A Short History of Cubism

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Until the invention of photography in 1839, artists had primarily made money from painting representational art, such as portraits and landscapes. However, this role was given to photography, which had the advantage of being quicker and more realistic. Artists realised that they would have to find another way to make money; another set of ideas to base their paintings on. Many artists began to paint what the photograph could never illustrate: non-representational art.


Paul Cézanne's work was the main influence for the Cubism movement. He began to change perspective in his paintings, he changed his view of the object he was painting part way through his work. This introduced distortion and variable perspective to the Cubists. Cézanne also simplified shapes in his paintings. For example, he would think of a tree as a large cylinder and a house as a cube. His paintings became more abstract as time went on, as did the Cubists'.

Early Cubism

Pablo Picasso's 'Les Demoiselles d'Avignon' is generally regarded as the first Cubist painting. It shows female nudity as angular, instead of the typical curved shapes previously used by artists. The two figures in the right of the painting show Picasso's interest in African Art, and the whole painting was painted using shapes; exactly like Paul Cézanne.

Picasso continued these ideas with Georges Braque. From 1909, many of Braque's paintings used the same ideas as Picasso's. By 1911, the Cubist movement was firmly established.

The first stage of Cubism was called Analytical Cubism. Paintings during this stage tend to use broken, or earth, colours such as dark browns or even blacks. Also, the subject is shown from many different points of view. An example of this stage is Picasso's 'Tête de Femme'. Broken colour is used throughout and the subject, the face, is shown angularly from different viewpoints.

Synthetic Cubism

By 1914, the Cubist movement had started to use more colour in their paintings. The subject of the paintings became imaginary, and the artist often synthesised, or combined, many different subjects and views. This style was known as Synthetic Cubism. An example of this period is 'Still Life with Score by Eric Satie' by Georges Braque.

The Synthetic Cubism style confused many of the people who saw it, and art critics at that time shunned it, as it was so extreme. In an attempt to help viewers, the Cubists introduced visual clues, such as painting 'Le Journal' onto a picture of a newspaper, or painting 'Bass' onto a picture of a beer bottle. Some people took this even further, and actually stuck the label from a bottle, or a matchbox onto the picture, creating collage. This was a revolutionary idea, and the thought of sticking objects onto a canvas shocked many of the critics.

By the end of the 1920s, Cubism had begun to fade out, but it still had an influence in the work of Frenchman Maurice de Vlaminck and the Americans Stuart Davis and Lyonel Feininger.

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