Cubist Painters, Sculptors
Artists of the Cubism Movement: Picasso, Braque, Gris, Duchamp, Archipenko, Lipchitz.

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Portrait of Picasso (1912)
Art Institute of Chicago.
By Juan Gris.

EVOLUTION OF VISUAL ART
For details of art movements
and styles, see: History of Art.

Cubist Painters (and Sculptors)(1906-14)

Contents

Introduction
Juan Gris
Fernand Leger
Robert Delaunay
Jean Metzinger
Francis Picabia
Marcel Duchamp
Other Cubists
Notable Cubist Paintings
Cubist Sculptors
Cubist Sculptures
Legacy/Influence of Cubism



Three Figures (1910-11)
Milwaukee Art Center.
By Fernand Leger.

WORLD'S GREATEST ARTWORKS
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For the Top 300 oils, watercolours
see: Greatest Modern Paintings.

Introduction

Although Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso are credited with creating the new visual language of Cubism, it was taken up and developed further by two artists in particular, Juan Gris (1887-1927) and Fernand Leger (1881-1955), who are considered the third and fourth Cubists. Early Cubist painting emerged during the period 1907-9, as both Picasso and Braque reacted separately to Paris exhibitions of Cezanne and primitive art. From 1909-12, the pair worked closely together in the development of Analytical Cubism, which was the most austere phase of the movement. Others, like Gris, joined this phase and by 1911, Cubism was the dominant form of avant-garde art in Paris, following its showing at the Salon des Independants. Other early Cubists included painters like Robert Delaunay (1885-1941), Albert Gleizes (1881-1953), Francis Picabia (1879-1953), Jean Metzinger (1883-1956), and sculptors like the Russian artist Alexander Archipenko (1887-1964). In 1912, Picasso and Braque changed direction slightly and introduced Synthetic Cubism, a more relaxed and personal style of Cubism, which involved collage and the application of extraneous materials onto the canvas, in any early form of junk art. Although many 20th century painters explored the Cubist idiom, only Picasso, Braque and Gris were seen as 'real' Cubists: the others tended to be viewed as 'Salon Cubists' who adopted a less purist approach to Cubism. The main art dealers used by Cubist artists were Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1884-1979), as well as Leonce Rosenberg (1879-1947) and his brother Paul Rosenberg (1881-1959).


The City (1919)
Philadelphia Museum of Art.
By Fernand Leger.


L'Artillerie (1911)
Metropolitan Museum, New York
By Roger de la Fresnaye.


Franciscan Church (1924)
Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart.
By Lyonel Feininger.

Juan Gris

The Spanish-born painter Juan Gris (1887-1927) only began painting seriously in late 1910, but made a sensational debut in 1912 at the Salon des Independants with his Portrait of Picasso (Art Institute of Chicago), and was soon acknowledged as the third Cubist. Although strongly influenced by his fellow Spaniard Picasso, he made his own study of Cezanne, and quickly established his own distinctive style of Analytical Cubism. This involved geometric-style fragmentation, but in Gris's case each individual plane tended to remain distinct, without the complex overlapping or transparency visible in works by Picasso and Braque. Also, during the Synthetic phase, Gris painted with noticeably brighter, more lyrical colour (The Open Window, 1917, Philadelphia Museum of Art), often with rich, high-keyed colour harmonies, which accentuated the flatness of the canvas (Landscape at Ceret, 1913, National Museum, Stockholm). Other works, like The Wash-Stand (1912, Private Collection), which used a real mirror, were constructed with great precision, and a sense of humour.

Fernand Leger

One of Cubism's brightest stars was Fernand Leger (1881-1955). After a spell as an architect's apprentice and a brief foray into the Academy's school, Leger discovered Cezanne at the latter's huge retrospective at the Salon d'Automne, and then met Braque and Picasso in 1910. Under their influence he worked for a while in facet-Cubism, as in Three Figures (1910-11, Milwaukee Art Center), where it is possible to discern hints of the driving, piston-like energies that were to fascinate him later on. But Leger was always a more direct and less complicated person than his colleagues, and he fretted under the intellectualism of formal analysis. By 1913 he had resolved the shifting, overlapping complexities of analytical Cubism into a new manner, where cubes and cylinders began to appear more solidly and more boldly, painted in bright colours. Contrast of Forms (Philadelphia Museum of Art) painted in 1913, is typical of a group of paintings where Leger combines strong, simple shapes in pure primary colours - red, blue, and yellow - with a great deal of white and strong defining lines in black. In spite of the crowding of the forms, which jostle and shoulder one another over the whole area of the canvas, a comparison of Contrast of Forms with Three Figures should show not only that Contrast of Forms is a logical continuation of the earlier picture but that it is a step in the direction of clarity and specific definition.

