"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."
Cubism was one of the first truly modern movements to emerge in art. It evolved during a period of heroic and rapid innovation betweenand . 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 and , but it attracted a host of adherents, both in Paris and abroad, and it would go on to influence the , particularly .
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 criticto 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 -, , and - occupied different social circles, gathered elsewhere around Paris and later exhibited together. This group came to be known as the 'Salon' Cubists.
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.
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,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.
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, adapted Cubism to formal experiments with mathematical grids. Others, like the and , 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, and , 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 design and architecture.
"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