The Important Artists and Works of Collage

Progression of Art
Georges Braque: Fruit Dish and Glass (1912)

Fruit Dish and Glass

Artist: Georges Braque

In this work pioneering work of collage, Braque combines faux-wood wallpaper with a Cubist depiction of a fruit dish and glass. The intersecting planes of the drawing and the collage elements upend traditional notions of perspectival space but still suggest a table top and a door, perhaps even suggesting a café. For Braque, Cubism's emphasis on still life was primarily concerned with depicting space, as he said, "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.... It was that space that attracted me strongly, for that was the earliest Cubist painting - the quest for space." While the papier collé still explores how we perceive and feel space, the addition of the glued-on bits of wallpaper emphasize a shallower space that is more an exploration of shapes, their tactility, and how they relate to each other.

Braque created this example of papier collé, which uses bits of paper instead of found images, while staying in Provence, after discovering a roll of wood-grain wallpaper in a shop window. He began cutting and pasting the paper into his drawings and shared the discovery with his friend and collaborator Picasso, who soon adopted the technique. During this period of time, the two men were working so closely together that Braque described them as "like two mountaineers roped together." Braque's papier collé became foundational for the proliferation of the collage technique.

Charcoal and cut-and-pasted printed wallpaper with gouache on white laid paper; subsequently mounted on paperboard - The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Pablo Picasso: Still Life with Chair Caning (1912)

Still Life with Chair Caning

Artist: Pablo Picasso

One of the first examples of Cubist collage, Still Life with Chair Caning depicts a multi-faceted view of a café table, chair, and various items - a knife, a napkin, part of a piece of fruit, and a wine glass. Instead of painting the chair, Picasso attached to the canvas surface a piece of oilcloth printed with a pattern of chair canning to suggest a chair, and used a length of rope to frame the canvas, suggesting a playful take on a table's customary carved edge. At the upper left, one sees the painted letters "Jou," both the French word for "game" and also an evocation of Le Journal, the daily newspaper that seems to be folded up on the table with a pipe resting atop it. While engaging in wordplay and visual punning, Picasso's collage makes viewers question their own perceptions of what constitutes an artwork as well as the relationship between art and ordinary objects.

Though he famously mastered subsequent styles, Picasso turned to collage throughout his career, as seen in his Maquette for the cover of the journal Minotaure (1933). Considered one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Picasso's collages and collage constructions had a noted impact on subsequent art, not only in the mixing of high and low culture but also in its questioning of what constitutes art in the first place.

Oil and oilcloth on canvas, rope - Musée Picasso, Paris


Untitled (Collage with Squares Arranged according to the Law of Chance)

Artist: Hans Arp

This abstract collage consists of blue and white torn squares in various sizes arranged on a grey background. Made of heavyweight paper, bits of the paper's fiber soften the edges of some of the squares, giving it more a hand-made feel while at the same time the loose grid of shapes feels more mechanical and mathematical. The artist Hans Richter described how Arp, after tearing up a drawing he'd been working on, "let the pieces flutter to the floor of his studio.... Sometime later he happened to notice these same scraps of paper as they lay on the floor, and was struck by the pattern they formed. It had all the expressive power that he had tried in vain to achieve.... Chance movements of his hand and of the fluttering scraps of paper had achieved what all his efforts had failed to achieve.... He accepted this challenge from chance as a decision of fate and carefully pasted the scraps down in the pattern which chance had determined."

Arp made this work in Zurich, the center of the emerging Dada movement. In the aftermath of World War I, Dadaists felt that traditional social systems and the emphasis on reason were responsible for the war and, as a result, they sought to free art from rational and intentional strategies and to create a new anti-art that was concrete and eschewed traditional notions of artistic genius. Closely working with his partner Sophie Taeuber, Arp said, "We painted, embroidered, and made collages. All these works were drawn from the simplest forms and were probably the first examples of concrete art. These works are realities pure and independent with no meaning or cerebral intention. We rejected all mimesis and description, giving free reign to the elementary and spontaneous." Arp's experiments with chance and collage were readily incorporated into other Dadaist techniques and later Surrealism and subsequently influenced a host of post-World War II artists who sought to subvert authorial intention and control.

Torn-and-pasted paper and colored paper on colored paper - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Hannah Höch: Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany (1919)

Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany

Artist: Hannah Höch

This Dada photomontage is composed entirely of newspaper and magazine clippings, showing a vision of Weimar society with its leading establishment and anti-establishment figures and its industrialized chaos. Shown at the 1920 First International Dada Fair in Berlin, the work was a huge success because of its legibility. As critic Brian Knight explains, "Ranged in the top right corner are the forces of 'anti-dada': stern representatives of the late empire, the army and the new Weimar government. Below, in the dada corner, are massed artists, communists and other radicals." The decentered and asymmetrical composition of disparate images reflects the Dada emphasis on, what art historian Peter Boswell called, "fracture and disjunction" and embodies a sense of anarchistic energy.

