Progression of Art
Le Fauconnier presents the viewer with an allegory of the plentitude of nature and the fertility of womanhood in the large-scale oil painting. A nude woman bears an oversized platter laden with fruit on her head, and a nude child with his arms full of apples stands next to her. The figures occupy a landscape in which a lake with boats, the spires of a castle, mountains, and a city street can be glimpsed, and the foreground is littered with fallen fruit.
Le Fauconnier does not depict the scene from multiple perspectives as would be typical of Picasso and Braque, but instead he analyzes the volume of the figures and landscape. The faceted bodies of the figures and the landscape convey a common density and weight. While patches of red and blue throughout the composition create movement through the image, the underlying greys and browns further unite the figures and the landscape as seen in the similarity between the woman’s shoulders and arms and the cubic mountains in the upper right of the painting. The figures are meant to embody the earth’s abundance, as if they too had materialized from the same substance.
At the 1911 Salon des Indépendants, Le Fauconnier’s work made him the public face of the new avant-garde art, and his monumental approach to an allegorical subject and his preoccupation with volume and weight were important influences upon Salon Cubism.
Oil on canvas - Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague, Netherlands
Woman with Phlox
The monochromatic and abstracted treatment of a traditional genre scene created a scandal when it was shown at the 1911 Salon des Indépendants, where viewers thought the painting outlandish. A woman sits in a room between two vases filled with flowers. She concentrates on the unfolded paper or cloth she holds in her lap. Behind her, a window opens onto a view of the landscape beyond. The reductive color palette, combined with the angled planes of multiple perspectives, creates a blurring between the interior of the room and the exterior view and between the figure and her surroundings.
Gleizes felt that the figure was not important in itself but functioned only as a "figurative support," as he wrote, to be "subordinated to true, essential qualities that correspond to the plastic demands of painting." Here, the woman’s clothing and body become cubic volumes, sculpted in cylindrical forms, creating not so much the sense of layered planes of vision, as layered planes of dense materiality. As the art historian, Daniel Robbins has written, "We see the artist's volumetric approach to Cubism and his successful union of a broad field of vision with a flat picture plane." As Gleizes himself wrote, he was most interested in "an analysis of volume relationships," wanting to convey solidity and structure, and it was this emphasis on synthesizing the materiality of the world according to the sensations the artist felt that contributed not only to Cubism but also toward further abstraction.
Oil on canvas - Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
Woman with a Horse
Metzinger depicts a nude woman, wearing a pearl necklace petting the ear of a horse while her right hand offers the horse a treat. The scene is placed in a landscape, though a window is visible in the upper right of center and a vase and various flowers and fruits are in the foreground. The setting of the woman and the horse is ambiguous. The model’s block upon which the woman sits coupled with the vase in the foreground and what appears to be a window suggests the two are inside, perhaps in the artist’s studio, but the landscape elements in the foreground and what appears to be a tree in the top left indicate that the pair could also be outside.
The large painting embodies Metzinger’s idea of simultaneity, combining different perspectives at the same time. To counter the traditional reliance on Euclidean geometry that formed the basis of traditional linear perspective, Metzinger thought one must look to non-Euclidean geometry and the fourth dimension to depict modern experience. As he and Gleizes were to write in Du Cubisme (1912), "There are as many images of an object as there are eyes which look at it; there are as many essential images of it as there are minds which comprehend it." Furthermore, following the vitalist ideas of Henri Bergson, Metzinger relied on the viewer’s "creative intuition" to contemplate the multidimensional fragments over time in order to create the total image.
The Danish physicist Niels Bohr who received the 1922 Nobel Prize for his work in quantum mechanics and atomic structure eventually owned Woman with a Horse. Bohr hung the painting in his office, and was further influenced by his reading of Du Cubisme (1912). As Arthur I. Miller wrote, Metzinger’s work and thought inspired Bohr "to postulate that the totality of an electron is both a particle and a wave, but when you observe it you pick out one particular viewpoint."
