Overview

Cubism By Kolokytha, Chara; Hammond, J.M.; Vlčková, Lucie

DOI: 10.4324/9781135000356-REMO20-1
Published: 09/05/2016
Retrieved: 26 September 2017, from
https://www.rem.routledge.com/articles/overview/cubism

Overview

Abstract

Cubism is an influential modernist art movement that emerged in Paris during the first decade of the twentieth century. The term was established by Parisian art critics, derived from Louis Vauxcelles, and possibly Henri Matisse’s description of Braque’s reductive style in paintings of 1908. Subsequently, it soon became a commonplace term and was widely used to describe the formalist innovations in painting pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque from 1907 to 1914. Cubism signals the break with Renaissance tradition through the rejection of three-dimensional illusionist composition. The dull and monochromatic palette (Picasso, Still Life with a Bottle of Rum, 1911) of early Cubist painting, in addition to its emphasis on geometry, can be alternatively viewed as a reaction against the pure bright colors of the Fauves and the spontaneous color treatment of the Impressionists. Cubist art was largely influenced by the late work of Paul Cézanne and the study of primitive art and, more precisely, African religious masks, statuettes, and artefacts. Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) and Braque’s Maisons à l’Estaque (1908) are considered to be the first manifestations of proto-Cubist painting.

However, artists such as Fernand Léger (Les fumeurs, 1912), Juan Gris (Grapes, 1913), and Robert Delaunay (Windows, 1912) developed their own distinctive styles, pushing forward the color perspectives, the shifting geometrical elements and the non-objective approach (Léger, Contraste de formes, 1913) of the Cubist synthesis. Alternative Cubist perspectives were also introduced by painters such as Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes, Henri Le Fauconnier, Roger de La Fresnaye, and André Lhote and sculptors such as Jacques Lipchitz and Henri Laurens. Its influence was not limited to painting and sculpture but extended to architecture, poetry, music, literature, and the applied arts.


Picasso, Pablo (1881-1973): Les Desmoiselles d'Avignon (Paris, June-July 1907)
Picasso, Pablo (1881-1973): Les Desmoiselles d'Avignon (Paris, June-July 1907)
New York, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Oil on canvas, 8' x 7' 8 (243.9 x 233.7 cm). Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest. 333.1939 © 2016. Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence.
New York, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Oil on canvas, 8' x 7' 8 (243.9 x 233.7 cm). Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest. 333.1939 © 2016. Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence.

Cubism is an influential modernist art movement that emerged in Paris during the first decade of the twentieth century. The term was established by Parisian art critics, derived from Louis Vauxcelles, and possibly Henri Matisse’s description of Braque’s reductive style in paintings of 1908. Subsequently, it soon became a commonplace term and was widely used to describe the formalist innovations in painting pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque from 1907 to 1914. Cubism signals the break with Renaissance tradition through the rejection of three-dimensional illusionist composition. The dull and monochromatic palette (Picasso, Still Life with a Bottle of Rum, 1911) of early Cubist painting, in addition to its emphasis on geometry, can be alternatively viewed as a reaction against the pure bright colors of the Fauves and the spontaneous color treatment of the Impressionists. Cubist art was largely influenced by the late work of Paul Cézanne and the study of primitive art and, more precisely, African religious masks, statuettes, and artefacts. Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) and Braque’s Maisons à l’Estaque (1908) are considered to be the first manifestations of proto-Cubist painting.

However, artists such as Fernand Léger (Les fumeurs, 1912), Juan Gris (Grapes, 1913), and Robert Delaunay (Windows, 1912) developed their own distinctive styles, pushing forward the color perspectives, the shifting geometrical elements and the non-objective approach (Léger, Contraste de formes, 1913) of the Cubist synthesis. Alternative Cubist perspectives were also introduced by painters such as Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes, Henri Le Fauconnier, Roger de La Fresnaye, and André Lhote and sculptors such as Jacques Lipchitz and Henri Laurens. Its influence was not limited to painting and sculpture but extended to architecture, poetry, music, literature, and the applied arts.

