Published on January 5th, 2013 | by Spyros Thalassinos3
History of Modern Art: Cubism
Welcome back to the history of modern art series! Today we’ll review the cubism movement.
Cubism is a 20th century avant-garde art movement, pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, that revolutionized European painting and sculpture, and inspired related movements in music, literature and architecture. In cubist artworks, objects are broken up, analysed, and re-assembled in an abstracted form—instead of depicting objects from one viewpoint, the artist depicts the subject from a multitude of viewpoints to represent the subject in a greater context. Often the surfaces intersect at seemingly random angles, removing a coherent sense of depth. The background and object planes interpenetrate one another to create the shallow ambiguous space, one of cubism’s distinct characteristics.
The beginnings of Cubism have been dated between 1907 and 1911. The question of when Cubism began depends on the questions of how it can be defined, what distinguishes Cubist art and who developed it first. Pablo Picasso’s 1907 painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon has often been considered a proto-Cubist work. As such Picasso became recognized by 1911 as the inventor of Cubism, while Braque’s importance and precedence was argued later.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the European cultural elite were discovering African, Micronesian and Native American art for the first time. Artists such as Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso were intrigued and inspired by the stark power and simplicity of styles of those foreign cultures. Around 1906, Picasso met Matisse through Gertrude Stein, at a time when both artists had recently acquired an interest in primitivism, Iberian sculpture, African art and African tribal masks. They became friendly rivals and competed with each other throughout their careers, perhaps leading to Picasso entering a new period in his work by 1907, marked by the influence of Greek, Iberian and African art. Picasso’s paintings of 1907 have been characterized as Protocubism, as notably seen in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, the antecedent of Cubism.
The Cubism of Picasso, Braque and Gris had more than a technical or formal significance, and the distinct attitudes and intentions of the Salon Cubists produced different kinds of Cubism, rather than a derivative of their work. “It is by no means clear, in any case,” writes Christopher Green, “to what extent these other Cubists depended on Picasso and Braque for their development of such techniques as faceting, ‘passage’ and multiple perspective; they could well have arrived at such practices with little knowledge of ‘true’ Cubism in its early stages, guided above all by their own understanding of Cézanne.” The works exhibited by these Cubists at the 1911 and 1912 Salons extended beyond the conventional Cézanne-like subjects—the posed model, still-life and landscape—favored by Picasso and Braque to include large-scale modern-life subjects. Aimed at a large public, these works stressed the use of multiple perspective and complex planar faceting for expressive effect while preserving the eloquence of subjects endowed with literary and philosophical connotations.
The most innovative period of Cubism was before 1914. After World War I, with the support given by the dealer Léonce Rosenberg, Cubism returned as a central issue for artists, and continued as such until the mid-1920s when its avant-garde status was rendered questionable by the emergence of geometric abstraction and Surrealism in Paris. Many Cubists, including Picasso, Braque, Gris, Léger, Gleizes and Metzinger, while developing other styles, returned periodically to Cubism, even well after 1925. Cubism re-emerged during the 1920s and the 1930s in the work of the American Stuart Davis and the Englishman Ben Nicholson. In France, however, Cubism experienced a decline from about 1925.
Far from being an art movement confined to the annals of art history, Cubism and its legacy continue to inform the work of many contemporary artists. Not only is Cubist imagery regularly used commercially, but significant numbers of contemporary artists continue to draw upon it both stylistically and perhaps more importantly, theoretically. The latter contains the clue as to the reason for Cubism’s enduring fascination for artists. As an essentially representational school of painting, having to come to grips with the rising importance of photography as an increasingly viable method of image making, Cubism attempts to take representational imagery beyond the mechanically photographic, and to move beyond the bounds of traditional single point perspective perceived as though by a totally immobile viewer. The questions and theories which arose during the initial appearance of Cubism in the early 20th century are, for many representational artists, as current today as when first proposed.
Hope you enjoyed the article as much as i did compiling the info and the images! See you next time!