The Legacy of Cubism

The most radical movement in avant-garde art in Europe, the beginning of Cubism dated back to 1907 when Picasso completed his groundbreaking Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon, originally titled The Brothel of Avignon), a crowded canvas that portrays five nude female prostitutes in a brothel on Carrer d’Avinyó (Avignon Street) in Barcelona. Cubist painters portrayed the world as it was known, rather than as it was seen, challenging the idea of revolutionaries like Giotto and Brunelleschi who used one-point perspective to idealistically project and imitate the seen world onto canvas. Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque worked together in the beginning of 20th century to challenge this idea which had dominated the Western art since the Renaissance.

Fernand Léger, 1914, Paysage No. 1 (Le Village dans la forêt)

The early phase of Cubism, which is often refereed to as Analytic Cubism, lasted until 1912. It entailed detailed analysis and dissection of objects and the space they occupied. As the poet and critic Guillaume Appollinaire observed, “Picasso studies an object the way a surgeon dissects a corpse”. Between 1913 and 1920 the development of Analytic Cubism was expanded into what historian refereed to as Synthetic Cubism, initiated by the papiers collés – a type of collage and collaging technique in which large pieces of neutral or colored paper are often cut out in the desired shape or else sometimes bear a graphic element that clarifies the association.


Even though Picasso and Braque are credited to be the pioneer of Cubism, the movement were further developed by many other artists. Namely,
Juan Gris, Fernand Léger, Jean Metzinger, Robert Delaunay, Albert Gleizes, Robert Delaunay, Henri Le Fauconnier, Fernand Léger, Marcel Duchamp, Roger de La Fresnaye and many others. But world war 1 effectively confined cubism for some times. Picasso and Braque were separated during the war and many artists were called to the front. But knowledge of Cubism had already spread far and wide to the other countries including the US. Its influence was felt in paintings, sculpture, architecture and decorative arts. It acted as a revolt against the decorative frivolity and left its major legacy in art history in the lasting idea that perception is a mutable thing that is not only governed by our biology or physiology, but can actually create a new insight. As Cubism became synthetic its radical visuality synthesized with the pan-European aesthetics of Modernism. It became an adaptable art form that gave rise to or became an important aspect of a number of movements in 20th century art including Futurism, Orphism, Vorticism, Suprematism and Precisionism.

Jean Metzinger, 1912-1913, L’Oiseau bleu, (The Blue Bird)

Cubism had its radical implications not only for paintings but for the poetry of Guillaume Appolinaire and Jean Cocteau, the literature of Gertrude Stein, and the music of Igor Stravinsky, all of whom applied the notion of disintegrated introspection and ascended mores into their mediums. Its influence on Abstract Expressionism was well-manifested as well. Despite moving on from the identifiable subject matter the “Color Field” expressionists such as Mark Rothko, Adolf Gottlieb and Barnett Newman remained devoted to cubism’s efforts to flatten space and reassert the picture plane. Cubism set the foundation for all the art of 20th century including the conceptual art and In many ways, it is safe to presume, we are still living in the Cubists’ fragmented world.

Featured Painting: Juan Gris – Deutsch: Stilleben mit Bordeuauxflasche

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