Cubism gained worldwide recognition from the second decade of the twentieth century onwards. However, it expanded and evolved rapidly in Paris so that a large number of Cubist-influenced styles emerged that differ substantially from that of Picasso and Braque. This variation mainly resides in the perceptual, either quasi-figurative (Lhote, L'Escale, 1913) or purely abstract Cubist perspective that several artists brought forward (Delaunay, Fenêtres ouvertes simultanément, 1912). In addition to the emphasis on solid geometry, their vivid color palette replaced the proto-Cubist perpetual use of greys, browns, and blacks and opposed its simplified geometrical surfaces that are divided into plastic planes viewed from different angles and result in the conceptual perspective of early Cubism (La Fresnaye, The Conquest of the Air, 1913).

In fact, the style was never homogenous but raised controversy among its agents. This became evident in 1911, with the occurrence of the so-called Puteaux Group (1911–13) of Cubist artists, including Alexander Archipenko, Gleizes, Metzinger, Frank Kupka, Marcel Ducham, and Léger, who frequented the studios of Jacques and Raymond Duchamp-Villon. The group’s art can be viewed as a reaction against the conceptual and non-humanitarian approach of Picasso, Braque, and Gris. A similar reaction is manifested in the works of several other artists such as Lhote and La Fresnaye who practiced a perceptual and quasi-figurative style.

Although most of these artists taught Cubism in private art academies and had exhibited their compositions since 1911 at the Salon des Indépendants and the Salon d’Automne, the generators and leaders of this style (Picasso, Braque, Gris, Léger) were working in private under the patronage of the art dealer Daniel Henri Kahnweiler. Clearly, this fact not only contributed to the popularization of the perceptual and the geometrically abstract Cubist technique in the following decades, but also reflects the over-simplified and legible repertoire of most of these artists in opposition to the constant experimentation and renovation of Kahnweiler’s protégés.

Due to its complexity, Cubism became subject to several formal and stylistic categorizations and even philosophical interpretations. Its division into the two phases “Analytic” and “Synthetic” has been widely used, although it is chronologically flexible and has been questioned by scholarship because it was not literally accepted by Cubist artists. This division was introduced later by Kahnweiler who proposed it to better explain and classify the stylistic experimentations and developments of this style. Both phases include the work of Picasso and Braque.

Analytic Cubism, also referred to as “Hermetic Cubism,” is a term used to describe the early achievements of the Cubist stylistic innovations and extends approximately from 1910 to 1912. It concerns the simultaneous depiction on a two-dimensional surface of several sides of a three-dimensional object-subject (Picasso, Portrait of D.-H. Kahnweiler, 1910). Although this technique may be seen as abstract, it is, in reality, essentially figurative but aims to re-treat and re-interpret the conventional composition (Braque, Portuguese, 1911). Therefore, the depicted objects are mainly still lifes that tend to become easily recognizable as they draw inspiration from everyday life (bottles, tables, musical instruments, books, newspapers) often accompanied by letters or words that describe them (Braque, Clarinet and bottle of rum on a mantelpiece, 1911).


Picasso, Pablo (1881-1973): Still Life with the Cane Chair, 1911-1912
Picasso, Pablo (1881-1973): Still Life with the Cane Chair, 1911-1912
Paris, Musee Picasso. © 2016. Photo Scala, Florence
Paris, Musee Picasso. © 2016. Photo Scala, Florence

Synthetic Cubism extended from 1912 to 1914 and introduced the collage technique, the use of vivid colors and different types of materials, mainly paper (wall-paper, papiers collés, paper cut-outs, textiles), that contribute to the maintenance of the solid structure of the composition and render it legible through the creation of an architectonic illusion of space and volume (Picasso, Still Life with Chair-caning, 1912). This phase exerted considerable influence over the surrealist treatment of the object.