Even so, Leger was still feeling his way, and it was not until after World War I (during which he was mobilized and stopped painting) that he found what he wanted to do. While Gris employed Cubism pensively, Leger adapted it to the clanking mechanized life of the city. On the theory that in a mechanical age art should take on a mechanical character, he developed a style in which every form, if not actually derived from a mechanical motif, took on the character of a gear, a flywheel, a piston, or some other machine part. By his own statement, his daily contact with machines during the war might account for his new fascination with a mechanistic art, and his wartime "contact with violent and crude reality" completed his divorce from the hyper-refinements of Analytical Cubism. Leger's outward looking vision of a new mechanized society was not consistent with that of Picasso or Braque, who both favoured a more introspective focus on the nature of art.

The City (1919, Philadelphia Museum of Art), a large canvas, is the climax of his new style and probably the key picture in his total work. Some of the most easily identified motifs are girders, poles, puffs of smoke, and in the centre a flight of steps reduced to light and dark bands behind the mechanized human figures who descend them. The colours are pure and bright, even garish and strident, dominated by several brilliant patches of lemon yellow and bright reds, cut through from top to bottom by a pole of a rosy violet colour. For the most part the forms are unmodelled, exceptions being the human figures, the puffs of smoke, and the pole, which are modelled into smooth geometrical ovals and cylinders.

In many ways the forms of The City are so obvious that they seem too easy. Subtleties must not be read into Leger; rather, a hearty vigour, a kind of primitivism. He is the most easily imitated of painters, and he has suffered from a blight of fourth-rate talents who have adopted his formula and revealed its limitations without redeeming them by his strength and enthusiasm. Leger's art is meaningless if it is distorted by a search for intellectualities that do not exist in it. His anti-intellectualism is usually refreshing; at other times it palls, and one is relieved to get away from his insistent colours and obvious forms, for paintings offering less surface excitement and more contemplative depth. (Of course this may be a matter of personal taste; it may be just as true that it is a relief to get away from paintings full of subtleties and enjoy Leger's simpleness.) Sometimes, also, he forces his style onto motifs not compatible with it - see, for instance, The Breakfast (1925, Private Collection), in which three nudes around a breakfast table are reduced to dehumanized automatons.

Leger is a painter with an emphatically personal style in which native vigour and a curious affectation compete with one another - and frequently come to terms. On these occasions he is a fine artist; on most others, he is at least a fine designer. Indeed, directly and indirectly, Leger's style has been one of the most powerful influences on modern design and upon its decorators, designers, and commercial artists.

Robert Delaunay

Robert Delaunay (1885-1941), dissatisfied with Cubism's static arrangements, began composing in restless planes and swinging arcs in an effort to reveal the forces inherent in static objects. He chose as his special subjects two pieces of architectural engineering where dynamic forces are brought into structural balance: the Eiffel Tower with its steel girders and the medieval church of St. Severin with its stone vaults. His semi-Cubist Eiffel Tower (1909, Philadelphia Museum of Art), compared with his later Eiffel Tower (1925, also in Philadelphia) demonstrates the change from static forms to ones broken up in a way suggesting movement. Delaunay similarly enlivened the Cubist colour-palette. In 1912, a year when Cubism shot out in a dozen directions, Delaunay formulated "Orphism," (aka Orphic Cubism) or colour orchestration, in which he had tried to free Cubism at once from the dun hues that had affected it during its analytical phase and from its dependence on subject matter. As an orphist he painted a series of "window compositions" - see, for instance, Windows (1912, Philadelphia Museum of Art) - in totally abstract planes something like overlapping sheets of bright coloured glass. Although he did not follow up the direction these paintings set, other painters were soon to do so. Delaunay was joined by the Czech painter Frank Kupka (1871-1957) who had also dabbled with Cubism and now immersed himself in highly coloured abstract art.

