Cubism is the name given to one of the seminal movements in modern art in the early twentieth century. There were two groups of cubists who interacted in various ways. The Spaniard Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), French artist Georges Braque (1882–1963), and their circle—including the poets/art critics Guillaume Apollinaire (1880–1918) and André Salmon (1881–1969)—congregated in the Bateau Lavoir (Washboat), a building on the slopes of Montmartre where Salmon, Picasso, and the Spanish artist Juan Gris (1887–1927) had their studios. The second cubist group frequently met in Puteaux, a town on the outskirts of Paris where other key figures lived, including French artist Albert Gleizes (1881–1953) and the Duchamp-Villon brothers: Gaston Duchamp (pseudonym Jacques Villon, 1875–1963), Raymond Duchamp-Villon (1876–1918), and Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968). The French painter Jean Metzinger (1883–1956) moved between these two circles. Metzinger lived in Montmartre from 1906 to 1912, and from 1907 on he frequented Picasso's studio and befriended Braque, poet Max Jacob (1876–1944), Salmon, and Apollinaire. In December 1908, Metzinger exhibited paintings alongside those of Braque and Picasso at Wilhelm Uhde's small Notre-Dame-des-Champs gallery.
These two groups differed in their exhibition practices and their choice of subject matter. The Puteaux group regularly exhibited paintings of epic and sometimes allegorical subjects in Paris's large public venues, such as the spring Salon des Indépendants and the fall Salon ďAutomne. They became the public face of the cubist movement and are frequently referred to as the salon cubists. The critic Roger Allard identified Henri Le Fauconnier (1881–1946), Gleizes, and Metzinger as the progenitors of a new movement in his review of the 1910 Salon d'Automne. At the 1911 Salon des Indépendants, these artists proclaimed their allegiance to cubism by exhibiting together, with the addition of French painters Robert Delaunay (1885–1941), Marie Laurencin (1885–1956), and Fernand Léger (1881–1955). Typical works by these cubists include Delaunay's Eiffel Tower (1911), Gleizes's Chartres Cathedral (1912), Léger's The Wedding (1911), and Le Fauconnier's Abundance (1910–1911). Paintings by the salon cubists were frequently monumental in scale and
depicted public events or well-known edifices identified with modern Paris or the history of France. These subjects sometimes had a political inflection: for instance, Gleizes's paintings of Gothic cathedrals in 1912–1913 registered his allegiance to the French Celtic League, while Le Fauconnier's Abundance is an allegorical symbol not only of France but of French Catholicism.
In the heyday of cubism, Picasso, Braque, and Gris used a private dealer, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1884–1979). From 1909 to 1913, Braque and Picasso developed their version of cubism in close collaboration, with small-scale still lifes and intimate half-length portraits as their preferred motifs. By 1912 Kahnweiler had signed exclusive contracts with these artists, restricting them from exhibiting anywhere in Paris other than their studios or his gallery. Kahnweiler also campaigned to exhibit his artists' work outside of Paris, where it was shown together with many of the salon cubists, for instance in exhibitions before 1914 in Lyons, Amsterdam, Munich, Budapest, Moscow, London, New York, Chicago, and Boston. Before 1912, the work of Picasso and Braque was also visible at Uhde's gallery, where Picasso had a show in May 1910; another Picasso exhibition appeared at Ambroise Vollard's gallery in December 1910–February 1911. Additionally, Braque until spring 1909 and Gris until 1912 exhibited their emerging cubism at the public salons.
A "second wave" of foreign artists joined the movement after 1911, including painters Louis Marcoussis (1883–1941), Alice Halicka (1895–1975), Francis Picabia (1879–1953), and sculptors Alexander Archipenko (1887–1964), Henri Laurens (1885–1954), and Jacques Lipchitz (1891–1973). In 1912 Braque and Picasso took cubism in a new direction with their invention of collage. They now used glue to paste the detritus of everyday life, including newsprint, advertisements, cheap wallpaper, and other cut items into their cubist still lifes. Among their peers the Italian futurists took up the practice in late 1912, followed by Gris in early 1914. Scholars have also debated the political significance of Picasso's usage of collage, differing over whether the newspaper clippings in works like his Glass and Bottle of Suze (November 1912) indicate his anti-militarist opposition to the threat of war and the anarchist import of Picasso's avant-gardism, or his assimilation of such reportage into an artistic medium devoid of ideological punch.