Cubism in Japan

Japan was the first country in Asia to adopt Cubism. Word spread through articles in the popular press, in various Japanese art journals that sprung up during the 1910s, and via European texts appearing as Japanese translations. Key moments include a two-part report sent from Paris discussing the Cubist works at the Salon Des Indépendents exhibition, printed in a leading newspaper in July 1911, and a Japanese edition of Gleizes and Metzinger’s Du Cubisme in 1915. However, the unsatisfactory quality of the black-and-white reproductions of the period made it difficult for many to distinguish Cubism from other emerging forms of European modern art. This was exacerbated by both the lack of opportunities to see Cubist works in the flesh and their presentation alongside examples of other imported modernist styles when works were shown in Japan. Exemplifying this situation was a 1914 exhibition of woodblock prints from Berlin’s Der Sturm art gallery, which displayed a small number of Cubist and futurist works amongst the gallery’s mainstay of Expressionist art. In this climate, Japanese artists freely experimented with, and blended together, ideas from a variety of sources to suit their needs.

One of the first works in Japan to display some Cubist tendencies was Tetsugorō Yorozu’s (1885–1927) Self Portrait with Red Eyes (1912). Yet, is equally as Expressionistic or Fauvist in its color choices and energetic brushwork as it is Cubist in its jagged, faceted planes. It was also described as Futurist, as was Togo Seiji’s (1897–1978) Playing the Contrabass, although some contemporary critics recognized the Cubist credentials of this 1915 work. The following year, Togo fragmented the contours of the titular figure of Woman With a Parasol into a surrounding space of dynamically fractured curvilinear shapes, quite at odds with the typically angular lines of many Cubist works.

The rise of exhibitions organized by artist groups helped spread awareness of the new idiom. Yorozu’s Leaning Woman caused a sensation at the Nika-kai exhibition of 1917 and is often considered the first truly Cubist work in Japan. Yet, studies leading up to this monumental work reveal how Yorozu utilized Cubist techniques to help find a solution to the problem of representing the human figure in two dimensions that had preoccupied him for a number of years. In this regard, Cubism was not simply copied wholesale but played a significant part in the fervent experimentation of the period.

In the mid-late 1920s many Japanese artists returned from studying in Paris and a more rounded understanding of Cubism emerged in Japan. One of these was Kuroda Jutaro (1887–1970), who attempted to popularize in Japan a neo-classical take on Cubism he had learned from André Lhote (1885–1962). Sakata Kazuo (1889–1956), perhaps the most Cubist of the Japanese contingent, returned from France in 1929, where he had studied under Fernand Léger (1881–1955). Cubism had to lie low in the 1930s when avant-garde ideas were treated with suspicion, but emerged again after the war as another tool at the disposal of Japanese artists.

Cubism in the Philippines

Cubism in Philippine art evolved from the background of a spirited struggle in the advent of modernism in the 1920s, a dispute often reduced into polarities. At one pole were the “conservatives,” led by Fernando Amorsolo and Guillermo Tolentino, who upheld a predominantly roseate imagination of reality; at the other were the “moderns” who advocated a depiction of a world that confronted violence. The latter indicated a turn in ideals and idealizations, stressing the activity of labor, the milieu of the city, and the anxiety of becoming a Filipino. Introduced by pioneers like Juan Arellano, Diosdado Lorenzo, Victorio Edades, Carlos Francisco, and Galo B. Ocampo, this modernist vocabulary was decidedly Post-Impressionist, though inflected with the idiom of the Art Nouveau/Art Deco mural and the rhetoric of public ritual in which it was implicated. Francisco, whose magisterial works proved to be sprawling narratives of history retold through folk spectacle, most robustly embodied this temperament. It can be suggested that such curious mingling defined Philippine art’s attitude toward the Cubist vogue and the entire modern repertoire, which was ultimately enlivened by vivid popular realism, heroic posture, and a creative interaction with other disciplines like cinema, architecture, theater, and literature.

Cubism gained popularity in the Philippines under the rubric of Neo-Realism. A coterie of artists, some who belonged to the “13 Moderns,” called themselves Neo-Realists, but not as an allusion to Gustave Courbet’s realism nor to the approach in Italian filmmaking. We speculate that Neo-Realism was the apt modality through which Philippine modernists addressed the impasse between conservatism and modernism. The word realism deferred to the figuration of typical painting, while the prefix “neo” encouraged innovations within established genres. The art critic Leonidas Benesa has written that the Neo-Realists were “united under the aegis of Cubism.” Among the founding confreres, Manansala, Hernando R. Ocampo, and Cesar Legaspi pursued Cubism as a reference in their oeuvre, harnessing its pictorial potential to explore a range of concerns, from technique and composition to social protest and the sensation of speed. Cubism lent itself well to their visions. Manansala was versatile with it, modifying its design to concretize his sympathies with political commentary, Asian aesthetics, and the Dutch masters. Ocampo,was inventive with it, configuring motifs resembling flames or gems that when suffused with light and color would create stunning patterns. And Legaspi was lyrical with it, venturing into realms between radiance and shadow, disquiet and solitude. There was in all this an aspiration to the condition of sound and motion, translating into music, dance, frenzy, or reverie.