Jean Metzinger

Jean Metzinger (1883-1956) developed certain nuances of style during this period of analytical Cubism that give his work a light, gay quality quite opposed to the Spartan analytical diagrams of Braque and Picasso. Yet Metzinger was of a scientific turn of mind. Before discovering a more rewarding pseudo-science in Analytical Cubism, he had been attracted by the codification and systematic approach of Neo-Impressionism. In 1912, at the end of the period of Analytical Cubism, he co-wrote its doctrinal statement, Du Cubisme, along with his colleague Albert Gleizes (1881-1953). The first study of the new movement, it ran through fifteen editions in the course of 1912 alone. Both Metzinger and Gleizes were founder members of Section d'Or and were among the Cubists who insisted on the use of colour, while Braque and Picasso were shelving the problem in favour of pure analysis in tans, creams, and greys.

Francis Picabia

Francis Picabia (1879-1953) was also involved in Orphism, but at the same time he thought that Cubism could be a vehicle for the expression of ideas. He had begun as an imitator of Sisley, and he spent his life enthusiastically investigating every new 'ism' that turned up, without going very deeply into any of them. An excellent example of his brand of Cubism is Physical Culture (1913, Philadelphia Museum of Art).

Marcel Duchamp

What might be described as "dynamic Cubism," apparent in Delaunay's later Eiffel Tower and in Picabia's Physical Culture, is most vivaciously present in Nude Descending a Staircase (No 2) (1912, Philadelphia Museum of Art) by Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968). It is a painting of considerable historical importance since it became the key exhibit of the Armory Show in 1913 in New York, which was America's first wholesale introduction to avant-garde art. For the first time, Americans reacted with the vehemence of Frenchmen when confronted with works of art that offended them. Security guards had to protect the most controversial paintings from attack by an enraged public.

One unsympathetic critic labelled Nude Descending a Staircase "an explosion in a shingle factory." The insult was perceptive, up to a point. The figure is indeed shattered into shingle-like planes that merge and overlap in a pattern of great energy. But the jibe falls short in that the shattered figure is not chaotic. Contrarily, it is reassembled into a pattern of great order and vivacity, more expressive of bright descending movement than an imitative painting of a nude descending a staircase could be. But for a public that still admired Burne-Jones's The Golden Stairs (1880, Tate Collection, London), showing eighteen young women in pretty costumes descending a staircase in a series of graceful attitudes, a picture of one nude young woman descending a staircase in hundreds of machine-like shards of reality, was incomprehensible and infuriating. The fact that after an entire century Nude Descending a Staircase still has a persistent capacity to interest the sympathetic and irritate the antagonistic, while other sensational novelties have flared up and faded away by the dozen, is as good a proof as another that it is an enduring landmark, and a work of art with extensions beyond Cubism. One of these is its deliberately provocative title which, like Picabia's nonsensical ones, is allied to two other movements, Dada and Surrealism, where Duchamp will appear again.

Other Cubists

Other exponents of Cubism had even more different aims in mind. For example, in the painting L'Artillerie (1911), French Cubist Roger de la Fresnaye (1885-1925) made use of geometric simplification not to create ambiguity, but to make a nationalistic statement about French military strength. The American painter Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956) used Cubism techniques in his painting Franciscan Church (1924) to imply religious feeling. For his part, Andre Lhote (1885-1962), as well as being a gifted Cubist painter and sculptor, was an influential teacher and theorist on art.

Marcel Duchamp's painter brother Gaston, who adopted the pseudonym Jacques Villon (1875-1963), worked in a personal variation on Cubism, always rather quiet and elegant, and eventually developing into lucent configurations of great distinction. In the history of Cubism he has a special place as the head of a group who met at his studio in the early days for discussion and theorizing. In 1912 - following their controversial show in Salle 41 of the Salon des Independants - the group named themselves the Section d'Or (after the mathematical formula for proportional harmonies) and staged another huge exhibition at the Galerie La Boetie. Participants included Juan Gris, Fernand Leger, Robert Delaunay, Francis Picabia, Marcel Duchamp, and Jean Metzinger, as well as Albert Gleizes, Roger de la Fresnaye, Louis Marcoussis (1883-1941), Andre Lhote (1885-1962), and many others. As a climactic point in Cubism's coming of age it summarized the forces at work before their dissemination into the general field of painting, which they have so profoundly affected. Picasso and Braque alone, the two major figures in Cubism's development and the two painters who subsequently drew most significantly upon it, were not represented. The immediate reason was that the exhibition was held in a commercial gallery in which they could not show, because of their prior contractual obligations to Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1884-1979). But psychologically their absence was appropriate, for while it is possible to think of the men who did exhibit as being, first of all, Cubists, it is impossible not to think of Braque and Picasso as being, first of all, painters.

