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Friday, July 29, 2011

Cubism Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)

The development of cubism can be attributed to two men, George Braque and Pablo Picasso. They worked side by side in the same studio during their cubist period, and their work was almost indistinguishable. For now, I will consider the development of the much more famous (and prolific) artist, Picasso.
Pablo Picasso
(Spanish, 1881-1973)

Self Portrait 1899-1900

Self Portrait, cubist period

See Early Works By Picasso

Blue Period:

La Vie 1903

Old Guitarrist 1904

Woman with Crow 1904

Pablo Picasso was trained to paint by his father from a very young age, and absorbed his influence as well as that of the traditions of Spanish art. By his early 20s, he had moved to Paris, and quickly changed his earth-toned colors to a palette which was more emotionally expressive. His first truly original works were those of his Blue period. The young artist was facing some difficult times after the death of his closest friend, and was also experiencing financial troubles during his first years in Paris. His paintings of this time were created in predominantly blue tones, and the images were of immaciated people who look like they are down on their luck. Despite this, the paintings achieve a sense of mystery, and these are some of his most poetic images.

Rose Period:

Circus Acrobats and Ape 1905

Girl with Fan 1905

His blue period only lasted a few years, and was quickly supplanted with brighter colors when the artist's life circumstances improved. Collectors started to buy his works, so he was less financially worried. Also, he is believed to have fallen in love at this time. Historians call this his Rose period because of the pinks and reds that started to appear in his works at this time. For some reason, the lives of carnival people was one of the subjects that was common in these paintings.

Early Cubist Period:

Les Demoiselles de Avignon, 1907

Les Demoiselles de Avignon was Picasso's earliest work which broke dramatically from his figurative and poetic works of the first part of his life. The painting relates directly to the prostitution district of Paris. The women's facial features disintegrate into primitive masks, and their bodies are so hard-edged that it looks as if it would cut you if you touched them. At this time, Picasso was increasingly influenced by the raw expressive power of African and Oceanic tribal arts. The women are simultaneously seductive and horrifying. It would take a while before this work would become acceptable to even the most progressive members of artistic circles. But this was the painting that changed everything for Picasso. 

Still Life with Death's Head 1907

Bread, Fruit and Table 1908

By 1907, a collaboration between Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque was beginning. The two artists worked side by side, both experimenting with a system which sought to totally flatten space. One of the primary goals of cubism was to depart from the traditional understanding of perspective and spacial cues. Their early experiments with the style uses extremely bright colors, hard edged forms, and flattened space. Though previous art movements (Impressionism and Post Impressionism) began to evolve into flatter forms, Picasso and Braque were more radical in their approach. German Expressionism and Fauvism were going on simultaneously, and the works of those artists also tended towards flattened pictorial space. A primary difference between Cubism and those movements is that Cubism is based much less on the expression of emotion than it is an intellectual experiment with structure. A specific artist that inspired Picasso's and Braque's early experiments with this flattened space was Paul Cezanne, whose canvases tended to defy the logic of space and gravity. The cubists push the distortion just a little farther, and there are extreme similarities between the two artists' works.

Picasso: Landscape with Bridge 1909

Braque: Houses at La Estaque 1909

Picasso: Houses with Trees 1907

Picasso: Reservoir Horta 1909

Analytical Cubism:

The Mandolin 1910

Braque, Violin

Ambroise Voilard 1910

After 1909, Picasso and Braque began a more systematic study of structure which we know as "Analytical Cubism". In this period, they removed bright colors from their compositions, favoring monochromatic earth tones so that they could focus primarily on the structure. The paintings of this period look as if they have deconstructed objects and rearranged them on the canvas. One goal of this is to depict different viewpoints simultaneously. Traditionally, an object is always viewed from one specific viewpoint and at one specific (stopped) moment in time. Picasso and Braque felt that this was too limiting, and desired to represent an object as if they are viewing it from several angles or at different moments in time. Innovative as this was, the danger was that many of the works of this period are completely incomprehensible to the viewer, as they start to lose all sense of form.

Synthetic Cubism:

Still Life with Chair Cane 1912

Guitar, Sheet Music and Glass 1912

After the artists had grown tired of the Analytical period, they began to develop what is known as the Synthetic period. Picasso and Braque continue to introduce new and controversial changes with the introduction of collaged objects into their paintings. Still Life with Chair Cane was one of the first of these experiments, and integrates chair caning with the paint, framed with a length of rope. Guitar, Sheet Music and Glassincludes various collaged papers: wall paper, a page of sheet music, a drawing of an abstracted glass, and a newspaper clipping. Incidentally, this clipping includes the headline, "The battle has begun" (in French), which refers the revolution of representation the artists are achieving by introducing objects of the real world into their "paintings". It truly was a revolution which would change the face of modern art for many years to come.