It can be assumed that Cubism in the long haul presented itself as the governing syntax through which a modernism veering away from the Post-Impressionist sensibility achieved a fluency in expression. Experiments with Fauvism, Surrealism, abstraction, and Expressionism were carried out in the laboratory of Cubism, yielding interesting formulations. For example, Galo B. Ocampo tired to sketch a surreal universe partly through Cubism. Ang Kiukok’s prolific expressionist corpus relied on it to sustain a hard-edged evocation of fortitude and indignation in hostile settings of screaming men, crucifixions, and junk and Arturo Luz’s acuity as a geometric abstractionist sought out Cubism to calculate a quality of light that is intractable and a color that is crystalline.

Czech Cubism

Cubism was one of the first currents of the European avant-garde, which asserted itself meaningfully in Czech art and developed concisely here in the areas of everyday objects, interiors, and architecture. The use of its characteristic polygonal morphology led to Czech Cubism being evaluated as a style, although the goals of the creators of “new art” (the term Cubism was introduced ex post) were to find a new path, the horizon of which—hitherto demarcated with a series of “-isms” (hence also the pejorative designation of Cubism)—had to be transcended in order for art to reflect its mission in the modern era. In the autumn of 1911, the progressive wing of artists, influenced by works of Picasso, Derain, and Cézanne established the Group of Fine Artists, the main protagonist of which became painter Emil Filla (1882–1953). The Group’s core included painters Antonín Procházka (1882–1945), Josef Čapek (1887–1945), sculptor Otto Gutfreund (1889–1927), architects and designers Pavel Janák (1882–1956), Josef Gočár (1880–1945), Vlastislav Hofman (1884–1963), Josef Chochol (1880–1956) and theoretician Václav Vilém Štech (1885–1974). The same year, the first issue of the group’s periodical, Umělecký měsíčník, was published and became a platform for formulating the principles of “new art”.


Sculpture by O. Gutfreund,
Sculpture by O. Gutfreund, "Úzkost (Anxiety)"
Photograph courtesy of Sotheby's
Photograph courtesy of Sotheby's

Emil Filla achieved autonomy of creative form most expressively in painting. He expanded his figural motifs of 1911–13 to still lifes, in which an orientation toward Picasso’s work is most evident. In addition to Cubism, the work of Procházka shows influences of Fauvism and Expressionism, and there appears a mobile motif as well. Čapek, who was developing his artistic and literary talents simultaneously, entered the Cubist current of painting with a distinctive and independent conception. Kubišta, whose artistic development had been accelerated by his stays in Paris in 1909/10, used expressive psychologization of the motif and plot content. Kubišta and Filla also worked peripherally in sculpture, but it was Gutfreund who unequivocally excelled in this field and also made theoretical contributions to it. In field of architecture, the most productive was Janák, who also ranked among Cubism’s most active theoreticians. Janák’s architectural designs are much more telling than his realizations of his inventiveness. Gočár designed Prague’s first major Cubist building, the House of the Black Madonna (1911–12); his stylistically purest work is the sanatorium house in Bohdaneč. One of the group’s most original architects was Hofman, who took up ambitious modifications to cemetery structures in Prague’s Ďáblice district (1912). Chochol, who dynamized otherwise modest façades with polygonal forms, enhanced Prague architecture with a trio of Cubist buildings (a row house, a villa and an apartment building). Cubist architects also pursued interior and furniture design and established the manufacturing company “Pražské umělecké dílny” (1912). Janák and Hofman also designed a series of ceramic tableware which was produced and sold by the art production cooperative Artěl. Czech Cubists presented their work abroad at the collective exhibition at the Goltz Salon in Munich (1913) and at the Deutscher Werkbund in Cologne (1914).

