Cubism

cubism, art movement, primarily in painting, originating in Paris c.1907.

Cubist Theory

Cubism began as an intellectual revolt against the artistic expression of previous eras. Among the specific elements abandoned by the cubists were the sensual appeal of paint texture and color, subject matter with emotional charge or mood, the play of light on form, movement, atmosphere, and the illusionism that proceeded from scientifically based perspective. To replace these they employed an analytic system in which the three-dimensional subject (usually still life) was fragmented and redefined within a shallow plane or within several interlocking and often transparent planes.

Analytic and Synthetic Cubism

In the analytic phase (1907–12) the cubist palette was severely limited, largely to black, browns, grays, and off-whites. In addition, forms were rigidly geometric and compositions subtle and intricate. Cubist abstraction as represented by the analytic works of Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Juan Gris intended an appeal to the intellect. The cubists sought to show everyday objects as the mind, not the eye, perceives them—from all sides at once. The trompe l'oeil element of collage was also sometimes used.

During the later, synthetic phase of cubism (1913 through the 1920s), paintings were composed of fewer and simpler forms based to a lesser extent on natural objects. Brighter colors were employed to a generally more decorative effect, and many artists continued to use collage in their compositions. The works of Picasso, Braque, and Gris are also representative of this phase.

The Scope of Cubism

In painting the major exponents of cubism included Picasso, Braque, Jean Metzinger, Gris, Duchamp, and Léger. The chief segments of the cubist movement included the Montmartre-based Bâteau-Lavoir group of artists and poets (Max Jacob, Guillaume Apollinaire, Gertrude and Leo Stein, Modigliani, Picabia, Delaunay, Archipenko, and others); the Puteaux group of the Section d'Or salon (J. Villon, Léger, Picabia, Kupka, Marcoussis, Gleizes, Apollinaire, and others); the Orphists (Delaunay, Duchamp, Picabia, and Villon; see orphism); and the experimenters in collage who influenced cubist sculpture (Laurens and Lipchitz).

Cubist Inspiration and Influence

In painting the several sources of cubist inspiration included the later work of Cézanne; the geometric forms and compressed picture space in his paintings appealed especially to Braque, who developed them in his own works. African sculpture, particularly mask carvings, had enormous influence in the early years of the movement. Picasso's Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907; Mus. of Modern Art, New York City) is one of the most significant examples of this influence. Within this revolutionary composition lay much of the basic material of cubism.

The cubist break with the tradition of imitation of nature was completed in the works of Picasso, Braque, and their many groups of followers. While few painters remained faithful to cubism's rigorous tenets, many profited from its discipline. Although the cubist groups were largely dispersed after World War I, their collective break from visual realism had an enriching and decisive influence on the development of 20th-century art. It provided a new stylistic vocabulary and a technical idiom that remain forceful today.

Bibliography

See G. Apollinaire, The Cubist Painters (1913, tr. 1949); R. Rosenblum, Cubism and Twentieth-Century Art (rev. ed. 1967); D. Cooper, The Cubist Epoch (1971); C. Green, Cubism and Its Enemies (1987); W. Rubin, Pioneering Cubism (1989).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Cubism: Selected full-text books and articles

Cubism: A History and an Analysis, 1907-1944
John Golding.
Faber and Faber, 1959
The Cubist Painters: Aesthetic Meditations, 1913
Lionel Abel; Guillaume Apollinaire.
Wittenborn Schultz, 1949 (2nd edition)
Cubism and Twentieth-Century Art
Robert Rosenblum.
Harry N. Abrams, 1966 (Revised edition)
Picasso: Life and Art
Pierre Daix; Olivia Emmet.
Icon Editions, 1993
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 9 "The Invention of Cubism: 1909-1911" and Chap. 10 "The Cubist Explosion: Summer 1911-1912"
A Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Art
Ian Chilvers.
Oxford University Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: "Cubism" begins on p. 147
Masters of Modern Art
Alfred H. Barr Jr.
Simon and Schuster, 1954
Librarian’s tip: "The Cubist Generation in Paris" begins on p. 67
Twentieth Century Painters: From Cubism to Abstract Art
Bernard Dorival; Arnold Rosin.
Universe Books, 1958
Braque, Picasso and Early Cubism
Danto, Arthur Coleman.
The Nation, Vol. 249, No. 15, November 6, 1989
Portrait of Picasso
Roland Penrose.
Museum of Modern Art, 1957
Librarian’s tip: "Cubist Portraits" begins on p. 39
A Concise History of Modern Painting
Herbert Read.
Frederick A. Praeger, 1959
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Three "Cubism"
Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity Seen through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Gandhi
Howard Gardner.
BasicBooks, 1993
Librarian’s tip: "The Partnership That Made Cubism" begins on p. 160
Gateway to the Twentieth Century: Art and Culture in a Changing World
Jean Cassou; Emil Langui; Nikolaus Pevsner.
McGraw-Hill, 1962
Librarian’s tip: "The Second Apollonian Stream: Cubism from Cezanne to Picasso" begins on p. 137
Son of Cezanne
Sylvester, David.
Artforum International, Vol. 34, No. 2, October 1995
Continuity and Change in Art: The Development of Modes of Representation
Ethel S. Blatt; Sidney J. Blatt.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1984
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "From Linear Perspective to Conceptual Art: Impressionism, Cubism, and Modern Art"
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