Category: Cubism and Cubist Theory
Cubism began as an intellectual revolt against the artistic expression of previous eras. Among the specific elements abandoned by the cubists were the sensual appeal of paint texture and color, subject matter with emotional charge or mood, the play of light on form, movement, atmosphere, and the illusionism that proceeded from scientifically based perspective. To replace these they employed an analytic system in which the three-dimensional subject (usually still life) was fragmented and redefined within a shallow plane or within several interlocking and often transparent planes.
Analytic and Synthetic Cubism
In the analytic phase (1907–12) the cubist palette was severely limited, largely to black, browns, grays, and off-whites. In addition, forms were rigidly geometric and compositions subtle and intricate. Cubist abstraction as represented by the analytic works of Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Juan Gris intended an appeal to the intellect. The cubists sought to show everyday objects as the mind, not the eye, perceives them—from all sides at once. The trompe l’oeil element of collage was also sometimes used.
During the later, synthetic phase of cubism (1913 through the 1920s), paintings were composed of fewer and simpler forms based to a lesser extent on natural objects. Brighter colors were employed to a generally more decorative effect, and many artists continued to use collage in their compositions. The works of Picasso, Braque, and Gris are also representative of this phase.
Yet Cubism and Modern art weren’t either scientific or intellectual; they were visual and came from the eye and mind of one of the greatest geniuses in art history. Pablo Picasso, born in Spain, was a child prodigy who was recognized as such by his art-teacher father, who ably led him along. The small Museo de Picasso in Barcelona is devoted primarily to his early works, which include strikingly realistic renderings of casts of ancient sculpture.
He was a rebel from the start and, as a teenager, began to frequent the Barcelona cafes where intellectuals gathered. He soon went to Paris, the capital of art, and soaked up the works of Manet, Gustave Courbet, and Toulouse-Lautrec, whose sketchy style impressed him greatly. Then it was back to Spain, a return to France, and again back to Spain – all in the years 1899 to 1904.
Before he struck upon Cubism, Picasso went through a prodigious number of styles – realism, caricature, the Blue Period, and the Rose Period. The Blue Period dates from 1901 to 1904 and is characterized by a predominantly blue palette and subjects focusing on outcasts, beggars, and prostitutes. This was when he also produced his first sculptures. The most poignant work of the style is in Cleveland’s Museum of Art, La Vie (1903), which was created in memory of a great childhood friend, the Spanish poet Casagemas, who had committed suicide.
The painting started as a self-portrait, but Picasso’s features became those of his lost friend. The composition is stilted, the space compressed, the gestures stiff, and the tones predominantly blue. Another outstanding Blue Period work, of 1903, is in the Metropolitan, The Blind Man’s Meal. Yet another example, perhaps the most lyrical and mysterious ever, is in the Toledo Museum of Art, the haunting Woman with a Crow (1903).
The Rose Period began around 1904 when Picasso’s palette brightened, the paintings dominated by pinks and beiges, light blues, and roses. His subjects are saltimbanques (circus people), harlequins, and clowns, all of whom seem to be mute and strangely inactive. One of the premier works of this period is in Washington, D.C., the National Gallery’s large and extremely beautiful Family of Saltimbanques dating to 1905, which portrays a group of circus workers who appear alienated and incapable of communicating with each other, set in a one-dimensional space.
In 1905, Picasso went briefly to Holland, and on his return to Paris, his works took on a classical aura with large male and fernale figures seen frontally or in distinct profile, almost like early Greek art. One of the best of these of 1906 is in the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, NY, La Toilette. Several pieces in this new style were purchased by Gertrude (the art patron and writer) and her brother, Leo Stein.
The other major artist promoted by the Steins during this period was Henri Matisse, who had made a sensation in an exhibition of 1905 for works of a most shocking new style, employing garish and dissonant colors. These pieces would be derided by the critics as “Fauvism,” a French word for “wild beasts.” Picasso was profoundly influenced by Matisse. He was also captivated by the almost cartoon-like works of the self-taught “primitive” French painter Henri “Le Douanier” Rousseau, whom he affectionately called “the last ancient Egyptian painter” because his works have a passing similarity to the flat ancient Egyptian paintings.
A masterpiece by Rousseau is in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, his world-famous Sleeping Gypsy, with an incredible tiger gazing at the dormant figure with laser-like eyes.
Picasso discovered ancient Iberian sculpture from Spain, African art (for he haunted the African collections in the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro in Paris), and Gauguin’s sculptures. Slowly, he incorporated the simplified forms he found in these sources into a striking portrait of Gertrude Stein, finished in 1906 and given by her in her will to the Metropolitan Museum. She has a severe masklike face made up of emphatically hewn forms compressed inside a restricted space. (Stein is supposed to have complained, “I don’t look at all like that,” with Picasso replying, “You will, Gertrude, you will.”) This unique portrait comes as a crucial shift from what Picasso saw to what he was thinking and paves the way to Cubism.