NeoClassical Period(Between the Wars)

The Lovers 1923

Mother and Child on the Seashore 1921

Picasso cannot be accused of sticking to one style for too long, so if you don't happen to like his cubist period, other images are perhaps more pleasing to a general public. The collaboration between Picasso and Braque was ended by the First World War. After this, Picasso reverted to a more Classicist mode of representation. It is believed that he did this as a reaction to society's disillusionment and shock from the horrors of the war. Perhaps, in its own way, it was a way of returning his own psyche to a state of order and peace. Whatever the reason, this was not a final stage in Picasso's career. He soon continued to produce cubist works again, always finding new ways to express himself with the style.

Later Works:

Dream, 1932

Girl Before a Mirror 1932

Picasso's later cubist works introduce more color and pattern than his experimental earlier period. These are some of my favorite paintings by Picasso. It is my belief that, at this point, Picasso and Matisse were influencing each other in their works. The two artists are described as having "a friendly rivalry".

Guernica, 1937
In 1937, Nazi bombers destroyed the Spanish Basque town of Guernica, mercilessly killing 1600 unprotected citizens. The Spanish general, Francisco Franco agreed to let the Nazis do this in exchange for military aid in the Spanish Civil War. Picasso's reaction of horror to the brutal event stimulated his symbolic depiction of "Guernica". Here he returns to a monochromatic palette in an attempt to suggest the bleakness of the tragedy, in which 16 miles surrounding surrounding the entire city was annihilated. Picasso's disturbing painting about the victims of this senseless act is his cry of protest.

Many other paintings from this period reflect the horror of war, but there is a consistent depiction of personal interest as well. The women in Picasso's life had a major impact on his artistic production, and some of the best examples are from this period. His affection as well as his sometimes terrible treatment of women was treated in a recent movie called "Surviving Picasso". The screenplay was developed from a book written by the only woman to leave Picasso.

Dora Maar, Sitting 1939

Portrait of JR with Roses, 1954

Further Readings

Picasso and Cubism

Cubism was a 20th century avant-garde art movement, pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque., that revolutionized European painting and sculpture, and inspired related movements in music, literature and architecture.

Three Musicians (1921),Museum of Modern Art. Three Musicians is a classic example of Synthetic cubism.

"Painting is freedom. If you jump, you might fall on the wrong side of the rope. But if you're not willing to take the risk of breaking your neck, what good is it? You don't jump at all. You have to wake people up. To revolutionize their way of identifying things. You've got to create images they won't accept. Force them to understand that they're living in a pretty queer world. A world that's not reassuring. A world that's not what they think it is."

~ Picasso as quoted by Kahnweiler in "The Rise of Cubism".


In cubist artworks, objects are broken up, analyzed, and re-assembled in an abstracted form—instead of depicting objects from one viewpoint, the artist depicts the subject from a multitude of viewpoints to represent the subject in a greater context. Often the surfaces intersect at seemingly random angles, removing a coherent sense of depth. The background and object planes interpenetrate one another to create the shallow ambiguous space, one of cubism's distinct characteristics.

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon, and originally titled The Brothel of Avignon) is a large oil painting of 1907 by the Spanish artist Pablo Ruiz Picasso (1881–1973).

Around 1906, Picasso met Matisse through Gertrude Stein, at a time when both artists had recently acquired an interest in primitivism, Iberian sculpture, African art and African tribal masks. They became friendly rivals and competed with each other throughout their careers, perhaps leading to Picasso entering a new period in his work by 1907, marked by the influence of Greek, Iberian and African art. Picasso's paintings of 1907 have been characterized as Protocubism, as notably seen in Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, the antecedent* of Cubism.

The Demoiselles is generally referred to as the first Cubist picture. This is an exaggeration, for although it was a major first step towards Cubism it is not yet Cubist. The disruptive, expressionist element in it is even contrary to the spirit of Cubism, which looked at the world in a detached, realistic spirit. Nevertheless, the Demoiselles is the logical picture to take as the starting point for Cubism, because it marks the birth of a new pictorial idiom, because in it Picasso violently overturned established conventions and because all that followed grew out of it.

Some believe that the roots of cubism are to be found in the two distinct tendencies of Cézanne's later work: firstly to break the painted surface into small multifaceted areas of paint, thereby emphasizing the plural viewpoint given by binocular vision, and secondly his interest in the simplification of natural forms into cylinders, spheres, and cones.
However, the cubists explored this concept further than Cézanne; they represented all the surfaces of depicted objects in a single picture plane, as if the objects had all their faces visible at the same time. This new kind of depiction revolutionized the way in which objects could be visualized in painting and art.

African Fangmask similar in style to those Picasso saw in Paris just prior to painting Les Demoiselles d'Avignon

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