6 Artists Who Made Cubism Popular

By Google Arts & Culture

Cubism is an early 20th-century art movement which took a revolutionary new approach to representing reality. Invented in around 1907 by artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, the pair brought different views of subjects (usually objects or figures) together in the same picture. The result was paintings that appeared fragmented and abstracted.

Port Miou by Georges BraqueMuseo del Novecento

Cubism is said to be one of the most influential styles of the 20th century and the name seems to have derived from a comment made by the critic Louis Vauxcelles who, on seeing some of Braque’s paintings exhibited in Paris in 1908, described them as reducing everything to “geometric outlines, to cubes”.

By breaking objects and figures down into distinct areas – or planes – the artists aimed to show different viewpoints at the same time and within the same space, and therefore suggest their three dimensional form.

In doing so they also emphasized the two-dimensional flatness of the canvas instead of creating the illusion of depth, which was typically the norm.

Bowl with Pears by Fernand LégerMASP - Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand

This was a marked break with the European tradition of creating the illusion of real space from a fixed viewpoint using devices such as linear perspective, which had dominated from the Renaissance onwards.

The movement opened up new possibilities for the treatment of visual reality in art and was the starting point for many later abstract styles, including constructivism and neo-plasticism.

Here we explore the artists who inspired the Cubist style and were the main champions of the movement.

Seated Woman by Juan GrisMuseo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza

Paul Cézanne

Paul Cézanne is said to have formed the bridge between late 19th-century Impressionism and the early 20th century's new artistic movement, Cubism.

Through his paintings, Cézanne appeared to be capturing things from slightly different points of view, as well as distilling objects and landscapes into flat planes of color.

Even though Cézanne was mainly trying to create volume through color planes, the future Cubists saw a tendency to represent nature with geometric shapes in his work, which is central to the early development of Cubism.

Turning Road at Montgeroult by Paul CézanneMoMA The Museum of Modern Art

The artist’s work went on to inspire Cubist artists including Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes, and Juan Gris to experiment with ever more complex multiple views of the same subject and break the traditional rules of perspective.

Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses) by Paul CézanneThe National Gallery, London

Pablo Picasso

As well as being inspired by Cézanne, Spanish artist Pablo Picasso was also influenced by African tribal masks, which are often highly stylized and non-naturalistic, but still present a vivid human image.

Famous for seemingly rearranging the facial features of his subjects, Picasso once said: “A head is a matter of eyes, nose, mouth, which can be distributed in any way you like”.

Bust of a Man (The Athlete) by Pablo PicassoMASP - Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand

Picasso’s work moved through many periods during his lifetime, and his Cubist works took shape in two forms. The first was his Analytic Cubism era (1909–1912), which is a style of painting Picasso developed with Georges Braque, and saw them using monochrome brownish and neutral colors. Both artists took apart objects and "analyzed" them in terms of their shapes.

The second was Synthetic Cubism (1912–1919), a further development of the genre of Cubism, in which cut paper fragments – often wallpaper or portions of newspaper pages – were pasted into compositions, marking the first use of collage in fine art.

Melancholy Woman by Pablo PicassoDetroit Institute of Arts

Georges Braque

Georges Braque was a key figure in the development of Cubism, in fact the artist’s work between 1908 and 1912 is so closely associated with that of his colleague Picasso, that for many years their respective Cubist works were indistinguishable. Unfortunately, due to Braque’s quiet nature, the fame and notoriety of Picasso partially eclipses his own work.

Natura morta con clarinetto, un ventaglio e un grappolo d'uva by Georges BraqueLa Galleria Nazionale

Braque conducted an intense study of the effects of light and perspective and the technical means that painters use to represent these effects, seeming to question the most standard of artistic conventions.

In his village scenes, for example, Braque frequently reduced an architectural structure to a geometric form approximating a cube, yet rendered its shading to fragment the image so that it looked both flat and three-dimensional. In 1908, a French critic once described his work as “reducing everything, places and figures and houses, to geometric schemas, to cubes".

The Viaduct at L'Estaque by Georges BraqueTel Aviv Museum of Art

Juan Gris

Born in Madrid, in 1906 Juan Gris moved to Paris and became friends with Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, Fernand Léger and Pablo Picasso. Moving on from the satirical cartoons he was known for, in 1910 Gris developed a personal Cubist style and considered the importance of mathematics in painting.

Portrait of Pablo Picasso by Juan Gris (Spanish, 1887–1927)The Art Institute of Chicago

Initially Gris painted in the style of Analytical Cubism but after 1913, he began to lean towards Synthetic Cubism and was using collage extensively. Unlike Picasso and Braque who both favored monochromatic palettes, Gris painted with bright harmonious colors in contrasting combinations, which were inspired by Matisse.

Guitar on a table by Juan GrisThe Kröller-Müller Museum

Fernand Léger

In 1911, Fernand Léger was one of a handful of artists who were responsible for revealing Cubism to the general public for the first time in an organized show. Léger’s style of Cubism was personal to him and was called by his critics, “Tubism”, which referenced his penchant to emphasize cylindrical forms.

The stairway by Fernand LégerKunsthaus Zürich

Up until 1914, Léger’s paintings became increasingly abstract. Their tubular, conical, and cubed forms are rendered in rough patches of primary colors augmented with green, black and white. After the war, the artist’s works became more mechanical in style and elements of this work remained present until he stopped painting in the 1950s.

Bowl with Pears by Fernand LégerMASP - Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand

Piet Mondrian

In 1912, Piet Mondrian moved to Paris to explore Cubism and his work quickly took on attributes of the movement. Initially his paintings echoed the Analytic style of Cubism, particularly through his use of beiges, grays, and ochres as well as his use of straight lines and arcs.

Tableau no. 1 by Piet MondriaanThe Kröller-Müller Museum

While Picasso and Braque created portraits of still lifes, Mondrian was drawn to nature and interpreted that through a network of angles and grids. This use of space and regimented approach eventually led Mondrian down a path toward abstract art and he aimed to “articulate a mystic conception of cosmic harmony that lay behind the surfaces of reality”.

Back in Holland, Mondrian worked to distill his painting style, which saw the development of the artist’s well-known aesthetic of horizontal and vertical axes with pops of color, which would later become known as neo-plasticism.

Composition X by Piet MondrianMuseum Folkwang

Grande composizione A con nero, rosso, grigio, giallo e blu by Piet MondrianLa Galleria Nazionale

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