Then came the awesome Les Demoiselles d’Avignon of 1907, the shaker of the art world (Museum of Modern Art, New York). Picasso was a little afraid of the painting and didn’t show it except to a small circle of friends until 1916, long after he had completed his early Cubist pictures. Cubism is essentially the fragmenting of three-dimensional forms into flat areas of pattern and color, overlapping and intertwining so that shapes and parts of the human anatomy are seen from the front and back at the same time.
The style was created by Picasso in tandem with his great friend Georges Braque, and at times, the works were so alike it was hard for each artist quickly to identify their own. The two were so close for several years that Picasso took to calling Braque, “ma femme” or “my wife,” described the relationship as one of two mountaineers roped together, and in some correspondence they refer to each other as “Orville and Wilbur” for they knew how profound their invention of Cubism was.
Every progressive painter, whether French, German, Belgian, or American, soon took up Cubism, and the style became the dominant one of at least the first half of the 20th century. In 1913, in New York, the new style was introduced at an exhibition at the midtown armory – the famous Armory Show – which caused a sensation. Picasso would create a host of Cubist styles throughout his long career. After painting still-lifes that employed lettering, trompe l’oeil effects, color, and textured paint surfaces, in 1912 Picasso produced Still-Life with Chair-Caning, in the Picasso Museum in Paris, which is an oval picture that is, in effect, a cafe table in perspective surrounded by a rope frame – the first collage, or a work of art that incorporates preexisting materials or objects as part of the ensemble.
Elements glued to the surface contrasting with painted versions of the same material provided a sort of sophisticated double take on the part of the observer. A good example of this, dubbed Synthetic Cubism, is in the Picasso Museum, Paris, the witty Geometric Composition: The Guitar (1913). The most accomplished pictures of the fully developed Synthetic Cubist style are two complex and highly colorful works representing musicians (in Philadelphia and the Museum of Modern Art, New York). He produced fascinating theatrical sets and costumes for the Ballet Russe from 1914 on, turned, in the 1920s, to a rich classical style, creating some breathtaking line drawings, dabbled with Surrealism between 1925 and 1935, and returned to Classicism.
“At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Picasso was appointed the director of the Prado. In January, 1937, the Republican government asked him to paint a mural for the Spanish pavilion at the world exposition in Paris. Spurred on by a war atrocity, the total destruction by bombs of the town of Guernica in the Basque country, he painted the renowned oil Guernica in monochrome (now in Madrid’s Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia.) Something of an enigma in details, there’s no doubt that the giant picture (which until the death of Franco was in New York’s Museum of Modern Art) expresses a Goyaesque revulsion over the horrors man can wreak upon fellow man. The center is dominated by a grieving woman and a wounded, screaming horse illuminated, like Goya’s Third of May, 1808 by a harsh light.
“Picasso lived in Paris through the war, producing gloomy paintings in semi-abstract styles, many depicting skulls or flayed animals or a horrifying charnel house. He joined the Communist party after the war and painted two large paintings condemning the United States for its involvement in the Korean War (two frightfully bad paintings about events that never happened – like American participation in germ warfare). [In fact, research has determined that the event depicted by Picasso in “Massacre in Korea” did occur.
Girl Before Mirror was painted in March 1932. It was produced in the style Picasso was using at the time and evoked an image of Vanity such as had been utilized in art in earlier eras, though Picasso shifts the emphasis and creates a very different view of the image. The work is considered in terms of the erotic in Picasso’s art, and critics in different periods have offered their assessments of the work to show a wide range of reactions. The young girl was named Marie Therese Walter and was painted multiple times during the 1930’s by Picasso.
Girl Before a Mirror was painted during Picasso’s cubism period. Picasso was an artist that was very bold with his artwork. Even with backgrounds that are normally placed to be a backdrop and mainly they’re to assist the main subject. He includes it within the painting to make it just as intense as the main focal point of the image.
Picasso was part of a movement that would become known as Modernism, a name which included a number of different artistic styles and aesthetic responses. Modernism is a term applied retroactively to certain literary and artistic trends at the beginning of the twentieth century. The disjointed time sense, the flight from the conventions of realism, and the adoption of complex new forms and styles in the modernist period were undertaken to provide new meaning, to illuminate the world in a different way, and to show different relationships within the observed world. Modernism rejected traditions that existed in the nineteenth century and sought to stretch the boundaries.
