It Paved The Way for Pure Abstraction
One of the most influential art movements of the early twentieth century and one that remains a major source of inspiration for many artists today is Cubism. You may wonder, what is Cubism, how did it get started and why is it so important?
First of all, Cubism marked a major turning point in the whole evolution of modernist art. It is credited for having paved the way for the pure abstraction that dominated Western art for the next 50 years. It inspired future movements including Futurism, Constructivism, Dada and Surrealism.
Its influence was also felt in the field of literature, most notably in the writings of Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and William Faulkner, who applied the principles of abstract language, repetition and use of multiple narrators. And, in music, the composer Igor Stravinsky credited Cubism for having an impact on his work.
The term is broadly used in association with a wide variety of art produced in Paris (Montmartre, Montparnasse and Puteaux) during the 1910s and extending through the 1920s.
The movement was pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, joined by Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes, Robert Delaunay, Henri Le Fauconnier, Fernand Léger and Juan Gris.
The late works of Paul Cézanne’s representation of three-dimensional form are credited as being primary influences that led to Cubism.
The French art critic Louis Vauxcelles coined the term Cubism after seeing the landscapes Braque had painted in 1908 at L’Estaque in emulation of Cézanne. The painting Le Viaduc de L’Estaque above is one of those paintings. Vauxcelles called the geometric forms in the highly abstracted works “cubes.”
In addition, other influences on early Cubism have been linked to Primitivism and non-Western sources.
In Cubist work up to 1910, the subject of a picture was usually discernible. During Analytic Cubism (1910–12), also called “hermetic,” Picasso and Braque so abstracted their works that they were reduced to just a series of overlapping planes and facets mostly in near-monochromatic browns, grays, or blacks.
The Cubist painters rejected the inherited concept that art should copy nature, or that artists should adopt the traditional techniques of perspective, modeling, and foreshortening. They dismantled traditional perspective and modeling in the round in order to emphasize the two-dimensional picture plane.
They reduced and fractured objects into geometric forms, and then realigned these within a shallow, relief-like space. They also used multiple or contrasting vantage points.
By taking these measures, they destroyed traditional “illusionism” in painting and radically changed the way we see the world.
Unlike Picasso and Braque, whose Cubist works were practically monochromatic, Juan Gris was known for painting with bright harmonious colors in daring, novel combinations in the manner of his friend Matisse.
He painted in the style of Analytical Cubism, a term he himself later coined. Affter 1913 he began his transition to Synthetic Cubism, with extensive use of papier collé or, collage.
It’s important to note that Picasso and Braque also introduced the Cubist collage as an important new modern art form. The origins of collage can be traced back hundreds of years, but this technique made a dramatic reappearance as an art form of novelty by these artists. They used fragments of mass-produced popular culture into pictures, thereby changing the very definition of art.
Another artist in the Cubist movement is Fernand Léger. In 1911 the hanging committee of the Salon des Indépendants placed together the painters identified as ‘Cubists’. Léger, along with Metzinger, Albert Gleizes, Le Fauconnier, Delaunay and Léger were responsible for revealing Cubism to the general public for the first time as an organized group.
“Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection”
Over the past 40 years, Leonard A. Lauder, the philanthropist and cosmetics billionaire, has selectively acquired masterpieces and seminal works to comprise the most important collection of Cubist Art that has ever existed in a private collection. Lauder, who began developing his love for Cubism in elementary school, has promised to give his entire collection, currently consisting of more than 80 works of art and growing, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In 2014 the museum presented a major exhibition “Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection” which featured paintings, collages, drawings, and sculpture by the four preeminent Cubist artists: Georges Braque Juan Gris, Fernand Léger, and Pablo Picasso.
When Lauder was asked why he decided to gift the Metropolitan Museum such an extraordinary collection, he stated, “I wanted to transform a museum… and I believe it will transform the Met.”