Oil on canvas - Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, Denmark
This painting, depicting smokers sitting among the tables and chairs at an outdoor café, uses sharply delineated geometric cubes, planes, and cylinders to create a rhythmical and intensely colorful pattern. The curving arcs of the billowing smoke create a dynamic diagonal movement extending to the upper edge of the canvas, while the darkly colored cylinders of fragmented tables and chairs create a busy sense of space. Through the painting’s center, a curved row of green ovoid treetops rises, resulting in an energetic tension between volume and the flatness of the picture plane.
As early as 1910, Leger’s preoccupation with discrete geometric forms, as seen in his Nudes in the Forest (1910), caused his Cubist work to be dubbed "tubism" for its use of cylindrical forms, or tubes. Leger’s Cubism, more than the other artists, entails a dynamism that has much in common with Futurism, and his chosen subject matter of machines, city life, and robot-like human figures made his work unique among the Salon Cubists.
Oil on canvas - Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
The City of Paris
Delaunay’s tour de force painting creates a complex, multidimensional view of Paris. Three female nudes in the center, abstracted into small, faceted planes, overlay a landscape that depicts the historic city, with the Quai de Louvre on the left, and modern Paris, with the Eiffel Tower on the right. The city, landscape, and sky above it are broken up by various angles of perception. The overlapping and almost transparent surfaces create a dynamic, even dizzying, surface.
Delaunay painted this work in approximately 15 days for the 1912 Salon des Indépendants, where he and the other Salon Cubists hoped to make a statement. Apollinaire considered La Ville de Paris the most important work of the show, saying, "This picture marks the advent of a conception of art lost perhaps since the great Italian painters... He sums up, without any scientific pomp, the entire effort of modern painting." The monumental size of the painting, 9 by 13 ½ feet, suggests an heroic age, and the figures, inspired by a mural from Pompeii that Delaunay had seen on a previous trip to Italy, reflect the ancient classical tradition as well as the later Neoclassicism that employed mythological subjects in moralizing tableaux. The three women, in a ring with their arms loosely enlaced, symbolize the three goddesses from the Judgment of Paris. Delaunay’s simultaneous depictions, not only of different spatial perspectives but different temporal moments present Cubism as the rightful heir, the culmination, of traditional Western art.
Apollinaire also declared this work an early example of Orphism, a subsequent movement launched by the Delaunays that emphasized simultaneity by relying on color, not form, as the organizing principle. Deeply influenced by color theory, the artist here created planes by the placement of contrasting and complementary colors. This emphasis upon the primacy of color, rather than a breaking up of form, was Delaunay’s most influential contribution to Cubism and informed his subsequent movement to abstraction.
Oil on canvas - Museé National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
Architectural façade of the Cubist House
Duchamp-Villon designed the façade of the no longer extant but well-known La Maison Cubiste (Cubist House) for the Art Décoratif section of the Salon d’Or in Paris in 1912. The entrance, eight by ten meters, deploys a Cubist geometric trim with intersecting planes, interlocking rectangles, and cylindrical forms.
The otherwise traditional house, exhibited with a living room and a bedroom, was designed to showcase Cubist art by Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger, Marie Laurencin, Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Léger, and Roger de La Fresnaye. The interior designer Charles André Mare worked with the Salon Cubists to create this early example of Art Décoratif. The idea was, as Léger wrote to Mare, that, "People will see Cubism in its domestic setting, which is very important." The house was very influential in advancing the idea of a geometrical vision, rooted in Cubism, but extending to all aspects of modern life. It influenced the architect Le Corbusier in making his Maison Cibrohan, a model for mass production, for the 1922 Salon d’Automne. Viewing the Cubist House at the Section d’Or exhibition, Le Corbusier found in the design significant solutions for building with cement, and Czechoslovakian architect Pavel Janák’s reconstruction of the face of the Fara House in 1913 also drew upon Duchamp-Villon’s geometric forms.
Plaster, wood - Destroyed
This innovative bronze statue contrasts internal concave volumes with external convex lines by excavating the center of the figure. The negative spaces in the middle of the torso and the head create a dynamic rhythm and a sense of internal form. The human figure becomes an abstract form moving through space, simultaneously viewed from different points of view. Archipenko’s use of negative space revolutionized the approach to sculpture and echoed Leger’s "tubular" Cubist works that contrasted concave and convex form. As Archipenko said, "I did not take from Cubism, but added to it."