When you look closely at the image, you can interpret many different symbols within different parts of the painting. The woman’s face for one; is painted with a side profile and a full frontal image. One side shows the day time where she seems more like a woman, dolled up with her make up done. The other side with the rough charcoal texture portrays her at night. When she takes off the mask of makeup, and is more vulnerable as a young lady.
One way of interpreting the painting is when the woman looks at herself in the mirror; she is seeing herself as an old woman. From the green discoloration on her forehead, darkening of her facial features to the lines that show that her young body has been distorted, and gravity has taken its rightful place. Another way of viewing the painting is that she is self-conscious, and she sees all the flaws in herself that the world doesn’t see.
A retired French couple has come forward with 271 never-before-seen pieces.
A retired French electrician and his wife have come forward with 271 undocumented, never-before-seen works by Pablo Picasso estimated to be worth at least 60 million euros ($79.35 million), an administrator of the artist’s estate said Monday.
The electrician, who once worked for Picasso, and his wife for years squirreled away the staggering trove — which is believed to be authentic — inside a trunk in the garage of their home on the French Riviera.
The cache, dating from the artist’s most creative period from 1900 to 1932, includes lithographs, portraits, watercolors, and sketches — plus nine Cubist collages said to be worth 40 million euros alone, according to French daily Liberation, which first reported Monday on the discovery.
Pierre Le Guennec, a 71-year-old former electrician, and his wife showed many of the works to Picasso’s son Claude and other estate administrators in Paris in September, seeking to have the works authenticated, Picasso Administration lawyer Jean-Jacques Neuer.
Shortly after that meeting, Neuer filed suit on behalf of Picasso’s heirs for alleged illegal receipt of the works. Police investigators are looking into how Le Guennec and his wife, Danielle, came by the pictures.
“This was a gift,” Danielle Le Guennec told The Associated Press by phone from their home in the town of Mouans-Sartoux, near the tourist Riviera hotspot of Antibes. “We aren’t thieves. We didn’t do anything wrong.”
About 1910, a number of young artists working in Paris begin to examine closely the astonishing pictorial discoveries that had just been made. Of these artists, two emerged quickly as masters who could create and sustain a personal Cubist world whose quality might at times even rival the best of Picasso and Braque.
In 1912 Picasso and Braque were joined in their creation of Cubism by a third artist, Juan Gris (Gris was a Cubist by 1911 but his real historical importance dates from the following year). 1912 was also the year in which the new Cubist techniques, collage and papier collé, were invented. The works of Gris and the use made of the new media by all three artists between 1912 and 1914 are the subject of the third chapter.
The fourth and final chapter is an account of the dissemination of the style in France and comprises a stylistic survey of the development of individual artists such as Léger and Delaunay who were temporarily attracted to Cubism and developed individual variants of the style. The book ends with the outbreak of war in 1914, when the painters were physically separated by the war and the school, as such, was dissolved.
José Victoriano Gonzalez was born and raised in Madrid, a city artistically provincial by comparison with the Barcelona that nurtured Gaudi, Picasso, Miró, and Dali. He decided to move to Paris and, shortly before leaving Spain, changed his name to Juan Gris. Arriving in the artistic capital of Europe in 1906, he moved into the bateau-lavoir, the famous “floating laundry” of Montmartre where Picasso and other avant-garde painters and poets lived. By 1908 he had made the acquaintance of Kahnweiler, who was to be his biographer. It was not until 1910, however, that he begin to turn from his work as a graphic artist for Parisian newspapers to painting.
His initial exploration of Cubism was made with the same rapidity and brilliance that characterized the 70 unfolding of so many artistic careers around 1910. Already in a still life of 1911, the essentials of Gris’s style are defined. In comparison with Braque’s and Picasso’s contemporary Analytic Cubist work, Gris’s canvas is more severe and more lucid.
Four objects — a bottle, a humidor, a wineglass, and a bowl — are aligned in a grid of diagonals, verticals, and horizontals, and take their places with in immobility that belies the weightless, glistening planes of which they are composed. The measured solemnity of the structure is matched by the intense and mysterious light that illumines the objects with a whiteness as absolute as the blackness of the shadows where no light falls.
In her biography of Picasso, Gertrude Stein wrote that “the seduction of flowers and of landscapes, of still lifes was inevitably more seductive to Frenchmen thin to Spaniards; Juan Gris always made still lifes but to him a still life was not a seduction it was a religion…” With these words, she might have been describing this Still Life of 1911, whose religious quality recalls the seventeenth-century Spanish still lifes of such masters as Francisco de Zurbarán, with whom Gris’s art has often been linked. In one 68 of Zurbarán’s still lifes the analogy becomes clear.