November 14, 2016
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Heralded as the most innovative and instrumental avant-garde movement, Cubism aggressively confronted Western core conceptions of pictorial representation. Cubist paintings introduced the most revolutionary chapter of art history, instigating a genuine cultural awakening. Representatives of this movement, namely Picasso and Georges Braque, aimed to revitalize the tired standards of art which they believed had run their course. Through their vocabulary of cubes, cones, spheres and cylinders, Cubist paintings abandoned perspective which had been used to depict pictorial space since the Renaissance.
The creative artist duo of Picasso and Braque established a visual language of geometric planes and compressed space that rejected the conventions of illusionism and representation. Insisting that a subject must be displayed from several angles at once by utilizing geometrical components was the biggest game-changer the art world had seen so far. Initial works of Braque and Picasso comprise what art historians usually refer to as the first phase of Cubism known as Analytic Cubism. At the heart of this early stage of the movement was reduction and fracturing of objects that was followed by a realignment of those newly formed elements within a shallow space. The second main phase of Cubist paintings emerged in 1912 when Picasso glued a piece of oilcloth to a small canvas and named it Still-life with Chair-caning. Besides initiating the Synthetic Cubism stage, this piece was also the first collage artwork of the movement. The Synthetic style kept the various angles, open forms and flowing of space between and through subjects, but it also explored the use of non-art materials as abstract signs. As evidenced by some of our examples below, the second phase of Cubist paintings was a lot more aware of current events, particularly the horrors of World War I.
The Themes of Cubist Paintings
Since Cubist paintings were intended to confront traditional norms of art, it comes as no surprise that their authors often tackled similar themes in their avant-garde work. Wishing to prove that their new approach was superior to any other earlier method, Cubists regularly painted traditional subjects like nude figures, landscapes and still lifes. Artists would take such themes and put them through a process of characteristic abstraction, but most often maintained identifiable clues to a realistic figure, whether it be a woman, a violin or something else. Additionally, Cubist paintings featured some modern subjects and themes, some of which were quite repetitive. Music is a common motif, particularly in the works made by Picasso and Braque. The second of the two filled his entire Parisian studio with musical instruments which served as an endless source of inspiration. Picasso had a specific interest in music as many of Picasso paintings combined instruments with the shapes of feminine forms.
Since most notable authors of Cubist paintings were well educated, literature was an essential well of inspiration. Furthermore, many Cubists were acquainted with writers and poets of their time. Other cultural aspects of modern society also had a great influence on Cubism, including theater and opera. One of the regular motifs in Cubism was Harlequin, the comic character from the Italian Commedia dell’arte. This figure is especially important for analyzing Picasso’s art as the Spaniard seemed to have a particular interest in this subject. To him, Harlequin represented the experience of isolation and of being an outcast during the artist’s early career. However, as he matured intellectually and creatively, Harlequin returned in a form which is both a musical instrument and musician united into one, presenting an autonomous entity.
Just How Crucial are Cubist Paintings to Modern Art?
After everything it ultimately managed to achieve, Cubism paved the way for non-representational modern art. The liberating notions of Cubist paintings had far-reaching consequences for Dada and Surrealism, as well as for all artists pursuing abstraction. While Picasso and Braque are rightfully credited with creating this phenomenal visual language, it was adopted and further developed by many painters, such as Fernand Léger, Sonia Delaunay, Juan Gris, Marcel Duchamp and Jean Metzinger. Some of these artist names will be mentioned as we chronologically list the Cubist paintings that changed modern art.
Editors’ Tip:Cubist Painters: Aesthetic Mediations
In what is interestingly Guillaume Apollinaire’s only book on art, Cubist Painters: Aesthetic Mediations was first published in 1913. This essential text in twentieth-century art presents the poet and critic’s aesthetic meditations on nine painters: Georges Braque, Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes, Marie Laurencin, Juan Gris, Fernand Léger, Francis Picabia and Marcel Duchamp. As Picasso’s closest friend and Marie Laurencin’s lover, Apollinaire witnessed the development of Cubism firsthand. This collection of essays and reviews, written between 1905 and 1912, is a milestone in the history of art criticism, valued today as both a work of reference and a classic example of modernist creative writing. It is also the perfect asset for one to witness just how influential Cubist paintings were to the development of modern art.
Featured images: Picasso – Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907 (detail) – Image via wikimedia.org; Jean Metzinger – L’Oiseau bleu, 1913 (detail) – Image via wikimedia.org; Fernand Léger – Three Women, 1921 (detail) – Image via myfreewallpapers.net
'Girl with a Mandolin' - Pablo Picasso
The Cubism movement revolutionized conventional ideas of painting. It opened the door to new styles and artworks. The geometric forms and sharp edges of these artworks characterize a Cubist painting. Picasso’s and Baroque’s idea was to construct and object rather than represent it that helped form the modernistic art style current today.
Girl with a Mandolin
Pablo Picasso (1818-1973)
Movement: Cubist Modernism
Theme: Abracted Analytic Cubism
Technique: Oil on Canvas
The ‘Girl with a Mandolin’ was painted within the Cubist movement by Pablo Picasso in Paris, 1910. The artwork was one of Picasso’s early Analytic Cubist creations.
Picasso’s ideas lead him to paint the subject as she sat directly in front of him. He analysed his subject, breaking the subject down into squares, cubes, rectangles, and other geometric shapes along the contours of her form. He arranged these shapes to portray various parts of her form that would otherwise be impossible to see from one point of view, this is what defines an Analytic Cubist painting.
Picasso's surroundings were highly influential in his work. This led him to paint everyday life in his locality. Unlike conventional western artworks, before impressionism, whom painted historical subjects that posed to create a pyramid of vector lines that lead to a central focal point of the painting, Cubist developed a new approach to representing their subject that allowed them to use abstract geometric shapes to reconstruct the subjective form.
Picasso used an almost monochromatic colour palette, dulled and muted forming a unified surface within the work. In orthodox Western artworks, painters would use a wide array of deep colours that were not limited unlike Picasso's work. Traditional paintings would use realistic colours to represent their subjects as realistic forms.
Picasso painted the background behind the girl with a random patterns of geometric shapes forming unrecognizable imagery. The background was painted similarly as the subject, it’s unspecific as to what shapes and forms are the subject and what forms are the background. However, it is possible to identify the subject as she is painted in lighter tones compared to the background. Picasso allowed