Cubism Encyclopedia Article, Definition, History, Biography

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Woman with a guitar by Georges Braque, 1913
Woman with a guitar by Georges Braque, 1913

Cubism was an avant-garde art movement that revolutionised European painting and sculpture in the early 20th century. The essence of cubism is that instead of viewing subjects from a single, fixed angle, the artist breaks them up into a multiplicity of facets, so that several different aspects/faces of the subject can be seen simultaneously.

It began in 1906 with two artists -- Georges Braque (French) and Pablo Picasso (Spanish) -- who were living in the Montmartre Quarter of Paris, France. They met in 1907, and worked together closely until World War I broke out in 1914.

The term "cubism" was first used by the French art critic Louis Vauxcelles in 1908. ("bizarre cubiques" = cubes). Afterwards the term was in wide use but the two creators of cubism refrained from using it for a long time.

Picasso and Braque were great innovative artists in search of new ways to express space and form in painting. They were influenced by Paul Cezanne, African tribal art and Iberian sculpture. First they worked alongside one another (1906-1909 pre-cubism) and then started to work hand in hand to further advance their concepts into what was later termed analytical cubism (autumn 1909 - winter 1911/1912), a style in which densely patterned near-monochrome surfaces of incomplete directional lines and modelled forms constantly play against one another.

Violon, verre, pipe et encrier by Pablo Picasso, 1912
Violon, verre, pipe et encrier by Pablo Picasso, 1912

The second phase of Cubism was called synthetic cubism. These works of art were composed of distinct superimposed parts - painted or often pasted onto the canvas.

The Cubism movement, born in the art community of Montmartre and then greatly expanded by the gathering of artists in Montparnasse, was promoted by art dealer Henry Kahnweiler. It became popular so quickly that by 1910 critics were referring to a "Cubist school" of artists influenced by Braque and Picasso. However, many other artists who thought of themselves as 'cubists' went in directions very different from Braque and Picasso, who themselves went through several distinct phases before 1920. Best known cubist artists were:

There were also critics (Andre Salamon, Guillaume Apollinaire), poets (Max Jacob, Pierre Reverdy, Gertrude Stein) and following Jacques Lipchitz, other sculptors such as Raymond Duchamp-Villon and Elie Nadelman) who were soon drawn into the sphere of cubism. Robert Delaunay practiced what he called Orphic Cubism which became an offshoot group known as the Puteaux Group.

Cubism had a major impact on artists of the first decades of the 20th century and it gave rise to development of new trends in art like: futurism, constructivism and expressionism. It remains one of the most famous art forms today.

Pigeons have been trained to correctly distinguish between cubist and impressionist paintings; see discrimination abilities of pigeons for details.


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Cubism Encyclopedia Article, Definition, History, Biography