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  • gerard van weyenbergh

Cubism, a basic description

Cubism was one of the great modern movements of the first quarter of the XX century. Developed, under the influence of Cézanne , by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque on the front line, cubism was built in a hermetic manner before attracting the interest of many painters, such as Juan Gris, Fernand Léger and Robert Delaunay. Cubism offers a conceptual deconstruction of reality, never abstract, but multiplying the points of view on the object. The subjects are often borrowed on a daily basis. Several French painters, such as André Lhote, Jean Metzinger, and Roger de la Fresnaye, practiced cubism linking academic tradition and modernity. The history of canonical cubism died out with the Great War, which marked a break in the world of the avant-garde. Versions of cubism also exist internationally, and in other artistic practices such as sculpture and architecture. A decisive stage in the history of art, this movement is one of the paths that have led modern art to abstraction.

"Cubism is the art of painting new sets with elements borrowed not from the reality of vision, but from the reality of design. "Guillaume Apollinaire

Its history, its key ideas

The word cubism is pronounced for the first time by Henri Matisse about a canvas by Georges Braque dating from 1908. Under the influence of Cézanne, which they had discovered, Braque and Picasso indeed adopted a new aesthetic perspective during the year 1907. They seek to represent the real not mimically, but by geometrizing it, without ever reaching abstraction. The shapes are cut into multiple facets, like so many "cubes", showing the object from a perspective impossible in reality. The artists no longer seek representation in three dimensions (illusionist), but in four dimensions, which attests to the conceptual nature of their aesthetic design.

In 1907, Picasso painted the Demoiselles d'Avignon in his Parisian workshop. The work is sometimes presented as the manifesto of this new aesthetic, marked by the discovery of African sculpture, with synthetic forms. Many artists follow Picasso, but it is Braque who becomes the first traveling companion of the Spaniard. They collaborate closely, especially in 1909, and develop so-called analytical cubism, very hermetic, with a limited palette, with complex perspective effects. Alongside them, other artists also founded their laboratory, in particular, the so-called Puteaux group (Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger, Francis Picabia, Fernand Léger, etc.), gathered around the Duchamp brothers.

In the years 1910–1914, cubism evolved. Braque and Picasso brighten up their palette and make use of new techniques, in particular collage. But the two painters, sponsored by merchant Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, did not exhibit at the Salons. The public of amateurs is rather aware of the researches of the artists of Puteaux, in particular Gleizes and Metzinger, who expose, as for them, in the Parisian Salons and a Salon dedicated to cubism: the Salon de la Section d' Or. These other cubists offer a less radical approach and use this style to revisit classic and modern themes. The sculpture, too, is not to be outdone. Artists like Lipchitz, Zadkine and Archipenko adhere to Cubism after Picasso, who also tried sculpture in the 1910s.

Its confrontation with Italian futurism marks the history of cubism in the 1910s. The two vanguards compete. Marcel Duchamp, who belongs to the Puteaux group, paid the price for this dispute by exhibiting his famous Nude descending a staircase at the Salon des Indépendants in 1912. With this figure whose movement breaks down in space, French cubists blame him for being too futuristic. The artist was best received in New York, where he presented his works at the Armory Show in 1913.

The Great War represents a break in the history of cubism, from which Picasso moves away to approach a return to a classic style. Cubism was also very badly perceived during this period of nationalist withdrawal and was accused of being an avant-garde too open to the winds of internationalism. continue to read


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