 

Notable Cubist Paintings

Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956)
Franciscan Church (1924) Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart.

Albert Gleizes (1881-1953)
Bathers (1912) Musee National d'Art Moderne, Paris.

Fernand Leger (1881-1955)
In Contrast of Forms (1913) Guggenheim Museum, NYC.
The Stairway (1914) MOMA, NYC.
The City (1919) Philadelphia Museum of Art.
La Creation du Monde (1923) stage model for one act ballet.

Jean Metzinger (1883-1957)
At the Cycle Race Track (1911-12) Peggy Guggenheim Museum, Venice.
Woman Knitting (1919) Musee National d'Art Moderne, Paris.

Roger de la Fresnaye (1885-1925)
L'Artillerie (1911) Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.
The Conquest of the Air (1913) MOMA, NYC.

Robert Delaunay (1885-1941)
The City, no 2 (1910) Musee National d'Art Moderne, Paris.

Andre Lhote (1885-1962)
The Rugby Players (1917) Private Collection.

Juan Gris (1887-1927)
Portrait of Picasso (1913), Art Institute of Chicago.
Breakfast (1915) Musee National d'Art Moderne, Paris.
Violin and Playing Cards (1913) Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.
Bottle of Rum and Newspaper (1913) Guggenheim Museum, NYC.
Still-Life (1917) Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Alexander Archipenko (1887-1964):
Glass on a Table (1920) MOMA, NYC.

 

Cubist Sculptors

Cubism also had a huge influence on 20th century sculptors, who adapted Cubist ideas in various ways: notably by the opening up of forms so that voids as well as solids form distinct shapes. Picasso himself made Cubist sculpture and other leading artists who worked in the idiom include the painter/sculptor Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), the French sculptors Jacques Lipchitz (1891-1973), Henri Laurens (1885-1954), Raymond Duchamp-Villon (1876-1918), and the Russian sculptors Alexander Archipenko (1887-1964) and Vladimir Baranoff-Rossine (1882-1942). Another noted Cubist sculptor was the Czech Otto Gutfreund (1889-1927), who was part of a remarkable flowering of Cubist art and design in Prague in the years before the first World War. In applied art, Cubism was one of the sources of Art Deco and more generally it has had a huge and varied impact on modern art and design.

Famous Cubist Sculptures

Raymond Duchamp-Villon (1876-1918)
Horse (1914) Tate Collection; MOMA, NYC.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Head of a Woman (1909) MOMA, NYC.

Vladimir Baranoff-Rossine (1882-1942)
Symphony Number 1 (1913) MOMA, NYC.

Henry Laurens (1885-1954)
Guitar (1914) Museum Ludwig, Cologne.
Clown (1915) Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum, Duisburg.

Alexander Archipenko (1887-1964)
Walking Woman (1912) Denver Museum of Art.
The Boxing Match (1914) Guggenheim Museum, NYC.
Marching Soldier (1917) Private Collection.
Standing Nude (1921) Private Collection.

Otto Gutfreund (1889-1927)
Vikey (Cubist Head) (1911-13) Private Collection.

Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967)
Mother and Child (1918) Hirshhorn Museum/Sculpture Garden, Washington DC.
Musicians (1927) Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts.

Jacques Lipchitz (1891-1973)
Man with Guitar (1915, Museum of Modern Art, New York)
Bather III (1917) Barnes Foundation, Merion.
Woman with Guitar (1927, Private collection)

Legacy/Influence on Other Movements and Artists

Cubism proved immensely adaptable and was the starting point or an essential component of several other modern art movements. In its general use of image-fragmentation, Cubism influenced Italian Futurism (c.1909-14) and English Vorticism (c.1914-15) as well as Russian painting styles of Rayonism (c.1912-14) and Suprematism (c.1913-18), together with the design styles of Constructivism (c.1919-32) and De Stijl (1917-31). Cubism also influenced Robert Delaunay's Orphism, as well as Purism. Other twentieth century groups who benefited from Cubist devices and imagery included: the Dada movement, whose method of combining words with pictures and art with non-art, could not have thrived without Picasso's and Braque's invention of collage, the Precisionism style of urban/industrial realism in 1920s America, developed by Charles Demuth (1883-1935) and Charles Sheeler (1883-1965); while the inter-war Surrealists were greatly fortified by Cubism's ambiguous imagery. The Cubist legacy also benefited both the German Expressionists, who made use of its forms to sharpen its message, and the Abstract Expressionists who profited from its promotion of the primacy of the flat canvas.

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