List of Works

  • Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The young ladies of Avignon), oil on canvas, 1907, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

  • Georges Braque, Maisons à l’Estaque (Houses at l’Estaque), oil on canvas, 1908, Museum of Fine Arts, Bern. .

  • Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler, oil on canvas, 1910, Art Institute of Chicago.

  • George Braque, Clarinet and bottle of rum on a mantelpiece, oil on canvas, 1911, Tate Gallery, London.

  • Georges Braque, Portuguese, oil on canvas, 1911, Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel, Switzerland.

  • Pablo Picasso, Still Life with a Bottle of Rum, oil on canvas, 1911, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

  • Fernand Léger, Les fumeurs (The Smokers), oil on canvas, 1912, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NewYork.

  • Robert Delaunay, Windows, oil and wax on canvas, 1912, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

  • Fernand Léger, Contraste de formes (Contrast of forms), oil on canvas, 1913, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NewYork.

  • Pablo Picasso, Still Life with Chair-caning, oil on oil-cloth over canvas edged with rope, 1912, Musée Picasso, Paris.

  • Robert Dealaunay, Fenêtres ouvertes simultanément (Windows open simultaneously), 1912, Tate Gallery, London.

  • André Lhote, L'Escale (The layover), oil on canvas, 1913, Musée d'art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.

  • Juan Gris, Grapes, oil on canvas, 1913, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

  • Roger de la Fresnaye, The Conquest of the Air, oil on canvas, 1913, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Further Reading

  • Antliff, M. and Leighten, P.D. (2008) A Cubist Reader: Documents and Criticism, 1906–1914, Chicago, IL:University of Chicago Press.

  • Cooper, D. (1983) The Essential Cubism, 1907–1920: Braque, Picasso and their Friends, London:Tate Gallery.

  • Cottington, D. (2004) Cubism and its Histories, Manchester and New York:Manchester University Press.

  • Cox, N. (2000) Cubism, London:Phaidon.

  • Fry, E. (1966) Cubism, New York:McGraw-Hill.

  • Gee, M. (1981) Dealers, Critics, and Collectors of Modern Painting: Aspects of the Parisian Art Market between 1910 and 1930, New York and London:Garland.

  • Golding, J. (1959) Cubism: A History and an Analysis, 1907–1914, London:Faber & Faber.

  • Green, C. (1987) Cubism and its Enemies: Modern Movements and Reaction in French Art, New Haven, CT:Yale University Press.

  • Kramář, V. (1921) 'Kubismus', Moravsko-slezské revue.

  • Lahoda, V. (1992) 'Kubismus jako politikum: K dějinám Skupiny výtvarných umělců', Umění, no. 1.

  • Lamač, M. (1988) Osma a Skupina výtvarných umělců 1907–1917, Praha:Odeon.

  • Otani, S. (2005) 'Cubism and Japan', in Cubism in Asia: Unbounded Dialogues, Tokyo:Japan Foundation.

  • Manansala, R. (1980) Paras-Perez, Manila:PLC Publications.

  • Roskill, M.W. (1985) The Interpretation of Cubism, Philadelphia, PA:Art Alliance Press.

  • Rubin, W.S. (1989) Picasso and Braque: Pioneering Cubism, New York:Museum of Modern Art.

  • Švestka, J. and Vlček, T. (1991) Český kubismus 1909–1925, Dusseldorf:Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen.

  • Tatehata, Akira et al. (2005) Cubism in Asia: Unbounded Dialogues, Tokyo:Japan Foundation.

  • Volk, A. (2010) In Pursuit of Universalism: Yorozu Tetsugorō and Japanese Modern Art, Berkley:University of California Press.

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Published

09/05/2016

Article DOI

10.4324/9781135000356-REMO20-1

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Citing this article:

Kolokytha, Chara, Hammond, J.M. "Cubism." The Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism. : Taylor and Francis, 2016. Date Accessed 26 Sep. 2017 https://www.rem.routledge.com/articles/overview/cubism. doi:10.4324/9781135000356-REMO20-1

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