Cubism was one of the most innovative and most influential art movements of the 20th century that forever changed the way visual reality is displayed in art. It was invented by Pablo Picasso and George Braque around 1907 in France and lasted until 1920s.
Notable Cubist Artworks
- Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907, The Museum of Modern Art, New York City, New York, US
- Georges Braque, Houses at L’Estaque, 1908, The Lille Métropole Museum of Modern, Contemporary and Outsider Art, Villeneuve-d’Ascq, France
- George Braque, Violin and Candlestick, 1910, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, US
- Pablo Picasso, Three Women, 1908, The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
- Pablo Picasso, Guitar Player, 1910, Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris, France
- Robert Delaunay, Rythme, Joie de vivre, 1930, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France
- Juan Gris, Breakfast, 1914, Museum of Modern Art, NYC, US
- Pablo Picasso, Still Life with Chair Caning, 1912, Le Musée Picasso, Paris, France
- George Braque, Bottle, 1914, Private Collection
- Juan Gris, Violin and Guitar, 1913, The Colin Collection, New York
Who and What Inspired Cubism?
Cubism was born as a response to a rapidly changing world shaped by technology and new inventions at the turn of the 20th century in Paris, France. The name of the movement comes from the comment made by an art critic Louis Vauxcelles after seeing Braque’s painting “Houses at L’Estaque” from 1908, which he described as “bizarreries cubiques” (cubic oddities).
What Picasso and Braque wanted to create was a new visual language that would reflect this new dynamic modern reality and convey a sense of totality in painting. Drawing upon Paul Cézanne’s idea that objects don’t have just one perspective but many, they started showing subjects from multiple perspectives, breaking them down into basic geometrical forms such as cubes, cylinders, and cones. All these different viewpoints are displayed together at the same time and within the same two-dimensional flat space to give the viewer a complete understanding of the subject. The objects and figures in Cubist paintings appear broken up in two-dimensional overlapping planes and abstracted to almost no recognition. This approach marked a revolutionary break from the centuries-long European painting tradition of creating the illusion of real space from a single viewpoint using linear perspective. Besides Cézanne, the Cubists were influenced by Fauvists, native African and Iberian sculpture, and Assyrian and Egyptian art.
Two Stages of Cubism
There are two stages of Cubism. The first stage of the movement is called Analytical Cubism. Picasso’s famous 1907 painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon) is considered the first Cubist painting to contain elements of Analytical Cubism. Picasso analyzed five nude female figures – who are not young ladies of the city of Avignon, but prostitutes from a brothel located on a street named Avignon in the red-light district in Barcelona – from multiple perspectives resulting in brutally distorted and abstracted bodies composed of flat geometric planes in space without any indication of perspective. Their mask-like faces show the influence of African tribal art, which marked Picasso’s entire career. The painting uses very few colors which is another feature of Analytical Cubism. The Cubists at this stage wanted the viewer to concentrate on the shapes more than the color. That’s why the paintings of this phase look austere and formal.
After 1912, Cubism entered a new stage called Synthetic Cubism. During this period, the Cubists started pasting real objects like newspaper, colored paper, or cloth onto the canvas in place of former planes of the subject, inventing a collage. The prefix “synthetic” referred to the idea of creating a synthesis of fragments from the real world and the painterly one. This stage also introduced more colors and a lighter, playful mood to the style.
By the end of the First World War, Cubism had established itself as the new visual language of modernity. The original movement lasted through the 1920s, but despite being short-lived, Cubism had a lasting influence on 20th-century art, paving the way for many modernist art movements to come.
Notable Cubist Artists
- Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Spanish
- George Braque (1882-1863), French
- Juan Gris (1887-1927), Spanish
- Fernand Léger (1881-1955), French
- Albert Gleizes (1881-1953), French
- Robert Delaunay (1885-1941), French
- Jacques Lipchitz (1891-1973), Lithuanian, French, American
- Marie Vorobieff Marevna (1892–1984), Russian,
- Jean Metzinger (1883-1956), French