What united the cubists was a revolt against the conventions of academic illusionism. Braque's Violin and Palette (1909) is exemplary of such cubist deconstruction. This painting shows a table with sheet music on a small music stand and a violin resting on a green cloth; behind this, a green curtain hangs on the right and an artist's palette hangs from a nail. Yet Braque makes no attempt to paint a naturalist rendition of the subject. The table itself is not viewed in perspectival recession, but has been tilted up nearly parallel to the picture plane. The edges of the violin are distorted and discontinuous with each other; one of the shoulders of the violin is rounded, the other quite cubic. The sound-holes appear as free-floating transitions between the disjunct upper and lower halves, while, even more obviously, the strings break in the middle over the bridge. And whereas these different areas seem generally to be seen from above, the neck and scroll of the violin are viewed at a more radical angle, twisting into an expressive arabesque at the top. Myriad details of light and shade contradict each other, with shadows cast for example onto the left side of the violin's neck, the right side of the lower right section, and none cast at all by the strings. Light is treated as arbitrarily as form, and chiaroscuro—the use of shadow and light to describe volume—no longer serves to help define the three dimensionality of the objects or their location in space. At the top of the canvas the highly legible nail and its cast shadow underscore by way of contrast Braque's bold departure from the painterly methods associated with the naturalist tradition.
The salon cubists worked in a comparable manner, but they alone justified their technique in terms of non-Euclidean geometry and the fourth dimension, and related theories of human cognition and subjectivity, most notably the conventionalism of mathematician Jules-Henri Poincaré (1854–1912), and notions of psychological time developed by the French philosopher Henri-Louis Bergson (1859–1941) and American Pragmatist William James (1842–1910). Interest in these thinkers emerged before 1910 among those artists and writers who attended the weekly soirées of the American writer and collector Gertrude Stein (1874–1946). Concurrently, poets and critics associated with the salon cubists openly articulated their debt to Bergson. Beginning in 1910 the salon cubists and their literary allies publicized these precepts, a practice that culminated in the first book on cubism, Gleizes and Metzinger's Du Cubisme (1912). Du Cubisme proved to be highly influential and was translated into English and Russian in 1913. Picasso and Braque did not articulate these concerns but were certainly aware of them, as evidenced by Picasso's close friendship with Stein, and their frequent interaction with Metzinger. The degree to which Braque and Picasso shared in these theoretical interests is subject to debate. Many scholars argue that their cubism was initially a purely empirical response to the aesthetic innovations of French artist Paul Cézanne (1839–1906), as evidenced in Braque's Houses at L’Estaque (1908), and their exposure to African sculpture, which partially inspired Picasso's Les Demoiselles ďAvignon (1906–1907). Others have interpreted their manipulation of visual and verbal conventions, especially in the guise of collage, in light of the structuralism of Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913), arguing that this theoretical orientation was qualitatively distinct from the philosophical preoccupations of the salon cubists. More recently scholars have argued for a middle ground, noting that any interest Braque and Picasso may have had in semiotics needs to be historicized before their motivations can be properly compared to those of their cubist peers.
The existence of a coherent cubist movement ended in August 1914 due to the geopolitical fragmentation of the international avant-garde caused by World War I. During the war cubism came under attack from cultural conservatives, and although Gleizes and art dealer Léonce Rosenberg (1879–1947) attempted to revive the cubist movement after 1919, it was a spent force. However, cubist precepts continued to have an impact long after the movement's decline: Marcel Duchamp's conceptual approach to art during World War I was a studied reaction to cubist theory, and in subsequent years collage would have a profound impact on movements as diverse as Russian constructivism, Dada, surrealism, and American pop art. In addition, the development of montage techniques in film and photography in interwar Europe owed much to cubist experimentation.
