Cubism. Artistic movement developed between 1907 and 1914 , born in France and led by Pablo Picasso , Georges Braque and Juan Gris . It is an essential trend as it gives rise to the rest of the European avant-gardes of the 20th century . It is not just another system, but rather the definitive break with traditional painting.


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  • 1 Origin
  • 2 Features
  • 3 Evolution
  • 4 Synthetic cubism (1912-1914)
  • 5 Cubism in other arts
    • 1 In architecture
      • 1.1 Most important cubist architects
      • 1.2 Czech Cubism and German Expressionism
    • 6 Other painters of cubism
    • 7 Purism
    • 8 Bibliography


The term cubism was coined by the French critic Louis Vauxcelles , the same one who had baptized the Fauvists by calling them Fauves (wild beasts); in the case of Braque and his ‘Estaque’ paintings, Vauxcelles said, contemptuously, that it was a painting composed of ‘ Little Cubes ‘. Thus the concept of “cubism” originated.

When we were doing Cubism, we had no intention of doing Cubism but only to express what we had inside ”. Pablo Picasso .


Cubism is considered the first avant-garde, since it breaks with the last Renaissance statute in force at the beginning of the 20th century , the perspective. In cubist pictures, traditional perspective disappears. Treats the shapes of nature through geometric figures, fragmenting lines and surfaces. The so-called “multiple perspective” is thus adopted: all parts of an object are represented on the same plane.

The representation of the world began to have no commitment to the appearance of things from a certain point of view, but to what is known about them. That is why diverse views of the object appeared at the same time and on the same plane: for example, it is represented from the front and in profile; in a human face, the nose is in profile and the eye is in front; a bottle appears in its vertical cut and its horizontal cut. There is no longer a single point of view. There is no sense of depth. The details are suppressed, and sometimes it ends up representing the object by a single aspect, as it happens with the violins, insinuated only by the presence of its tail.

Despite being avant-garde painting, the genres that are painted are not new, and among them are still lifes, landscapes and portraits.

Suggestive colors that were so typical of Impressionism or Fauvism are removed . Instead, he uses gray, green and brown as muted pictorial tones. Monochromatism predominated in the first era of cubism, later the palette was opened more.

With all these innovations, art accepts its art condition, and allows this condition to be seen in the work, that is, it is an intrinsic part of it. The painting gains autonomy as an object regardless of what it represents, which is why over time it is possible to glue or nail all kinds of objects to the canvas to form collages.

The resulting work is difficult to understand since it does not have an immediate naturalistic reference, and this explains why it was the first of the artistic movements that required an exegesis on the part of “criticism”, coming to consider written discourse as important as practice itself artistic. Thereafter, all avant-garde artistic movements were accompanied by critical texts that explained them.


Cubism had as its nerve center the city of Paris, and the leaders and masters of the movement included the Spanish Pablo Picasso and Juan Gris and the French Georges Braque and Fernand Léger . The movement effectively begins with the painting “The Young Ladies of Avignon” (Demoiselles D’Avignon). As a precursor to Cubism, the influence of African sculptures and retrospective exhibitions by Georges Seurat ( 1905 ) and Paul Cézanne ( 1907 ) stand out.

Cubism emerged in the first decade of the 20th century , constituting the first of the artistic avant-gardes. Among the circumstances that contributed to its emergence, both Cézanne’s work and the art of other cultures, particularly the African, have traditionally been pointed out. Indeed, Cézanne tried to represent reality by reducing it to its essential forms, trying to represent the volumes on the flat surface of the canvas in a new way, a trend that was followed by the Cubists.

Even before him, the neo-impressionists Seurat and Signac tended to geometrically structure their paintings. What Picasso and Braque took from Cézanne was the technique to solve this problem of achieving a new figuration of things, giving objects solidity and density, departing from the impressionist tendencies that had ended up dissolving shapes in their exclusive search for effects. of the light.

On the other hand, imperialism brought the West into contact with other civilizations with an art of its own and distinct from that of Europe. Through various exhibitions, Picasso learned about Iberian and African sculpture, which simplified the forms and, moreover, showed that traditional painting obeyed a pure convention when it came to representing objects according to Renaissance ideas from a linear perspective and aerial. What seems excessive to art historians today is to attribute a direct influence of African masks to Picasso’s work.

