Cubism has been regarded as one of modern art‘s most famous and fascinating art movements. It was the first style of abstract art which evolved at the beginning of the 20th century in response to a world that was changing with unimaginable speed.
What is Cubism?
Cubism was one of the most influential visual art styles of the early twentieth century. It was created by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in Paris between 1907 and 1914. Cubism is seen as a revolutionary movement that rejected the concept that art should copy nature, or that artists should adopt the traditional techniques of perspective, modeling, and foreshortening, which had been used since the Renaissance. Cubist artists instead wanted to emphasize the two-dimensional flatness of the canvas by reducing and fracturing objects into geometric forms, and then reassembling them to evoke the same figures and show the subjects from multiple views. Cubist painters were not bound to copying form, texture, color, and space; instead, they presented a new reality in paintings that depicted radically fragmented objects, whose several sides were seen simultaneously.
The term Cubism was first used by French critic Louis Vauxcelles after seeing the landscapes Braque had painted in 1908 at L’Estaque in emulation of Cézanne. Vauxcelles called the geometric forms in the highly abstracted works “cubes.” The term wasn’t widely used until the press adopted it to describe the style in 1911.
History of Cubism
At the turn of the century, Post-Impressionism and Fauvism movements inspired by the Impressionists experimental approach to painting dominated European art. French painter, sculptor, printmaker, and draughtsman Georges Braque contributed to the Fauvist movement with his polychromatic paintings of stylized landscapes and seascapes.
In 1907, Braque met Spanish painter, sculptor, printmaker, and designer Pablo Picasso. At this time, Picasso was in his “African Period,” producing primitive works influenced by African sculpture and masks. Just like Braque’s Post-Impressionist paintings, these pieces also played with form and sometimes color but remained figurative.
Phases of Cubism
The various phases in the development of the Cubist style which are based on the work of Picasso and Braque.
Before the movement was underway, both Picasso and Braque applied elements of the
soon-to-be style to their respective genres. This fascinating transition into Cubism is especially seen in these two pieces:
The first official phase of the movement is known as Analytic Cubism. This period lasted from 1908 through 1912, and is characterized by chaotic paintings of fragmented subjects rendered in neutral tones. The fractured forms often overlap with one another, displaying the subject from multiple perspectives at once.
Synthetic Cubism is the movement’s second phase, emerging in 1912 and lasting until 1914. During this time, Picasso, Braque, Gris, and other artists simplified their compositions and brightened their color palettes. Synthetic Cubism showcases an interest in still-life depictions, rendered as either paintings or collage art.
The ideas of the cubism movement fed into more popular phenomena, like Art Deco design and architecture. Later movements such as Minimalism were influenced by the Cubist use of the grid. It is difficult to imagine the development of non-representational art without the experiments of the Cubists. Cubism shook the foundations of traditional art making by turning the Renaissance tradition on its head and changing the course of art history with reverberations that continue into the postmodern era.