An introduction to Cubism

Picasso & Braque by Lee Miller

In my recent blogs, I showcased a few collages by Picasso and Braque. In doing so, I realized that, while they’re known to have pioneered Cubism, not everyone knows that there are actually two types of Cubism.

Truthfully, I didn’t know myself. I’m self-taught with no formal schooling. So, I’m always learning and that’s why my blogs are basic summaries, not in-depth analyses.

Hope you enjoy this one.

About Cubism

Cubism deconstructed objects, landscapes and people into geometric shapes with different viewpoints.This was revolutionary at that time – the early 1900’s – because even semi-representational work adhered to rules of perspective.

Analytical Cubism

Braque’s Glass on a Table

This was the infancy of Cubism. It was a phase that ran around 1907 to 1912 and was still mostly adopted by Picasso and Braque.

This type of cubism used a mostly dark colours and overlapping layers. It was simple in terms of shapes, but carefully analyzed and planned.

Artists would study a subject and disassemble it into blocks. Then they’d look at the blocks from different angles. Finally, they’d reconstruct the subject by painting its “blocks” from multiple viewpoints.

Synthetic Cubism

Picasso’s Bottle of Vieux Marc, Glass, Guitar & Newspaper

 

This was the second stage of the movement and it’s when collage entered into the fray – or, for that matter, the works looked like collages.

That’s because, during this phase, the emphasis was more on the assembly than the analysis.

Artists continued the technique of deconstruction and construction. However, they began using paper, newspapers and other materials to represent the different blocks and give greater dimension to the overall artwork.

It was around this time that brighter colors and more playfulness were introduced into their artwork.

 

A bit about Picasso’s collages.

I mentioned the influence Braque had on collage in my previous blog. Picasso, who worked closely with Braque, also took it up around the same time. In fact, it’s a tossup in terms of who was first.

What we do know is that using tangible materials to create third dimensions afforded Picasso a great deal of freedom, which he used enthusiastically.

Newspaper cuttings, parts of musical instruments, music score, tobacco boxes, fabrics, metal – he loved to experiment!

Here are three of his famous “pieced together” pieces:

Still Life with Chair Caning – 1912

Though Picasso experimented with materials prior to this piece, it’s considered his first true work of collage fine art.

What’s most creative here is that Picasso used a piece of oilcloth printed with a cane chair pattern, as well as thick textured rope as a frame. In doing so, he creates reality without using the kind of illusionism used throughout art’s history. In fact, it challenges the false sense of reality that traditional artists created.

This was revolutionary at the time.

Three letters above the cloth are torn from the word “journal” which, along with the pipe, glass, lemon, oyster, suggest a café setting.

Guitar, Sheet music and Wine glass – 1912

Here Picasso assembled newspaper, sheet music, colored paper, paper, and hand-painted faux bois paper, charcoal, and gouache over wallpaper on paperboard.

Each piece of paper is one discrete element within the whole. Together, they represent a guitar hanging on a wall. …

You may not see the shape of the guitar immediately because, in fact, it’s been suggested through the use of negative space.

Look at the white circle first. It’s the sound hole. Once you see that, you can perceive the guitar more easily.

Maquette for Guitar – 1912

Picasso’s experiments with collage inspired him to innovate with sculptures as well.
Maquette for Guitar is a three-dimensional collaged sculpture made up of cardboard, paper, string, and wire, which are folded, threaded, and glued together.
Picasso managed to take the Cubist approach of presented a number of perspectives and geometric form into a three-dimensional medium. Plus he did so using non-traditional art materials.
It’s just such a brilliant and complex piece!

By the way, when Braque and Picasso began incorporating industrially-produced objects (“low” commercial culture) into the realm of fine art (“high” culture), it was both revolutionary and excitingly defiant.