Cubism was invented and pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Its most innovative period was from 1908 until 1914 and the outbreak of World War I. It influenced both painting and sculpture and stemmed from the work of Cezanne and his analysis of form. The 1907 retrospective of Cezanne’s work at The Salon D’Automne in Paris created a huge amount of interest in his paintings which simplified forms and reduced them to planes and facets. They displayed his interest in finding the underlying geometric shapes in objects. Picasso said Cezanne ‘was like the father of us all.’
It was an important 20th century movement because for the first time the motif was no longer the most important aspect of the artwork. It seeked to create autonomous works that did not necessarily seek to represent anything. Cubism was not about creating forms with solidity, but rather planes and lines which seem to slide over one another. Objects were broken down and them reassembled, often being shown from more than one viewpoint.
It was Picasso’s painting ‘Les Demoiselles D’Avignon‘ (1907) which influenced Braque and pushed him towards the formulation of a movement with Picasso. It was angular and aggressive and considered to be shocking. In the early stages of their work, both artists began to gradually reduce figures or landscapes into geometric shapes. This is visible in ‘Houses and Trees’ by Braque, and ‘Three Women’ by Picasso. They were joined in the movement most notably by Jean Metzinger, Robert Delaunay, Sonia Delaunay, and Raymond Duchamp-Villon who exhibited together and became known as the ‘Salon’ Cubists.
There were two main phases of Cubism, Analytical Cubism and Synthetic Cubism. In Analytical Cubism, forms are further reduced, and are not necessarily in their correct positions, often distorted. This can be seen in Picasso’s ‘Female Nude’ (1910), and in the sculpture ‘Head of a Woman‘ (1909).
Picasso and Braque’s worries that in Analytical Cubism they had strayed too far from the motif led to the more representational Synthetic Cubism. In this phase images, such as ‘The Harlequin’ (1915) by Picasso, have been synthesised. They are formed by objects, painted planes, colours and shapes which themselves have no reference to the subject matter but which together create a representational image.
Cubism spread throughout Europe in the 1910s, and attracted artists such as Fernand Leger who adapted Cubism in a personal way, characterised by tubular, fractured forms and bright colours. Cubism also influenced artists to form the new movement ‘Orphic Cubism’ which focused on pure abstraction and was concerned with the expression and significance of sensation. Artists such as Robert Delaunay continued to use the fragmentation of Cubism, but added colours based on the composition of light. See ‘Windows Opening Simultaneously‘. He had been partially responsible, along with Frantisek Kupka and Sonia Delaunay, of reintroducing colour into Cubism during its monochromatic phase.
Cubism influenced Futurism with its use of planes and lines and gradual move away from the motif. Techniques inherited from Cubism became vital to the Futurist artists as ways of suggesting the dyanism of life. In particular the Cubist tendency to show multiple views of the same object, suggesting that the object is being seen at two different points in time.
Cubism was an important stage in the development towards abstract art, and the use of geometric shapes and interlocking planes was particularly influential to Piet Mondrian‘s personal progression to complete abstraction. These became crucial in his journey towards the entirely non-representational style for which he is now most famous, Neo-Plasticism.