Cubism has its roots in the beginning of last century and Cezanne can be viewed as the early father of cubism even if it is Pablo Picasso, George Braque and slightly later Juan Gris who are really seen as the artists who initially developed the cubistic artform. The name cubism was first used by Louis Vauxcelles who was an art critic who first saw a picture made by Braque and who said it was a picture of many littles cubes. The new art form spread through Europe and to the US where it was considered shocking when the artworks of several cubists of the times were exhibited at several different occasions, but the “Armory Show”, 1913 in New York was groundbreaking for cubism to spread outside Europe.
Further major artists who were active in this time were Fernand Leger, Robert Delauney as well as his wife Sonja Delauney. Another was Francis Picabia. (who once copied the originals of a series of paintings belonging to his father, and sold the originals in order to finance his stamp collection).
The innermost core of adherents and developers of cubism were Picasso and Braque who were thought to be inspired to some extent by African, Spanish and Micronesian art – like Gaugin and Matisse. Several of the other important artists of the times and mainly active in Paris were members of other groups, such as the Putaux Groupe – or “Section d’Or, strongly influenced by cubism but also by other tendencies of the times, or rather earlier times such as by abstractism, fauvism and there was a movement called orphism which for example Delauney was the foremost front figure.
Cubism has been defined in many ways and has been described in several periods, very early, earlier etc but there is consensus on two major periods, the Analytical Period and the Synthetic Cubistic period even though there are art historians who do put other names on them and also divide them into somewhat other time periods.
Character of cubism
Analytical Phase (1907-11 or 1909-14): The first cubistic painting is widely regarded to be the Les Demoiselles d'Avignon by Picasso. The cubistic artist dismantled the objects to be depicted and displayed all surfaces of a three dimensional object in different combinations in singular picture plane. This meant that the painting could be perceived as lacking perspective and depth but also with a certain distance by the viewer. At the same time it was a way for the viewer to see all sides of the object – however special the assembling or combinations of fragments were made. They were using typical geometric shapes, triangles, rectangles and squares as well as cylindrical and half circle and full circular forms. The colour scale in the initial phases of cubism was fairly monochromatic and very typical grey-beige-black-brown-some pale blue and some faded yellow. Quite a few of the paintings from the early years are very grayish-brownish.
Synthetic Phase: (1911-19 04 1914–21): Gradually after just a few years colour started to come back - and Picasso and Braque started to use wallpaper and other material glued into the picture and eventually also other found objects that were included in the pictures. They also included newsprint, musical notes and fragments of words. The concept of collage was developed as a way to change the surface and surface quality and objects which were glued or by other means included became a way to fill a space whereas others were left empty which meant that the overall impression became quite different from a flat surface. These two artists have been said to be competing about who was the most inventive collage artist.
Purism - became an offshoot from cubism and was developed after the first war, and prominent artists were the French painter Amédée Ozenfant and architect Charles-Edouard Jeanneret (Le Corbusier). They cleared themselves from using decorative components in their work and were rather inspired of the “machine age” – with basic and ordered forms. They are noted by their use of absolute geometric forms and large areas of pure colour. The Purist esthetics has influenced at large modern architecture.
Cubist sculpture was developed by several of the painting artists such as Picasso, but some prominent sculptors are Raymond Duchamp-Villon and Alexander Archipenko and Jaques Lipchitz. The basic principle of cubism is still valid in sculpture, in depicting all different parts of a painting into plane components and geometrical components.
Cubism in poetry and writing
An important figure in the group of cubists was Gertrud Stein, an American writer and poet who used the concept of cubism to her poetry and writing. The American poet Kenneth Rexroth has said that cubism in poetry "is the conscious, deliberate dissociation and recombination of elements into a new artistic entity made self-sufficient by its rigorous architecture.”
I have selected a detail from his “Large Nude” for this colour study. I feel it displays the typical colour scale of the cubism – but is rather more expressive and colourful – more fauvism, but it was painted in the early days of cubism. Braque had been very influenced by the fauvism before he gradually developed into cubism. The large nude displays a few of the cubism features – the contour of the buttock of the woman is not round and looking at the full painting there are several cubistic features such as the face being painted in one single plane and also pieces of the environment surrounding the woman are pointed and more geometrical than normal.
Delauney was a French artist who was influenced by the cubism but who also had strong influences from abstraction. His “-ism” was baptized orphism and his work was characterized by bright and very vivid colours and a large number of geometrical forms. Many of his paintings are quite soft with a touchable depth I think and the painting I have chosen to depict a detail from, is “L’équipe de Cardiff” (1922-23).