Cubism and Twentieth-Century Art

By Robert Rosenblum | Go to book overview

xii. CUBISM AND TWENTIETH-CENTURY SCULPTURE

As artists who dealt with real, rather than illusory, solids and voids, the younger Parisian sculptors could hardly ignore the spatial revolutions of Cubism. Yet the task of translating the new pictorial concepts of Cubist painting into three dimensions presented these sculptors with a unique problem that was not to be solved easily. How could an Analytic Cubist painting, with its subtle paradoxes of solid and void, opaqueness and transparency, trompe-l'oeil and symbol, be realized through the medium of sculpture? Could the tangible facts of bronze, stone, or terra cotta ever be carved or molded into so intangible and ambiguous an image?

In some ways it is far more difficult to outline the evolution of Cubist sculpture than of Cubist painting. For one thing, a definition of the scope of Cubist sculpture is elusive, since such sculpture often invades the territory of collage. Furthermore, the problem is complicated by the fact that none of the sculptors who investigated the Cubist aesthetic was an artist of the stature of Picasso or Braque, so that questions of leadership are more conjectural. And, not least, an assessment of the historical role of the diverse masters of Cubist sculpture is confused by a lack of reliable dates, without which many issues of priority must temporarily remain unanswered.

One thing, however, is clear -- that the history of Cubist sculpture properly begins in 1909 with a work by no less a Cubist than Picasso himself. His bristling, energetic Woman's Head is clearly related to such a 188 contemporary painting as the Seated Woman, transcribing into the actual substance of bronze what is still 25 left of illusory substance in an early, less radical stage of Cubist painting. Like the painting, the sculpture assaults the surface of a mass by splintering it into irregular, jagged facets; yet, beneath this almost Rodinesque shimmer of light, the solid core of the head, as in the painting, is still unthreatened. The course of Cubist painting, however, soon went far beyond this literally superficial faceting, and the more profound dissolution of mass that followed the works of 1909 demanded that Picasso temporarily withdraw his energies from the problem of Cubist sculpture.

This very problem, however, was soon approached in various ways by a group of Parisian sculptors whose backgrounds were as diverse as those of the Parisian Cubist painters themselves. These very painters, in fact, occasionally ventured into three-dimensional territory, as did Roger de la Fresnaye, whose Italian Woman of 1912 is an attempt, like Picasso's bronze head of 1909, to render some of the 189 preliminary surface agitation of Analytic Cubism in sculptural terms. Recalling the angularity of Picasso's far less civilized nudes of 1907-8, La Fresnaye's bronze tentatively suggests, in the modeling of

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