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Cubism is neither a movement nor an identifiable group. It is an artistic tendency that appeared between 1907 and 1909, created by Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) and Georges Braque (1882–1963). The term comes from an article by the critic Louis Vauxcelles, published in the Gil Blas issue of 14 November 1908, about an art exposition at the Kahnweiller gallery that featured the Braque paintings that were refused by the Salon d'Automne. It became more than a simple term, as it started an aesthetic revolution that put into question the way we see and conceive of a painting.
Critics and historians agree on this point: the Demoiselles d'Avignon (1906–1907) was the first cubist painting. Picasso gave birth to a painting technique that changed the face of the twentieth century. In this painting, Picasso demonstrated common artistic concerns with Paul Cézanne (1839–1906), whose retrospective he was able to see in 1907 at the Salon d'Automne: he focused on a new way of depicting three-dimensional objects within the flat space of the canvas, without having to rely on light and shadow. Moreover, cubism was inspired by African and Iberian (particularly noticeable in the right-hand portion of the Demoiselles d'Avignon) arts, and by Cézanne's theory that advocated treating "nature in terms of spheres, cylinders, and cones." There were three distinct stages: precubism (1907–1909), analytical cubism (1909–1912), and synthetic cubism (1912–1925). These categories were established based on the evolution of the works of Braque, Juan Gris (pseudonym of Jose Victoriano Gonzalez, 1887–1927), and Picasso.
Braque's Grand Nu and the landscapes he painted at L'Estaque (Le viaduc de L'Estaque, 1908) also testify to this willingness to give solidity and density to shapes and motifs without the help of lighting effects. In 1908 Braque and Picasso changed the terms of depiction by reducing reality to fundamental shapes and volumes (such as in Braque's Guitare et compotier, 1909). These aesthetic experiments led them to analytical cubism, in which perspective is abandoned in favor of a multiplication of sight line angles in order to represent the multiple facets of an object. Picasso and Braque therefore achieved simultaneous views of an entire object through geometric forms (as in Picasso's Portrait de D. H. Kahnweiler, 1910, and Braque's Nature morte au violon, 1911). They took a decisive step in the history of representation by going beyond appearance to come up with a total vision and an art that deeply changed the face of iconography. Volumes, space, and colors find themselves balanced on a fine line between reality and abstraction.
Picasso and Braque also changed the way a painting is observed by simultaneously introducing letters or numbers (Picasso in Ma jolie, 1911–1912, and Braque in Le Portugais, 1911–1912) in trompe l'oeil while re-implementing reality in the canvas by using materials other than paint (paper reproducing wood, caning, pieces of newspaper, matchboxes). In 1910 Braque used nails. In 1912 Picasso produced the first cubist collage with La Nature morte à la chaise cannée while in the same year Braque was experimenting with the "glued paper" technique in his Compotier et verre.
Thus, the two painters created an ambiguity within the way a painting is read. This study of different planes was also noticeable in their use of oval-shaped canvases for their paintings, such as La table et la pipe by Braque (1912–1913). Their research abolished the idea of imitation of reality and made cubism a conceptual art form according to the formula invented by Guillaume Apollinaire (1880–1918). Picasso and Braque established a new relationship between reality and representation, between the essence and the concept.
Synthetic cubism was born out of the new relationship that Picasso and Braque had with the subjects of their paintings, in the sense that the object would be completely stripped of anything superfluous (Braque, Clarinette  and Violon [also 1913]). The entire representation is no longer needed, the object is depicted by a fragment—that is, its essential characteristics. Thus, Picasso migrated toward the essence of the object in order to determine its defining characteristic. The depiction of a glass in a few essential strokes in La bouteille de Marasquin in 1914, remains an emblematic example because the object is no longer three-dimensional, but flat.
