Papier collé

What is papier collé?

Papier collé is a particular form of collage. The term papier collé is, in fact, a French word that literally means ‘pasted paper’. This artistic technique consists of pasting paper cut outs to create a decorative composition. Pasted pieces represent objects or they simulate different non paper materials, such as wood.

This collaging technique was particularly popular during Cubism and it was probably invented by the cubist painter Georges Braque and Picasso in the autumn of 1912.

Cubist artists created papier collés compositions using printed or colored paper, wallpaper, tickets, flyers, and fragments of newspapers. Then they completed the process with pastel, charcoal drawings or other painted forms. Papier colle is a fine art technique whose results are more like drawing than painting.

Examples of papiers collés

Cubist Papier Collé

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fruit_Dish_and_Glass#/media/File:Braque_fruitdish_glass.jpg, Fruit Dish and Glass, Georges Braque, 1912, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Artwork at: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/490612.

Georges Braque, Fruit Dish and Glass, 1912. Charcoal, wallpaper, gouache, paper, paperboard. Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1914_Gris_Le_Petit_D%C3%A9jeuner.jpg?uselang=fr, Le Petit Déjeuner, Juan Gris, 1914, Museum of Modern Art. Artwork at: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/35572
  • https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/picasso-bottle-of-vieux-marc-glass-guitar-and-newspaper-t00414; Bottle of Vieux Marc, Glass, Guitar and Newspaper, Pablo Picasso, 1913, Tate Modern. Artwork at: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/picasso-bottle-of-vieux-marc-glass-guitar-and-newspaper-t00414
  • https://philamuseum.org/collection/object/53918; Still Life: The Table, Juan Gris, 1914, Philadelphia Museum of Art, https://philamuseum.org/collection/object/53918
  • https://www.wikiart.org/en/pablo-picasso/glass-and-bottle-of-suze-1912; Glass and Bottle of Suze, Pablo Picasso, 1912, Kemper Art Museum, Washington. Artwork at: https://www.kemperartmuseum.wustl.edu/collection/explore/artwork/1105
  • https://www.centrepompidou.fr/fr/ressources/oeuvre/cpgXbgx, Violon et pipe, Georges Braque, 1913-1914, Centre Pompidou, https://www.centrepompidou.fr/fr/ressources/oeuvre/cpgXbgx
  • https://en.amorosart.com/artwork-laurens-nature_morte_-_papier_coll%C3%A9_1917-71907.html, Nature Morte, Henri Laurens, 1917, Private Collection

Other Pasted Paper Collages

  • https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/schwitters-magic-t12396, Magic, Kurt Schwitters, 1936-1940, Tate Modern, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/schwitters-magic-t12396

Kurt Schwitters, Magic, 1936-1940, Printed papers on paper, Tate Modern

  • https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/paolozzi-meet-the-people-t01459; Meet the People, Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, 1948, Tate Modern, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/paolozzi-meet-the-people-t01459.
  • https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/hamilton-just-what-was-it-that-made-yesterdays-homes-so-different-so-appealing-upgrade-p20271; Just what was it that made yesterday’s homes so different, so appealing?, Richard Hamilton, 1956-2004, Tate Modern, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/hamilton-just-what-was-it-that-made-yesterdays-homes-so-different-so-appealing-upgrade-p20271

History of papier collé

Papier collé during Cubism

The history of papier collé began during Cubism. This technique was probably invented by the cubist painter Georges Braque in September 1912 and it immediately inspired Picasso, too. The term papier collé refers exclusively to a form of collage, which proved to be important in the fine arts because it was created only through fragments of different kinds of paper. The pasted pieces were applied on paper support or on a canvas to create a composition, integrated with painted or drawn parts (realized through oil paint, gouache, pastels, or charcoal).

Unlike other types of collage or assemblage that also integrated three-dimensional or non-paper elements, papier colle allows the painter to experiment with two-dimensionality. The different pasted papers adhere to a flat mount, playing between painted and pasted paper and creating rhythm. This technique also offered the painter the possibility to create an innovative spatial combination. The topic of spatiality was extremely close to Cubist practice and style. The papier collé, in fact, evoked the fragmented space typical of Cubist paintings, being themselves produced through cut and pasted fragments.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso’s collage method extended the possibilities of the technique, introducing non paper materials such as wood, linoleum, other objects. They produced compositions that went beyond the two dimension of paper cut outs, almost sculptural painting. The development in this sense of the collage contributed to the transition from the phase of Analytical Cubism to that of Synthetic Cubism. The papier collé technique can therefore be considered a point of rupture and transition in the history of Cubism and modern art in general.

Famous Cubist Papiers collés

Georges Braque, Fruit Dish and Glass, 1912. This artwork by Georges Braque is the first ascertained papier collé. It was made by Braque in 1912, who invented the technique realizing a veritable turning point in the Cubist painting. The idea for the realization of this papier collé came to him in Avignon, where he bought a roll of faux bois paper. The object, with its simulated texture, inspired Braque to make a collage where the woodgrain and marble are actually an optical illusion, an imitation. It is a kind of visual joke where the pasted pieces represent objects and challenge the viewer’s gaze to decipher them. Braque continued working with papier collé during his life, in works as Bottle, Newspaper, Pipe, and Glass.