Höch said her pioneering technique was prompted by her discovery of postcards sent home by German soldiers in which they cut and pasted their heads on images of musketeers. These juxtapositions made her aware of how photomontage could "alienate" images from their original context. Additionally, her technique was also informed by her work, beginning in 1916, creating embroidery designs for women's magazines, where collage was a common technique. She was highly aware of the artistic potential of traditionally domestic handicrafts, as her 1918 manifesto on embroidery called on women to "develop a feeling for abstract forms."

Höch created photomontages for the rest of her career, saying, "there are no limits to the materials available for pictorial collages - above all they can be found in photography, but also in writing and printed matter, even in waste products." As art critic Harriet Baker wrote, her oeuvre challenged "the racist and sexist codes upholding Weimar Germany." Her work influenced her contemporary, the Surrealist Claude Cahun, and later artists such as Cindy Sherman.

Collage of pasted papers - Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin

Kurt Schwitters: Merz Picture 32 A, The Cherry Picture (1921)

Merz Picture 32 A, The Cherry Picture

Artist: Kurt Schwitters

In this multi-layered work, areas of dark and light paint combined with glued-on bits of fabric, clippings, and candy wrappers create a sense of pictorial depth but also evoke something like a bulletin board covered in notes and cards. Combining detritus and traditional artistic media, Schwitters created an all-over, non-hierarchical composition. The inclusion of fragments, such as the broken pipe extending from the canvas, and a child's flashcard with the French and German words for cherry, blurs the boundaries between painting and ordinary objects. On the card, Schwitters has written the ungrammatical phrase "Ich liebe dir!" ("I love she!"), perhaps invoking his An Anna Blume (1919), a parodic love poem which made him famous.

Though he began his career as a Post-Impressionist, moving to a more Expressionist style, Schwitters took a radical new direction when he developed what he called Merzzeichnungen, or Merz drawings. As he said "Everything had broken down and new things had to be made out of the fragments; and this is Merz. It was like a revolution within me." He began incorporating trash collected from the streets into his works, saying, "I could not, in fact, see the reason why old tickets, driftwood, cloakroom tabs, wires, and parts of wheels, buttons and old rubbish found in attics and refuse dumps should not be a suitable material for painting as the paints made in factories."

Arp, who influenced Schwitters' turn toward collage, described the artist as "a wizard" and his studio as a "horrible beautiful Merz grotto where broken wheels paired with matchboxes, wire lattices with brushes without bristles, rusted wheels with curious Merz cucumbers." From 1923 to 1936 Schwitters used his collage technique to create Merzbau (Merz Construction), transforming his studio into an immersive environment. As he said, "Merz means to create connections, preferably between everything in this world." As art historian Gwendolen Webster wrote, "The language of Merz now finds common acceptance and today there is scarcely an artist working with materials other than paint who does not refer to Schwitters in some way. In his bold and wide-ranging experiments he can be seen as the grandfather of Pop Art, Happenings, Concept Art, Fluxus, multimedia art and post-modernism."

Cut-and-pasted colored and printed paper, cloth, wood, metal, cork, oil, pencil, and ink on board - The Museum of Modern Art, New York


Joy of Living

Artist: Robert Motherwell

Evocative of a dingy interior, this collage, which includes pasted papers and fabric, remains resolutely abstract, as its elements evade signification. As Motherwell wrote, "One cuts and chooses and shifts and pastes, and sometimes tears off and begins again." Associated with the Abstract Expressionists, Motherwell's work is often considered in the trauma experienced in the wake of World War II. In 2013, art critic Holland Cotter described the collage as a "moody, unkempt concoction of smudged ink, nervy doodles and perspectival geometry, punctuated by a scrap cut from a military map and a sprinkling of curious red stains on a patch of white paper, like blood seeping through a bandage."

While studying at Columbia in 1940, Motherwell began to associate with Fernand Léger, Piet Mondrian, and leading French Surrealists who had fled the Nazi occupation. He became close friends with the artist Roberto Matta, who taught him Surrealist automatism and introduced him to Peggy Guggenheim, then forming The Art of This Century, her avant-garde gallery. She wanted Motherwell to participate in her 1943 collage exhibition, featuring Braque, Picasso, and Arp. At her and Matta's urging, the young artist created this collage, as he said, "I might never have done it otherwise, and it was here that I found . . . my 'identity.'" A great public success, Motherwell would go on to experiment with collage, making some of his most compelling work, including Pancho Villa, Dead and Alive and Blue and With China Ink (Homage to John Cage), and he continued with the technique throughout his decades-long career.

