What ever happened to Cubism? The short life of the most important artistic movement of the 20th century.

One of the most important movements in modern art, Cubism was short lived but its legacy lives on. Pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque and influenced by the late work of Cezanne this star studded movements name is said to have been coined by art critic Louis Vauxcelles, after hearing Henri Matisse exclaim that Braque’s painting was made up of little cubes. 

One of the most important movements in modern art, Cubism was short lived but its legacy lives on. Pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque and influenced by the late work of Cezanne this star studded movements name is said to have been coined by art critic Louis Vauxcelles, after hearing Henri Matisse exclaim that Braque’s painting was made up of little cubes. 

Birthed in 1907-1908 by Pablo Picasso’s ‘Demoiselles D’Avignon’ which whilst not strictly a cubist piece, contains many stylistic elements that would become known as Cubism. Picasso and Braque decided to abandon the practice of creating the illusion of depth and instead paint scenes with multiple points of view of three dimensional objects flattened on a two dimensional plane. The cubist paintings of 1908-1912 follow this very closely and are known as Analytical Cubism. These works tend to look a little harsher, displaying multiple interceding planes and straight lines, the colour palette tends to be slightly more muted tones of blacks, greys and browns. They were depicting images as they are formed in the brain opposed to how they are seen by the eye. Jean Metzinger described this as the ‘affranchissement fondamentale’ or ‘total emancipation’ of painting.

As Braque and Picasso continued through the first decades of the 1900’s Cubism developed. Brighter colours and simpler, less geometric forms appeared, and collaged elements of real world objects like newspaper and rope emerged. This evolution was to be dubbed Synthetic Cubism. 

Something of extreme importance was taking place. Picasso and Braque had already rejected the traditionalist concepts of perception and presentations of reality by analysing objects from several viewpoints and representing them all on a single plane (Analytical Cubism). They were now, along with a handful of other artists, pushing the boundaries of what art could be. The main step forward being the idea that perception, whilst being dictated by our biology, could be influenced and even created from within us and that art could be the projections of these perceptions. Hence the name Synthetic Cubism, these images were being synthesised by the artists - this was an intellectual art, an art that challenged thoughts rather than feelings. Matisse called it ‘the death of painting’, in many ways it was a death of sorts, but what Mattise should have said was ‘the rebirth of painting’.

So what happened to Cubism, well, World War I happened. Braque, being French, went off to fight whilst Picasso, hailing from neutral Spain, continued to live and work in Paris. By the time the war was over both painters had drifted, Picasso began moving towards surrealism and Braque continued his abstracted experimentation maintaining elements of Cubism.

However short lived, Cubism's influence can be seen throughout modern art. Its ideas and motifs continued in Dutch De Stijl, Orphism and Russian constructivism. Cubism laid the foundations of all conceptual art. Cubism’s influence even transcends form, the music of Igor Stravinsky the photography of László Moholy-Nagy, the graphic design of Aleksandr Rodchenko, the literature of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf and the films of Hans Richter all bare the mark of Cubism. 

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