During the first years of cubism, Picasso and Braque did not show their work much, except at the Kahnweiler and Uhde galleries. However, other artists such as Gris, Albert L. Gleizes (1881–1953), and Jean Metzinger (1883–1956) developed a cubism style of their own. Gleizes and Metzinger wrote a book titled Du cubisme that was published in 1912. The painters (Louis Marcoussis, Andre Lhote, Henri Le Fauconnier, Férat) became members of the "Puteaux group" formed around the Duchamp brothers (Marcel Duchamp, Jacques Villon, and Raymond Duchamp-Villon), and participated in the Salon de la Section d'Or in 1912. Apollinaire invented the expression orphic cubism for Robert Delaunay's series Les fenêtres, in 1913. Fernand Léger and Francis Picabia would also contribute important innovations. There is also cubist sculpture, the first of which was by Picasso, and its influence was echoed in the installations of Alexander Archipenko, Duchamp-Villon, Henri Laurens, and Jacques Lipchitz.
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CUBISM. The term "cubism" was first used by the French critic Louis Vauxcelles in his review of a 1908 exhibition of paintings by Georges Braque. Cubist artists abandoned academically correct representation, which approximated the actual appearance of objects. Instead, the Cubists represented objects from multiple points of view and forms were reduced to basic geometric configurations. In theory, the Cubists justified their experiments as a search to uncover the essential structure of an object and its relation to other parts of a composition. Cubist painters such as Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Juan Gris were profoundly affected by the art of Paul Cézanne, who maintained that natural forms could be reduced to simple geometric figures such as the cube, the sphere, and the cylinder. The Cubists also admired the art of so-called primitive cultures such as those of Africa and Egypt. Cubism made a decisive break with the centuries-old Western tradition of illusionistic representation, and in so doing initiated a revolution in the visual arts that all subsequent painters dealt with in some way.
A few American painters were exposed to cubism early on—notably Max Weber, who worked in Paris from 1905 until 1909, when he returned to New York City. Weber certainly knew such cubist artists as Picasso and in New York City during the winter of 1910–1911 Weber adopted cubist theory to American subject matter in canvases such as his Rush Hour, New York (1915). Weber's urban subjects combine his interest in cubism with the Italian avant-garde futurist artists' concern for dynamic movement and nature in flux. Weber's interest in cubist-futurist experiments lasted only a few years, but had a profound impact on John Marin and Joseph Stella, both active in New York City. Marin's The Woolworth Building (1912) and Stella's Brooklyn Bridge (1917) illustrate how lessons from both the French and Italian avant-gardes could be used to express the hectic pace of big city America. Cubist painting in France after World War I was increasingly concerned with creating compositions from areas of flat, often bright colors. Artists such as Stuart Davis, who encountered cubism at the 1913 Armory Show, owed their subsequent highly individual development to their early study of cubist work.
Still other expatriate American artists such as Morgan Russell, Stanton MacDonald-Wright, and Patrick Henry Bruce formed a movement that they called synchronism, which combined cubist analysis of form with a colorful palette inspired by the work of contemporary French artists such as Robert Delaunay. By the mid-1920s, the importance of cubism for American artists was in decline, but the movement was the stepping-off point for the subsequent development of American abstract art.
Golding, John. Cubism: A History and an Analysis, 1907–1914. London; Boston: Faber and Faber, 1988.
Rubin, William. Picasso and Braque: Pioneering Cubism. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1989.
The relationship of Cubism and architecture was at best tentative, often involving the application of Cubist decorations to stripped Neo-Classical buildings. Hints of Cubist themes are found in Art Deco and Modernist work: however, even in Prague, the Czech Cubist group ( Čapek, Chochol, Gočár, Hofman, Janák, and Novotny) did little more than treat façades with prismatic ornament not unlike that of Expressionism. The fundamentals of Cubism, however, including asymmetrical composition, interpenetration of volumes, transparency, and perception simultaneously from various points of view, became enshrined in the Modern Movement, and they played no small part in its evolution.
Blau & Troy (eds.) (1997);
Burkhardt & and Lamarová (1982);
Chilvers, Osborne, & Farr (eds.) (1988);
Vegesack (ed.) (1992)
cub·ism / ˈkyoōˌbizəm/ • n. an early 20th-century style and movement in art, esp. painting, in which use was made of simple geometric shapes, interlocking planes, and, later, collage. DERIVATIVES: cub·ist n. & adj. cub·is·tic / kyoōˈbistik/ adj.