the movement came in the wake of the Paul Cézanne retrospective in 1907 when many artists were reintroduced or introduced for the first time to the work of Cézanne, who had been living in Aix-en-Provence in the south of France before his death and had not exhibited in Paris for many years. Several artists who saw the retrospective were influenced by his lack of three-dimensionality, the material quality of his brushwork, and his use of uniform brushstrokes. Braque's Houses at L'Estaque (1908) is a good example of this type of Cubism.

Analytic Cubism (1910- 1912)

In this 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, often showing them from various vantage points. Picasso and Braque restricted their subject matter to the traditional genres of portraiture and still life and also limited their palette to earth tones and muted grays in order to lessen the clarity between the fragmented shapes of figures and objects. Although their works were often similar in appearance, their separate interests showed through over time. 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. Works in this style include Braque's Violin and Palette (1909) and Picasso's Ma Jolie (1911-12).

Towards the end of this stage of Cubism, Juan Gris began to make 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 been an austere, monochromatic style.

Synthetic Cubism (c. 1912 - c. 1914)

In 1912 both Picasso and Braque began to introduce foreign elements into their compositions, continuing their experiments with multiple perspectives. Picasso incorporated wall paper that imitated chair caning into Still Life with Chair-Caning (1912), thus 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 Analytic Cubism, though it could also be argued that these Synthetic experiments touched off an even more radical turn away from Renaissance depictions of space, and towards a more conceptual rendering of objects and figures. Picasso's experiments with sculpture are also included as part of the Synthetic Cubist style as they employ collaged elements.

Crystal Cubism (1915 -1922)

As a response to the chaos of war, there was a tendency among many French artists to pull back from radical experimentation; this inclination was not unique to Cubism. One art historian has described this stage of Cubism as the "end product of a progressive closing down of possibilities." In Léger's Three Women (1921), for example, the depicted subjects are hard-edged rather than resembling overlapping bits of low-relief sculpture; Léger also did not attempt to show objects from various angles. Crystal Cubism is associated with Salon Cubism as well as with the works of Picasso and Braque. Crystal Cubism is part of the larger trend known as a "Return to Order" that was associated with artists in the School of Paris.

Further Developments

Cubist Exhibition

Cubism spread quickly throughout Europe in the 1910s, as much because of its systematic approach to rendering imagery as for 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.

The movement lies at the root of a host of early twentieth styles including Constructivism, Futurism, Suprematism, Orphism, and De Stijl. Many important artists went through a Cubist phase in their development, perhaps the most notable of whom was Marcel Duchamp whose notorious Nude Descending a Staircase (1912) garnered much attention and many negative reviews at the 1913 Armory Show in New York City.

The ideas in the movement also fed into more popular phenomena, like Art Deco design and architecture. Later movements such as Minimalism were also influenced by the Cubist use of the grid, and it is difficult to imagine the development of non-representational art without the experiments of the Cubists. Like other paradigm changing artistic movements of twentieth-century art, like Dada and Pop, Cubism shook the foundations of traditional artmaking by turning the Renaissance tradition on its head and changing the course of art history with reverberations that continue into the postmodern era.


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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

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
Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne was an influential French Post-Impressionist painter whose depictions of the natural world, based on internal geometric planes, paved the way for Cubism and later modern art movements.
ArtStory: Paul Cézanne
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.
ArtStory: Juan Gris
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
Futurism
Futurism
Futurism
Futurism was the most influential Italian avant-garde movement of the twentieth century. Dedicated to the modern age, it celebrated speed, movement, machinery and violence. At first influenced by Neo-Impressionism, and later by Cubism, some of its members were also drawn to mass culture and nontraditional forms of art.
ArtStory: Futurism
Suprematism
Suprematism
Suprematism
Suprematism, the invention of Russian artist Kazimir Malevich, was one of the earliest and most radical developments in abstract art. Inspired by a desire to experiment with the language of abstract form, and to isolate art's barest essentials, its artists produced austere abstractions that seemed almost mystical. It was an important influence on Constructivism.
ArtStory: Suprematism
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
Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp
The French artist Marcel Duchamp was an instrumental figure in the avant-garde art worlds of Paris and New York. Moving through Dada, Surrealism, readymades, sculpture, and installation, his work involves conceptual play and an implicit attack on bourgeois art sensibilities.
ArtStory: Marcel Duchamp
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
Minimalism
Minimalism
Minimalism
Minimalism emerged as a movement in New York in the 1960s, its leading figures creating objects which blurred the boundaries between painting and sculpture, and were characterized by unitary, geometric forms and industrial materials. Emphasizing cool anonymity over the passionate expression of the previous generation of painters, the Minimalists attempted to avoid metaphorical associations, symbolism, and suggestions of spiritual transcendence.
ArtStory: Minimalism
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
Pop Art
Pop Art
Pop Art
British artists of the 1950s were the first to make popular culture the dominant subject of their art, and this idea became an international phenomenon in the 1960s. But the Pop art movement is most associated with New York, and artists such as Andy Warhol, who broke with the private concerns of the Abstract Expressionists, and turned to themes which touched on public life and mass society.
ArtStory: Pop Art
Jacques Lipchitz
Jacques Lipchitz
Jacques Lipchitz
The Lithuanian-born Jacques Lipchitz moved to Paris in 1909, becoming a well-known Cubist sculptor and important member of the Ecole de Paris. Amid the German occupation of Paris during World War II, Lipchitz fled France for the United States in 1941 where he made large, often heroic sculptures.
ArtStory: Jacques Lipchitz