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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 themfrom 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 Leger. The chief segments of the cubist movement included the Montmartre-based Bateau-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, Leger, 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 Cezanne; 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). ... more

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Les Demoiselles dAvignon


Les Demoiselles dAvignon (see appendix, figure1) was the prototype of the art movement Cubism.  It was painted by the artist Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and its style resembled nothing within the antiquity of the Western world.  Its intentions were of a revolutionary nature; and its achievements were nothing short of its expectations.  As Cubism developed, its representation of the subject became increasingly void of naturalistic appearance, until it was bordering on pure non-objectivity.  This direction that Cubism had embarked upon was due to Picassos suggestion that to accurately depict a three dimensional object within the confines of a two dimensional surface the traditional method of portraying an objects empirical image does not justify its form and volume.  To overcome this fault in representation, Picasso envisaged the whole image in its most basic form and from this painted what he had now perceived as an accurate conversion of three dimensional reality to a two dimensional medium.  Following this concept, artistic direction had forever been altered, and the 1910s proved to be a turbulent time for a movement which without Cubism is unlikely to have existed. This was the Abstract.


No twentieth century painting has attracted more attention than Picassos great brothel composition Les Demoiselles dAvignon of five confrontational whores posed theatrically on a stage (Richardson, 1996, p14).  Les Demoiselles dAvignon was begun by Picasso in 1906 and finished in 1907, and has been attributed as the first Cubist picture (Barr, 1936, p30).  The figures on the left are still reminiscent of the robust sculpturesque classical nudes which in 1906 followed the delicacy and sentiment of the artists rose period, and Barr continues in his description that the figures on the right, there angularity and grotesque masks with concave profiles and staring eyes draws influence heavily from non-Western negro sculpture (Barr, 1936, p30).  This extreme fragmentation of form marked a fundamental break with existing modes of pictorial expression (Moszynska, 1990, p11).  These five horrifying figures, prostitutes who repel rather than attract left his closest supporters and critics with sentiments of mixed reaction;  


It was the ugliness of faces wrote Salmon that froze with horror the half converted; Guillaume Apollinaire murmured revolution; Leo Stein burst into embarrassed, uncomprehending laughter; Gertrude Stein lapsed into unaccustomed silence; Matisse swore revenge on this mockery of modern painting; and Derain expressed his wry concern that one day Picasso would be found hanging behind his big picture (Huffington, 1988, p93).


In his reply Picasso said to cause a reaction, it is not necessary to paint a man with a gun when an apple can be just as revolutionary (Huffington, 1988, p93).  In saying this Picasso was not referring to the subject matter, but in the way the object was depicted.  Braque, who met Picasso in the fall of 1907 when he first saw Les Demoiselles dAvignon, knew immediately that nothing short of a revolution was intended.  It made me feel said Braque in his reaction as if someone was drinking gasoline and spitting fire (Huffington, 1988, p93); he was shocked but also stirred as hed never been before.  Georges Braque was to become Picassos counterpart in the development of Cubism.  


Les Demoiselles dAvignon was Picassos assault on the problems he associated with the traditional methods of painting and their inability to overcome them.  These problems were the basic tasks of painting, as Kahnweiler explains, these were to represent three dimensions and colour on a flat surface and to be able to comprehend them in the unity of that surface (McCully, 1981, p60).  However, to represent and comprehend, he intended only in the strictest of sense.  The simulation of form through chiaroscuro was too shallow; Picasso pursued the depiction of the three dimensional through the actual drawing on a flat surface.  Not concerned with an aesthetically pleasant composition, but uncompromising, organically articulated structure. In addition there was the problem of colour, and the final and most difficult act of the amalgamation, the reconciliation of the whole upon the canvas (McCully, 1981, p60).  Les Demoiselles dAvignon was the beginning of Cubism, the first upsurge of a desperate clash with all of those problems attacked at once.


From Picassos belief and the creation of Cubism which followed, the 1910s was a time of turbulence ... more

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  • O: Les Demoiselles dAvignon O: Les Demoiselles dAvignon Les Demoiselles d'Avignon Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (see appendix, figure1) was the prototype of the art movement 'Cubism'. It was painted by the artist Pablo Picasso (1881- 1973) and its style resembled nothing within the antiquity of the Western world. Its intentions were of a revolutionary nature; and its achievements were nothing short of its expectations. As Cubism developed, its representation of the subject became increasingly void of naturalistic appearance, until it was bordering on pur...
  • R: Cubism Is Great R: Cubism Is Great Cubism Is Great 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 lif...
  • P: No title P: No title Les Demoiselles dAvignon Les Demoiselles dAvignon (see appendix, figure1) was the prototype of the art movement Cubism. It was painted by the artist Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and its style resembled nothing within the antiquity of the Western world. Its intentions were of a revolutionary nature; and its achievements were nothing short of its expectations. As Cubism developed, its representation of the subject became increasingly void of naturalistic appearance, until it was bordering on pure...
  • H: Les Demoiselles dAvignon H: Les Demoiselles dAvignon Les Demoiselles d'Avignon Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (see appendix, figure1) was the prototype of the art movement 'Cubism'. It was painted by the artist Pablo Picasso (1881- 1973) and its style resembled nothing within the antiquity of the Western world. Its intentions were of a revolutionary nature; and its achievements were nothing short of its expectations. As Cubism developed, its representation of the subject became increasingly void of naturalistic appearance, until it was bordering on pur...
  • I: Cubism Is Great I: Cubism Is Great Cubism Is Great 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 lif...
  • S: No title S: No title Les Demoiselles dAvignon Les Demoiselles dAvignon (see appendix, figure1) was the prototype of the art movement Cubism. It was painted by the artist Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and its style resembled nothing within the antiquity of the Western world. Its intentions were of a revolutionary nature; and its achievements were nothing short of its expectations. As Cubism developed, its representation of the subject became increasingly void of naturalistic appearance, until it was bordering on pure...