Juan Gris, Breakfast,1914. In breakfast Gris realized a papier collé using two types of printed wood grain paper, to evoke the wood of the table, a piece of newspaper, and a packaging label. To this, the painter added elements of the table, represented from different angles. The result is a representation of objects from simultaneous, different perspectives.

Pablo Picasso, Bottle of Vieux Marc, Glass, Guitar and Newspaper, 1913. Picasso made this small papier collé inspired by Braque. If his friend began to introduce a wood-grain paper, Picasso’s collage method incorporated the use of newspapers. This artwork is a still life, where the abstract shapes of the guitar, the bottle, the glass are made with overlapping cut out paper. There is also the handmade word ‘vieux’, on the bottle’s neck.

Other Paper Collages in the Twentieth Century

In the Twentieth Century, several artists experimented with the collaging technique, even if they did not refer specifically to their style as papiers collés. Their language was simply called collage. However, many of these experiments were created using only paper cut outs and flat materials.

Papier collé, even if not labelled with these words, was a common technique during Surrealism. Surrealist artists, particularly Max Ernst, used it in their paintings. Ernst’s paper collages, for example, were realized combining together pasted pieces from old engravings and prints, replicating an automatic and almost irrational process. Paper collages inspired in the same way Dadaists and Futurists. In Italy, the method was exploited by Carlo Carrà and Umberto Boccioni. Boccioni, for example, incorporated flat material pieces from newspapers in his painting.

The paper collage technique also inspired the German artist Kurt Schwitters, who between 1918 and 1919 created collages using labels, bus tickets, paper but also fabrics, broken pieces of wood, strings and other three-dimensional materials (assemblages). Paper cut outs were also used by Henri Matisse during his last years, realizing a personal adaptation of the collage technique. In the same way, the American artist Joseph Cornell experimented with collage, realizing it in the early phase of his life.

In the field of Postwar American art, also Robert Motherwell was inspired by the papier collé technique. From the 40s and early 50s, he realized abstract collage, guided by the Surrealist Matta. Robert Motherwell cut-up collage mirrored the violence of the postwar world. In the 1960s, the medium of collage became extremely popular.

A new form of collage was realized by Robert Rauschenberg. Rauschenberg arrived to surpass the cubist papier collé technique with his combines, realizing real assemblages of objects, hybrid works between collage and painting. Papier collé was also used by English Pop Art, as evidenced by the collages of Sir Eduardo Paolozzi and Richard Hamilton. Other examples of paper collages were created in the 1960s by the exponents of visual poetry, that mixed image inserts with graphic elements and word clippings.

Papier colle and Collage Techniques

Many artworks realized with the technique of papier collé are often simply called collage. However, there is a substantial difference between the papier colle and the more common collaging technique. The language is similar, but papiers collés are not realized by artists in the same way of collage and assemblage. The term papier collé refers exclusively to artworks where only paper is present. Papier collé is therefore also different from the point of view of meanings not only art technique: it uses two dimension and flat material, not exploiting the power of three-dimensionality. On the contrary, in the collages and especially in the assemblages, it is common to overcome the two dimension, integrating also objects that are not properly artistic, such as everyday objects, scraps, junks, wood, stone, or metal and not only pasted paper.

Notable Artists who used papier collé

  • Pablo Picasso (25 October 1881 – 8 April 1973), Spanish
  • Georges Braque (13 May 1882 – 31 August 1963), French
  • Juan Gris (23 March 1887 – 11 May 1927), Spanish
  • Robert Delaunay (12 April 1885 – 25 October 1941), French
  • Henri Laurence (February 18, 1885 – May 5, 1954), French
  • Giacomo Balla (18 July 1871 – 1 March 1958), Italian
  • Umberto Boccioni (19 October 1882 – 17 August 1916) , Italian
  • Henri Matisse (31 December 1869 – 3 November 1954), French

Other Artists who used collage and assemblage

  • Joseph Cornell (December 24, 1903 – December 29, 1972), American
  • Richard Hamilton (24 February 1922 – 13 September 2011), English
  • Kurt Schwitters (20 June 1887 – 8 January 1948), German
  • Robert Rauschenberg (October 22, 1925 – May 12, 2008), American
  • Robert Motherwell (January 24, 1915 – July 16, 1991), American
  • Kara Walker (born November 26, 1969), American

Related Fine Arts Terms

About Cinzia Franceschini

Cinzia Franceschini is an Italian Art Historian specializing in the History of Art Criticism, with a second degree in Communications and Sociology studies. She studied in Padua, Brussels, Turin as well as anywhere with an Internet connection. She works as a guide in Museum Education Departments and as a Freelance Writer. She writes about Contemporary Arts and Social Sciences, and how they intertwine.