Cubism

Disjointed and angular, it combines different fragmented viewpoints.

Introduction:

It’s all about perspective. My view of the world may be different from yours and the beliefs you hold, may be at odds with mine. This extends to culture, human interactions, food, politics, entertainment  etc… but how does this relate to art?

Apart from the obvious differences of opinion which occur when two people look at an artwork - it was the Cubists who actually attempted to represent different perspectives on the same canvas. Invented by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in 1907-08, the Cubist art movement revolved around experimenting with different perspectives.

History:

At its time Cubism was absolutely revolutionary. Picasso and Braque were the first to bring forth the idea that a picture did not have to represent one single view of reality. It could in fact, show multiple viewpoints or facets of the same scene at once. The motive behind this idea, was that we could capture and represent a more human experience of time, people and place. We as humans do not experience a place, a person or a moment in time in its singularity. Rather we move around it, interact with it and observe it from all angles. As a result, Picasso and Braque’s paintings combined different fragments of a subject taken from varying angles, in a style that appeared disjointed and devoid of perspective. Typical subjects included objects, landscapes or people.

The movement was first coined when French critic Louis Vauxelles upon viewing Braques paintings in Paris in 1908, described the artists work as limited to ‘geometric outlines, to cubes’. Indeed a hallmark of Cubism is its angular nature. However, as the style developed, two styles/phases become recognisable: analytical cubism (1908-1912) and synthetic cubism (1912-1914). The former is characterised by toned down dull colour schemes and overlapping planes whereas the latter comprises flatter, simpler shapes and brighter colours. Synthetic cubism also extended beyond painting, including collage and the incorporation of found materials and objects.

Famous Examples:

Cubism is synonymous with Picasso and he began the movement debuting his famous Les Demoiselles D’Avignon in 1907. The painting was provocative in subject matter - featuring five naked female prostitutes posing promiscuously for the viewer. They do not appear delicately feminine, but rather they seem confrontational in manner and in style. The subjects are depicted through angular and disjointed shapes that are unrealistic and jarring - the flat colour blocks amalgamating the many viewpoints Picasso saw. Being over 2m wide and tall it was an imposing creation.

Another important work is Picasso’s Guernica, which is considered by many the most politically important artwork in history. Conceived in 1937 and painted in Cubist style, it is also colossal - a mural-size work - and is rendered in black and white. Picasso paints a scene demonstrating the suffering of people caused through violence and chaos. This anti-war masterpiece was created to respond to the bombing of Guernica in Spain during WW2 by the Nazis and the Italian Fascists. It was commissioned by the Spanish government to be exhibited in the 1937 World Fair in Paris, and then toured across the globe in exhibitions organised to raise money for the Spanish war relief.

While Picasso and Braque were the initial leaders of the movement, many other artists contributed to its development, including Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes, Robert Delaunay, Henri Le Fauconnier, Fernand Léger and Juan Gris.

Contemporary context:

Cubism laid an important foundation for the development of many Modern Art movements including Geometric Abstraction, Futurism, Suprematism, Dada, Constructivism, De Stijl and Art Deco.

Historic Examples:

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)  Les Demoiselles d’Avignon

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) - Les Demoiselles d’Avignon - Paris, June/July 1907
Oil on canvas - 243.9 x 233.7 cm; 8 x 7 ⅔ ft.
MoMA Museum of Modern Art, New York NY
© Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)  Guernica

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) - Guernica - 1937
Oil on canvas - 349.3 x 776.6 cm; 137 ½ x 305 ½ in.
Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid/ES

Georges Braque  Nature Morte (Violon et compotier) (Still Life (Violin and Candlestick))

Georges BraqueNature Morte (Violon et compotier) (Still Life (Violin and Candlestick)) - 1910
Oil on canvas - 60.96 x 50.17 cm; 24 x 19 ¾ in.
SFMOMA San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco CA - Acquired 1989
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)  Guitare, journal, verre et bouteille (Bottle of View Marc, Glass, Guitar and Newspaper)

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) - Guitare, journal, verre et bouteille (Bottle of View Marc, Glass, Guitar and Newspaper) - 1913
Printed papers and ink on paper - 46.7 x 62.5 cm (framed)
Tate, London/UK - Purchased 1961

Jean Metzinger (1883-1956)  Le goûter (Tea Time)

Jean Metzinger (1883-1956) - Le goûter (Tea Time) - 1911
Oil on cardboard - 75.9 x 70.2 cm; 29 ⅞ x 27 ⅝ in. 
The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia PA
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

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