Oil, gouache, pasted fabric, pasted papers, crayon, charcoal, and ink on paperboard - Dedalus Foundation, New York


Dr. Pepper

Artist: Eduardo Paolozzi

With clippings taken from American mass media, the British Pop artist Eduardo Paolozzi used the technique of photomontage to probe the emerging post-World War II consumer society, which Paolozzi described as an "exotic society, bountiful and generous." New technology and products - a kitchen range, a new car, a Dr. Pepper bottle, and signage -combine with images of an alluring lifestyle - the attractive couple in a pool, the virile man on a motorcycle. For Paolozzi, living in a Britain still recovering from the war, its strict rationing, and economic hardship, these works were "where the event of selling tinned pears was transformed into multi-colored dreams, where sensuality and virility combined to art form more subtle and fulfilling than the orthodox choice of either the Tate Gallery or the Royal Academy' Collage."

This work was part of BUNK! (1947-52), a series of 45 collages that art critic Frank Whitford described as juxtaposing "the weighty and trivial, the artistic and technological." Along with his colleague Richard Hamilton, Paolozzi explored Dadaist and Surrealist precursors and was fascinated with American advertising images from childhood. He compared his technique to 'introducing strange fellows to each other in hostile landscapes...without recourse to standard drawing and painting practice." Moving to Paris for a time, he was influenced by Dada and Surrealism, and also encountered the latest American publications brought over by servicemen. Even in his prints and sculptures, collage was central to Paolozzi's creations throughout his career. Paolozzi's collages would become important examples for later Pop Art throughout the world and postmodern explorations of consumer culture.

Printed papers on paper - Collection of the Tate, United Kingdom

Henri Matisse: Blue Nude II (1952)

Blue Nude II

Artist: Henri Matisse

This découpage depicts a nude, her legs intertwined, her right arm curved around her head, and her left arm relaxed, hanging down to her side. The intense blue gouache of the painted, cut-out shapes creates a sense of weight, so the silhouette seems like a relief carved out of color. Matisse described the correlation of color and volume by saying, "To cut to the quick in color reminds me of the direct cutting of sculptors." The technique reflects Matisse's lifelong preoccupations with line and color, as he said, "My choice of based on observation, on feeling, on the very nature of each experience. I... merely try to find a color that will fit my sensation," and "my line drawing is the purest and most direct translation of my emotion."

One of a series of four Blue Nudes (1952), the work is a kind of culmination, evoking his Fauvist painting, The Blue Nude (1907) and the poses of his female figures in Le Bonheur de Vivre (The Joy of Life) (1905). Matisse first used paper cutouts for his design for Le Chant de Rossignol, a 1919 ballet production, and subsequently employed the technique for preliminary work, but began considering them as autonomous works in the early 1940s, when for health reasons he was confined to his bed and wheelchair.

His process involved working with a team of assistants, who would paint large rectangular sheets of paper with gouache, each color mixed to his instructions, and then he would select a sheet and, using long scissors, cut out forms. He would arrange the cutouts, his assistants pinning the composition on his studio walls, and then later gluing them. Art critic Adrian Searle wrote, he "created a universe that filled the room around him, spilling from the walls to the floor."

Gouache on paper, cut and pasted mounted on canvas - Fondation Beyeler, Basel, Switzerland



Artist: Robert Rauschenberg

With this work, Rauschenberg transformed the concept of two-dimensional collage into the three-dimensional realm. This iconic "combine" (Rauschenberg's preferred the term to assemblage) brings together a range of found objects, including a taxidermied Angora goat, its face daubed with bright paint, wearing a tire around its abdomen, standing on an abstract oil painting, made of two canvases. The effect is both startling and incongruous, as Rauschenberg said, "I wanted something other than what I could make myself and I wanted to use the surprise and the collectiveness and the generosity of finding surprises. And if it wasn't a surprise at first, by the time I got through with it, it was. So the object itself was changed by its context and therefore it became a new thing." Finding the goat in a local shop, Rauschenberg recognized its potential, but then as art historian Caroline Craft wrote, he "uncharacteristically spent four years trying to come up with a satisfactory way of incorporating it into a combine. He made sketches of possible solutions and photographed its various states.... At last, inspired by a suggestion from Jasper Johns, he placed the goat on a horizontal platform as if setting it out to pasture." The pasture includes other collage elements: a tennis ball, heel prints, and the addition of text.