All this would not have been possible without the appearance of photography, since photography, by representing visual reality more accurately than painting, freed the latter art from the obligation to represent things as they appear before our eyes and forced the artists to seek a different meaning from the mere transcription of the two dimensions of the external appearance of things. The appearance of cubism has been related, in addition, to two other events that occurred in the same decade that reveal that things can be different from how they appear to be: psychoanalysis by showing that there may be deeper motivations for human acts and thoughts, and the theory of relativity, which reveals that the world is not exactly, in its deep structure, as Euclidean geometry presented it.1909 – 1912 )

In 1909 Braque and Picasso became closer and managed to develop the new trend. Together they created the two tendencies of Cubism. The first is analytical cubism (1909-1912), where the painting is almost monochrome in gray and ocher. The colors at this time did not interest because what was important were the different points of view and geometrization, not the chromaticism. They were developing a “new language” that analyzes reality and breaks it down into multiple geometric elements. The points of view multiplied, definitively abandoning the unity of the point of view of the Renaissance perspective. “Steps”, defined as slight interruptions of the contour line, are introduced into the painting. Large volumes are fragmented into smaller volumes.1910 ), Chicago .

This period is also called hermetic cubism, because due to the number of points of view represented, some works seem almost abstract. Hermeticism is reached because the planes end up becoming independent in relation to the volume so that it is difficult to decode the figuration, mentally reconstruct the object that these planes represent. Color did not help, being practically monochrome and often conventional, not related to the true color of the object. The image represented, in short, was illegible, almost impossible to see, except for some objects such as a pipe, or newspaper letters, which allow us to distinguish what is being represented.

It is in this phase when cubism is presented in public. But not by the work of Picasso and Braque, who were exhibiting privately at the Kahnweiler Gallery, but by other painters who met the work of those in their workshops. They showed up at the 1911 Hall of Independents . Works by Jean Metzinger , Albert Gleizes , Henri Le Fauconnier , Fernand Léger and Robert Delaunay appeared in room 41 . They caused the scandal and rejection of the public and criticism. This led to the construction of a first-hour doctrinal work explaining the findings of the new trend. Thus, the first theoretical study of cubism was done in 1912 by Gleizes and Metzinger: Du cubisme (“On cubism”).Apollinaire , for his part, wrote Les peintres cubistes (“The Cubist Painters. Aesthetic Meditations”) in 1913 . There were other accessions, such as that of the patron Gertrude Stein or dealers such as Ambroise Vollard and Henry Kahnweiler . Other poets, in addition to Apollinaire, defended the new style: Pierre Reverdy and Max Jacob .

In addition to the rejection of the traditionalists of painting, there were later critics who came from the avant-garde itself, focused on two problems posed by cubism: its statism and its adherence to the figurative. Indeed, above all the Futurists objected to Cubism that the movement was absent in their works, thus the current world is essentially dynamic. Guido Severini, who is considered the most cubist within Futurism, criticized him in From Cubism to Classicism ( 1921 ), although over time ( 1960 ) he recognized that he owed much of his technique to Cubism. Some Cubists were sensitive to this criticism and created works influenced by Futurism, as did Marcel Duchampwith his first version of Nude Going Down a Ladder ( 1911 , Philadelphia Museum of Art, col. Arensberg). On the other hand, although in his time it was not easy to separate cubism from abstraction, today it is evident that they are still subject to a figurative representation of real things. Chairs, bottles, or human figures were still represented, even if they were broken down into planes and geometric volumes. They did not depart from representing reality, but wanted to represent it in the painting with a new language.

The path outlined by Picasso and Braque was soon followed by the painters Juan Gris (José Victoriano González) and Louis Marcoussis , the former influenced by Picasso, the latter by Braque. Gray, third great name of cubism. This Madrilenian lived in Paris drawing for magazines and newspapers. From 1911 he became interested in the problem of light on objects, creating paintings with naturalistic lighting, in which oblique and parallel light rays strike rigid shapes, as can be seen in his Portrait of Picasso in 1912. He himself claimed to have adopted “analytic” cubism, multiplying views and using vivid colors. By the year 1912, Braque and Picasso had already made collages, and Gris began to introduce various materials such as wood or upholstery into his works, either imitating them or gluing them together (El lavabo, 1912).

Braque, meanwhile, influenced the Polish Marcoussis (Ludwig Markus) . More orthodox and less original than Gris, he created a work with intense colors and sometimes close to futurism. In 1912 he began to work analytical cubism, with works such as Still Life with a Checkerboard (1912, National Museum of Modern Art, Georges Pompidou Center ).

