Art Styles: Cubism

"Girl Before a Mirror" Pablo Picasso cubist paintingCubism was one of the most influential visual art styles of the early twentieth century. The Cubists tried to create a new way of seeing things in art. Many of their subjects were represented as combinations of basic geometric shapes, sometimes showing multiple viewpoints of a particular image. This approach was related more to the way we see images in our 'minds-eye' rather than in real life. cubist pictures are often described as looking like pieces of fractured glass.

Cubism was begun by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in 1907. During his Rose Period, Pablo Picasso would, for the first time in his career, develop his cubism style that would make him the most important artist of the 20th century. In 1907 Georges Braque meets Pablo Picasso, encountering his painting "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon". A close friendship between Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso begins, in their artistic co-operation and especially by closely examining the art of Paul Cézanne, they develop the Cubist style of painting. They exhibit in the gallery of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler in Paris in 1908. Braque's and Picasso's close co-operation lasts until 1914, some works from this period of "analytic Cubism" (1909-1912) are hard to clearly ascribe to one or the other artist, their painting becomes more and more abstract.

Georges Braque adds letters to his pictures, drawn labels or Trompe-l'oeil effects, a technique that is then also taken on by Picasso. The period of "synthetic Cubism" follows as of 1912, a period during which Braque makes paper collages, the "Papiers collés", which are again taken on and developed by Picasso. They integrate other materials such as paper, wood, or sand into their paintings. Both artists were greatly inspired by African sculpture, by painters Paul Cézanne and Georges Seurat, and by the Fauves. The French art critic Louis Vauxcelles coined the term Cubism 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." Other influences on early Cubism have been linked to Primitivism and non-Western sources. The stylization and distortion of Picasso's ground-breaking Les Demoiselles d'Avignon painted in 1907, came from African art. Picasso had first seen African art when, in May or June 1907, he visited the ethnographic museum in the Palais du Trocadéro in Paris.

Georges Braque cubist painting "Woman with a Guitar"The Cubist painters rejected the inherited concept that art should copy nature, or that they should adopt the traditional techniques of perspective, modeling, and foreshortening. They wanted instead to emphasize the two-dimensionality of the canvas. So they reduced and fractured objects into geometric forms, and then realigned these within a shallow, relief like space. They also used multiple or contrasting vantage points. A Cubist's canvas resembles "a field of broken glass" as one vicious critic noted.

This geometrically analytical approach to form and color, and shattering of object in focus into geometrical sharp-edged angular pieces baptized the movement into Cubism. A close look reveals very methodical deconstruction into angular 3-dymensional shaded facets, some of which are caving others convex. Cubism distrusts whole images perceived by the retina and considers them artificial and conventional. Cubism rejects these images and recognizes that perspective space is an illusory, rational invention, or a sign system inherited from works of art since the Renaissance.

English art historian Douglas Cooper describes three phases of Cubism in his seminal book "The Cubist Epoch". According to Cooper "Early Cubism" lasted from 1906 to 1908. This is when the cubism movement was initially developed in the studios of Picasso and Braque. The second phase is called "High Cubism", lasting from 1909 to 1914, during which time Juan Gris emerged as an important exponent. Cooper referred to "Late Cubism", from 1914 to 1921, as the last phase of Cubism. The last stage of Cubism was considered a radical avant-garde movement.

Though primarily associated with painting, Cubism also exerted a profound influence on twentieth-century sculpture and architecture. The liberating formal concepts initiated by Cubism also had far-reaching consequences for Dada and Surrealism, as well as for all artists pursuing abstraction in Germany, Holland, Italy, England, America, and Russia.
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