After viewing an exhibition of Kurt Schwitters' work, Rauschenberg said, "I felt like he made it all just for me," and Schwitters' collages became a primary influence, informing what critics later called Neo-Dada. The combines were not Rauschenberg's first forays into assemblage. While traveling in Italy in the early 1950s, Rauschenberg made some of his first assemblages, incorporating discarded items he collected throughout his travels, but he destroyed most of them by throwing them into the Arno River. By 1954, he began creating his "combines," as they combined elements of painting and sculpture. As the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote for his 2005 exhibition, "With these mixed-media works of art, Rauschenberg reinvented collage, changing it from a medium that presses commonplace materials to serve illusion into something very different: a process that undermines both illusion and the idea that a work of art has a unitary meaning."

Oil paint, paper, fabric, printed reproductions, metal, wood, rubber shoe-heel, and tennis ball on two conjoined canvases with oil on taxidermied Angora goat with brass plaque and rubber tire on wood platform mounted on four casters - Moderna Museet, Stockholm


Prevalence of Ritual/Conjur Woman No. 1

Artist: Romare Bearden

This collage depicts an African American woman, dressed in a long black robe and wearing a white turban as she faces the viewer with an intense and powerful gaze. A recognizable bird sits on her right shoulder, and a black avian shape on her other shoulder resembles a raven. The environment is composed of cutout images of foliage, dense overgrowth, and suggestions of a dilapidated house, its door and steps evoked behind her. Bearden's collage makes reference to his childhood fear of local conjure woman - a powerful figure who was known for her herbal remedies, various spells, and spiritual authority - who lived near his family in North Carolina.

This image is one of 21 small color collages that Bearden created out of pieces of cloth, magazine photographs, paper, and other materials. He then photocopied and enlarged the collages into black and white images that he called Projections (1964). He also felt the series was steeped in "the prevalence of ritual," writing, "I feel this continuation of ritual gives a dimension to the works so that the works are something other than mere designs." Jazz improvisation influenced Bearden's composition strategies. He explained, "In many ways it's like putting a symphony together, or a piece of music." Reproduced in black and white on a monumental scale, Bearden transformed collage into a medium equal to the large scale Abstract Expressionist works of the time. As art historian Mary Schmidt Campbell writes," Bearden's exhibition of Projections was widely hailed as a breakthrough. In choosing collage, Bearden intentionally selected a medium in which he could substitute the ready-made with the imaginative re-construction of the visual world. The works that followed are the product of a life that ran parallel to America's own struggle with old ways of seeing and knowing." Bearden was to describe the series' depiction of the South as "a homeland of my imagination."

In a New York Times obituary following Bearden's death, C. Gerald Fraser described him as "the nation's foremost collagist." The National Gallery of Art held a major retrospective of Bearden's work in 2003, and the Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition Service's Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey toured the country in 2014-2015.

Gelatin silver print (Photostat) - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Ink, acrylic paint, paint, crystalline particles, plastic pearls and paper on Melinex

You were always on my mind

Artist: Wangechi Mutu

This work depicts two heads in profile against a gray, cloudy background that darkens around the edges, creating a diaphanous glow surrounding the heads. The smaller head emerges as if from the mind of the larger head, which, painted in a pink and gray marbled effect, includes small cut-out images - an eye, a man wearing Middle Eastern clothing. The arm and hands of the larger head are also composed of cut-outs. Glitter and plastic beads are glued to the neck, and the twig-like forms emerging from the back of the head are made of wood-patterned plastic. The cut-outs are often organic - images of crustaceans in the arm and of fish and coral in the upper head - suggesting that these images and the world they represent are also "always on the mind" of the larger figure.

Kenyan-American artist Wangechi Mutu made this work in Brooklyn, innovatively using Melinex, a polyester film, for the painting's surface. It was exhibited at Yo.n.I, the artist's 2007 solo exhibition in London, the title explained by art historian Richard Martin as, "a reference to the Sanskrit word yoni that can mean 'divine passage,' 'place of birth' or 'sacred temple.' Many of the paintings in the show integrated cut-out images of plants, flowers and animals - taken from natural history magazines and the internet - within their depictions of human forms, as part of a wider exploration of fertility and reproduction."

Born and raised in Kenya, Mutu studied anthropology before studying art at Yale University, and her Pin-Up (2001) series, depicting women injured by political violence in Sierra Leone, was her first foray into collage. Mutu uses collage to explore the continued effects of colonialism in her native land as well as the experiences of the diaspora, or those who have left Africa to settle elsewhere. With these twin investigations, Mutu has created a powerful body of work that not only provides striking commentary on our contemporary, globalized era but also probes the formal aspects of the collage technique.

materials - Collection of the Tate, United Kingdom

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Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Valerie Hellstein

"Collage Definition Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. .
Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Valerie Hellstein
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First published on 31 May 2020. Updated and modified regularly
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