Synthetic cubism (1912-1914)

Words and numbers appear in Braque’s El Portugués ( 1911 ), which opened a new avenue that led to the second period of cubism, synthetic cubism ( 1912 – 1914).). Braque, who had been the first to use calligraphy, and who more than once tried to imitate wood or marble, was the one who initiated this last phase of Cubism by making papier collés, directly pasting decorated papers in the painting. Picasso and Braque began to incorporate graphic material such as newspaper pages and wallpapers, a technique known as collage. In 1912 Picasso made his first collage, Still Life with a Straw Chair (Picasso Museum, Paris), in which he added paper paste and rubber to the canvas. The color is richer than in the previous phase, as can be seen in the reds and blues of Botella de Suze ( 1913 , Saint Louis, Missouri, Washington University).

These synthetic works are simpler, easier to understand in that they are more figurative, it is clear what they are intended to represent. Objects are no longer reduced to volumes and planes exposed in various perspectives until they are unrecognizable, but are reduced to their essential attributes, to what characterizes them unequivocally and without which they would not be what they are. Therefore, although reduced to the essential, it is clear at all times what they are. To represent the “type” objects objectively and permanently, and not through the subjectivity of the brush, what appears to be an assembly is used.

The paintings are made up of various everyday materials that are glued or nailed to the fabric, such as strips of upholstery paper, newspaper, sheet music, playing cards, cigarette packs or matchboxes. The painting is built with diverse elements, both traditional (oil painting) and new (such as newsprint). Cafes and music inspired these still lifes. Other works by Picasso belonging to this phase of synthetic cubism are The Card Player (1913-1914) or Green Still Life (1914). Braque realized at this time The clarinet (1913), the Post (1913), Aria de Bach (1913-1914) or Violeta de Parma (1914).

In this period Juan Gris made a freer and more colorful painting. Emblematic is its Place Ravignan, still life before an open window ( 1915 ), where the exterior is represented in the traditional way, with a Renaissance perspective, while the interior is deconstructed and composed from various points of view with broken planes. For his part, Marcoussis reaches the peak of his creative task with more poetic and personal works such as Musician (1914, National Gallery of Washington, col. Chester Dale)

María Blanchard never came to the complete decomposition of form but left her fanfare in the form of rich colors. His famous “Woman with a Fan” ( 1916 , Reina Sofía National Art Center Museum), “Still Life” ( 1917 , Telephone Foundation) or “Woman with a Guitar” (1917, Reina Sofía National Art Center Museum) are examples of the intense study that he carries out on the anatomy of things, as pointed out by Ramón Gómez de la Serna and the weight of color in his painting. After this stage he returns to figurative techniques where the influence of the avant-garde is imprinted.

The First World War ended the most creative phase of Cubism. Many of the cubist painters, being French, were called to fight (Braque, Léger, Metzinger, Gleizes, Villon and Lhote). In the postwar period, only Juan Gris continued to work more or less orthodox cubism, although in a more austere and simple style, in which the objects were reduced to their geometric essence.

Marcoussis created a more poetic work. Braque continued working in the same line of synthetic cubism, with glued paper. New painters adopted a cubist language, like María Blanchard. But most of the until then cubist painters, starting with Picasso himself, were adopting new tendencies, as happens with Duchamp and Picabia, who created Dadaism or Mondrian who adhered to abstraction. Cubism, as a pictorial movement, can be terminated around 1919 .

Cubism in other arts

It was the French Apollinaire who adapted it in literature. It seeks to recompose reality by mixing images and concepts at random. One of his contributions was the calligraphy.

Cubism had an impact on sculpture, through techniques similar to the collage of synthetic cubism. The sculpture began to be built with waste materials, elaborating with diverse pieces and not coming from a single block of stone or marble. This creates the so-called “massless” aesthetic, as gaps and voids arise between the surfaces. Like architects, sculptors do not shape a volume, but create spaces.

Pablo Picasso himself made cubist sculptures. Sculptors who created cubist works were Alexander Archipenko , Jacques Lipchitz and Henri Laurens , in addition to the Spanish Pablo Gargallo and, above all, Julio González, a pioneer in the use of iron thanks to autogenous welding, which opened up a world of possibilities for 20th century sculpture .

In architecture

Cubism had a great influence on architecture, but it could be said that it did not occur uniformly throughout the territory where the artistic current was present. Thus, cubist architecture focuses, above all, on what happened in the Czech Republic , the cradle of cubist architecture.

Cubism-based architecture is against:

·         Architecture that is too utilitarian

·         Architecture that is too materialistic

·         Architecture that lacks spiritual beauty

·         Architecture that is not theoretical enough

·         Additional decoration and ornaments

Cubism-based architecture claims:

·         Architecture must be more poetic

·         Architecture must be more expressive

·         Architecture must be more dramatic

·         Architecture must be more artistic (artistic thought and abstraction will take over practice)


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