Archipenko has been viewed as primarily a Cubist sculptor, and like the others was influenced by the sculpture of Africa and Oceania, but instead of building up solid forms, Archipenko hollowed out the form, leaving voids. Archipenko’s radical approach was more at home among the Puteaux Group and the subsequent Section d’Or, which he joined in 1912. The Italian Futurist Boccioni visited Archipenko’s studio in Paris, as well as the studios of Raymond-Villon Duchamp and Georges Braque, and was particularly influenced by Archipenko’s sculptures, including this one, in the development of his own Futurist style, as exemplified in his Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913).
Bronze - Denver Museum of Art, Denver, Colorado
Woman with a Fan
In 1914 Archipenko began making what he called "sculpto-paintings," and Woman with a Fan is the earliest surviving example. The piece is constructed of burlap, linen, metal, and readymade objects like a wooden shelf, a metal funnel, and a glass bottle, all painted in luminous polychrome. The paint creates contrasting and complementary volumes, while at the same time dissolving the materiality of the objects into abstract geometric forms. As Archipenko said, "My painting and sculpture represent a reciprocal connection of form and color. The one stresses or diminishes the other. They are unified or contrasted on the visual and spiritual plane."
This use of bright colors, reflecting the Salon Cubist palette, was a significant innovation in sculpture. As Juan Gris was to write, "Archipenko challenged the traditional understanding of sculpture. It was generally monochromatic at the time... Instead of accepted materials such as marble, bronze or plaster, he used mundane materials such as wood, glass, metal, and wire. His creative process did not involve carving or modeling in the accepted tradition but nailing, pasting and tying together, with no attempt to hide nails, junctures, or seams. His process parallels the visual experience of cubist painting." Archipenko expanded the collage method pioneered by Picasso and Braque with Synthetic Cubism to create a more visually complex object that straddles both painting and sculpture.
Wood, sheet metal, glass bottle and metal funnel - Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Tel Aviv, Israel
The Large Horse
This bronze sculpture depicts a horse in smooth geometric volumes and triangular planes as a synthesis of nature and machine, its internal concavities containing convex mechanized forms. As a result of its Cubist play with volume, the work approaches abstraction. During World War I, the artist served in a cavalry regiment and, during that time, began working on preliminary sketches and models for this work. The earliest show that its inspiration was a horse preparing to jump. Duchamp-Villon was also influenced by the photographic work of Eadweard Muybridge that documented the motion of a horse in a series of still photographs. Duchamp-Villon intended to capture the gathering energy before the horse’s leap with the tension between the solidity of the bronze and the contrasting concave and convex forms that both compress and extend movement.
Duchamp-Villon was a leading member of the Puteaux Group, and his work exemplified the theoretical basis of that movement, rooted in impersonal scientific observation and non-Euclidean geometry. While his work has sometimes been viewed as both influenced by and influencing Italian Futurism, his emphasis upon the mechanistic primarily derives from this sense of mathematical harmony that is present in both machine and nature. As he wrote to his friend, the art historian Walter Pach, "The power of the machine imposes itself upon us and we can scarcely conceive living bodies without it." Duchamp-Villon updated the traditional equestrian statue, not as a monument to generals or kings but as a monument to the utopian promises of the machine.
Bronze - Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
Soldier at a Game of Chess
A soldier, wearing the uniform and the number of the 24th Infantry Regiment, is shown playing a game of chess. The work uses broad overlapping planes of color, depicting the soldier’s head both frontally and in profile, while the chessboard, with its five pieces depicted in profile, is seen from above. The treatment is highly stylized and geometric, eschewing all depth of field, with the result that foreground and background merge into one flat, abstract image. This reductive approach made the work an early innovative example of what came to be called Crystal Cubism, which as the art historian Christopher Green explains was "a move towards order" and a "process of distillation."
Like most of the other Salon Cubists, Metzinger served in World War I. He became a medical orderly beginning in 1915, and this work was painted either before or during his deployment. As Metzinger was often portrayed with a cigarette in his mouth, it’s thought that this may be a self-portrait. Whatever the case, the artist himself wrote to Gleizes, "The End, however, isn't the subject, nor the object, nor even the picture - the End, it is the idea."
Oil on canvas - Smart Museum of Art, Chicago, Illinois