Cubism and Twentieth-Century Art

By Robert Rosenblum | Go to book overview

PART THRIII · CUBISM AND TWENTIETH-CENTURY ART

VII · CUBISM AND THE ITALIAN FUTURISTS

As the major innovation of early twentieth-century art, Cubism acted as a revolutionary stimulus that spread internationally from Paris much as Caravaggio's radical innovations of the late sixteenth century quickly spread from Rome throughout Europe. So powerful was this new language of discontinuous planes and fractured masses that its impact could be felt all over the Western world, whether one turned to Russia or Mexico, England or Italy, Germany or the United States. Wherever it was seen by artists and spectators alert to contemporary phenomena, Cubism carried with it the conviction of a vital, authentically modern style that could articulate the complex, fragmentary experiences of a new era. Yet, like all major artistic viewpoints, Cubism permitted a number of reinterpretations that could extend far beyond the boundaries defined by its first masters. Even within the Parisian milieu, Duchamp and Delaunay had pursued Cubism to such unexpected ends as fantasy and abstraction, and Picasso himself trespassed further and further upon territories foreign to pure Cubism. Outside Paris, Cubism was subject to an even greater variety of transformations. Re-created in the context of the national tradition of Germany, for example, it could stand in distinct opposition to the values upheld by the School of Paris; and, absorbed by such individual geniuses as Klee or Mondrian, Cubism could attain extraordinary results that disclosed pictorial worlds unimagined by Picasso and Braque. Just as Impressionism was first assimilated by Van Gogh, Seurat, Cézanne, and Gauguin, and then altered almost beyond recognition by the same four masters, so, too, was Cubism ultimately transformed into modes that controverted its original character.

Nevertheless, Cubism was the matrix for most of the major pictorial and even sculptural expression of the first half of our century. Even such artists as Diego Rivera and André Masson, whose mature viewpoints were remote from Cubism, at one point paused to examine the Cubist world; and, with the possible exception of De Chirico, almost every major contemporary artist whose style matured after the high years of Cubism in 1911 and 1912 was profoundly affected by the Cubist revolution. Significantly, those prominent twentieth-century masters who stand apart from Cubism -- Matisse, Rouault, Kandinsky -- had defined the fundamentals of their art before this crucial historical moment. For those masters who followed it, however, the assimilation of Cubism was the critical point at which they began to participate in the mainstream of contemporary art. As will be seen, Cubism provided the pictorial techniques as well as the imaginative freedom to generate the rich diversity of artistic expression that characterizes the art of our time.

In no country was the language of Cubism applied to so concerted a program of modernity as in Italy.

-179-

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