Cubism Movement and Chronology

"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.

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.

Cubist Exhibition

Further Developments

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 Neo-Plasticism, 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
comment to editor

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

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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.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Pablo Picasso
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.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Georges Braque
Fernard Léger
Fernard 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.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Fernard Léger
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.

Modern Art Information Juan Gris
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.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Abstract Expressionism
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.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Willem De Kooning
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 Neoplasticism.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Piet Mondrian
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.

Modern Art Information Louis Vauxcelles
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.

Modern Art Information Robert 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.

Modern Art Information Sonia Delaunay
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.

Modern Art Information Jean Metzinger
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.

Modern Art Information Raymond Duchamp-Villon
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.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Dada
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.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Constructivism
Neo-Plasticism
Neo-Plasticism
Neo-Plasticism was the guiding philosophy behind the art of Dutch painter Piet Mondrian and many of his peers in the De Stijl circle. Articulated by Mondrian in 1917-18, the approach stipulates the strict use of only horizontal and vertical lines; the primary colors red, yellow, and blue; and white, gray, and black.

Modern Art Information Neo-Plasticism
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.

Modern Art Information Art Deco
The Mandolin Player
The Mandolin Player

Title: The Mandolin Player (1911)

Artist: Pablo Picasso

Artwork Description & Analysis: The close relationship between the early Cubist styles of Picasso and Braque's are evident in The Mandolin Player. This painting primarily relies on a vertical dynamic, as does Braque's Mandora, yet it seems as if the angles depicted are coming together in the center, rather than dissipating or exploding. Various elements converge into a substantial abstract form, while Braque's typically show items dissolving into "harmonious insubstantiality" (Gooding, p.38). Importantly, The Mandolin Player illustrates how different visions of similar objects comprised the bulk of early Cubist works.


Oil on canvas - Fondation Beyeler, Basel

Mandora
Mandora

Title: Mandora (1909-1910)

Artist: Georges Braque

Artwork Description & Analysis: 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

Fantomas
Fantomas

Title: Fantomas (1915)

Artist: Juan Gris

Artwork Description & Analysis: Juan Gris worked in close contact with Braque and Picasso since 1911. By 1914, he had developed collage techniques in which he pasted elements from newspapers and magazines into deconstructed, abstract scenes. Sometimes he would show actual collages and sometimes paintings of his collages. Gris is known for his ability to create tension between horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines. In Fantomas, Gris rendered in oil paint a tabletop full of periodicals, including the popular crime serial, Fantomas. He was the first Cubist to introduce light and color into his works, inspiring Picasso and Braque's later Synthetic Cubism.


Oil on canvas - National Gallery, Washington DC

Woman In Blue (Study for)
Woman In Blue (Study for)

Title: Woman In Blue (Study for) (1912)

Artist: Fernand Léger

Artwork Description & Analysis: Léger explored Cubism's relationship to machines, linking his interests to the Futurists as well. In Woman In Blue, Léger demonstrates his early interest in geometric abstraction that floats about the canvas rather than converges or diverges. Elements in the painting are fragmented to depict the artist's impression of modern life. Léger was interested in expressing the essence of a character, in this case a woman, rather than her physical appearance.


Oil on canvas - Kunstmuseum, Basel

Le Cheval Majeur
Le Cheval Majeur

Title: Le Cheval Majeur (1914)

Artist: Raymond Duchamp-Villon

Artwork Description & Analysis: Raymond Duchamp-Villon, Marcel Duchamp's older brother, shared Marcel's interest in depicting motion visually. Le Cheval Majeur, one of several sculptures made out of metal and stone, break apart the musculature of a horse into geometric parts, as if it was a machine. Duchamp-Villon likens the living horse to an inanimate object, giving it a robotic sense of action. This piece is a good example of Cubist sculpture, as it attempts to depict a horse's body from multiple angles even though it is not flattened into a two-dimensional picture plane.


Bronze

Electric Prisms
Electric Prisms

Title: Electric Prisms (1914)

Artist: Sonia Delaunay

Artwork Description & Analysis: Sonia and Robert Delaunay were members of the Salon Cubists in Paris, a more public group than Picasso, Braque and their circle of friends. Like all Cubists, they used geometric forms and flattened perspective to show visual manipulation of their subject, but the Delaunays in particular had metaphysical interests in color and concept. Their theory of simultaneity proposed that events and objects are, "inextricably connected in time and space" (Cooper, p.9). Electric Prisms uses the sphere to represent this idea of overlap. In it, different spheres convene into single large concentric circles that are arranged to depict dynamic movement of electricity.


Oil on canvas - Georges Pompidou Centre, Paris

Bibliography
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggests some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.