CUBISM
"Cubism differs in no way from all the other schools of art. The same elements and the same principles reign in all. . . . Cubism is neither the grain nor the germination of a new art: it represents a stage of development of original pictorial forms," Picasso wrote in 1926.
"Cubism pursues its plastic ends which are self sufficing. We may define them as a means for expressing all that our reason and our eyes perceive within the limits of the possibilities allowed by design and color." (From a letter published in Russia and reprinted in translation in Creative Art, June, 1930.)
CUBISM is the name given to the aesthetic and technical revolution brought about by Picasso, Braque, Juan Gris and Léger. Matisse and Derain also contributed to the formation of this movement, which influenced the majority of the avant-garde artists during the years that preceded the 1914-1918 war. The Cubist movement, which may be said to have begun in 1907 and to have ended with the outbreak of war in 1914, had a stylistic coherence lacking in Fauvism. Long after the artists concerned had abandoned the style, or transformed it, it persisted as an influence in the architecture and decorative arts of the new century. The consequences of one individual act of perception were and remain incalculable.
Like Impressionism, Cubism at first encountered nothing but general hostility, or incomprehension, and was given its name in derision. In his account of the first Braque exhibition at the Kahnweiler Gallery, the critic Louis Vauxcelles picked up one of Matisse's sallies and spoke of 'cubes' ( Gil Blas, November 14th, 1908). The following spring, in the same paper, and again on the subject of Braque, he spoke of 'Cubist bizarreries'. The creators of Cubism accepted the term with reserve, and constantly denied they were theorists. Picasso declared: 'When we painted as we did, we had no intention of creating Cubism, but only of expressing what was inside us'. Braque said: 'For me, Cubism -- or rather, no Cubism -- is a means I created for my own use, with the aim of putting painting within range of my talents'. The vitality and fecundity of Cubism comes from the coupling of these two exceptional temperaments, who worked enthusiastically together, without surrendering their own personalities. Later, they were joined by Gris and Léger. The history of the development of Cubism falls into three phases: a Cézanne phase ( 1907-1909), an analytical phase ( 1910-1912), and a synthetic phase ( 1913-1914).
A favourable climate for it had been prepared by the vogue of Negro sculpture and primitive art, the Seurat retrospective exhibition in the Salon des Indépendants of 1905 and, particularly, the Céznne retrospective in the Salon d'Automne of 1907. Matissc and Derain had already disciplined Fauvism and tried to organize, methodically, the painted surface of the picture. In the spring of 1907 Picasso completed Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 'hacked out with an axe', of which the right-hand section, violently simplified and constructed by drawing alone, without the use of chiaroscuro, marks the beginning of Cubism. He met Braque, whose natural evolution he speeded up. That autumn, Kahnweiler opened, in the Rue Vignon, the gallery that was to become the home of Cubism. The famous Bateau-Lavoir group was formed in 1908 at No. 13 Rue Ravignan, Montmartre, where Picasso, Max Jacob and Juan Gris went to live. It also included Apollinaire, Salmon, Raynal, Gertrude and Leo Stein, and others. The new aesthetic movement, intuitive with Picasso and deductive with Braque, can be clearly seen in the landscapes painted by Picasso at La Rue-desBois in the Oise in 1908, and at Horta de Ebro in Spain in 1909 (the latter exhibited by Vollard), as well as in the landscapes painted by Braque at l'Estaque in 1908 (exhibited at Kahnweiler's; catalogue preface by Apollinaire), and at La Roche-Guyon in 1909. Braque, fresh from Impressionism and Fauvism, controlled his colour by an austere sense of form; Picasso, the instinctive draughtsman, tried to introduce colour into his work. Each on his own was striving to find the same solutions by developing whatever quality he lacked. They made a study of the fundamental problem of painting: the representation of coloured volume on a flat surface. The history of Cubism is that of the successive solutions discovered to resolve this difficulty. The result was a new plastic language, lyrical and conceptual at the same time, which put an end to that respect for appearances which had been observed since the Renaissance. In their reaction against Impressionism and its visual spontaneity, Braque and Picasso discarded from their world all fortuitous appearances and atmospheric accidents. They tried to define the permanent properties of objects and their stability in a closed space, without perspective or light, through a geometrical crystallization inspired by Cézanne; hence the significant and very restrained choice of themes, which were limited to very simple things: trees, houses, fruit-bowls, bottles and glasses -- later, small tables and musical instruments -- that could be reduced to geometric forms and easily identified by the spectator. They were less interested in making an inventory of the world than in creating, with a few characteristic 'signs', a language which would renew its significance. But in this initial, groping phase, in spite of their efforts, the antinomy of object and colour, local tone and volume, was overcome only by painting in monochrome, or an imitation of sculpture (vide Picasso, Braque).
In 1910 Braque gave up landscapes for figures and still lifes. In his own words, he passed from visual space to tactile and manual space. Picasso left the Bateau-Lavoir for the Boulevard de Clichy, also in Montmartre, where he painted a series of heads and portraits. The second phase of Cubism, described as analytical by Juan Gris, because of the increasing breakdown of form, is characterized by the use of simultaneity. Several aspects of the same object are put together on a single canvas, rather as a child sees in object, as it exists in itself and in our minds. Thus, the object appears as if broken, spread out and open from the inside. This concern for complete realism differentiates Cubism from all the other abstract movements derived from it, and separates it from the decorative tendencies of Fauvism. The problem of simultaneity has always preoccupied artists who, in the imitative, visual phase of painting, from Van Eyck to Manet, have been unable to find any better means than a mirrorlike reflection. For, spatial simultaneity through successive juxtapositions, used by the painters of the Trecento or the Quattrocento, cannot be compared with the unitary, structural principles of Cubism, obtained by the flattening and superimposing of planes, and the polyhedric fragmentation of volumes. This period of extreme analysis and systematic experimentation was not without a certain danger of 'hermetism' which Braque and Picasso proposed to remedy by the use of papiers collés and real materials, such as sand, glass, newspaper and cloth, inserted in the canvas to stimulate perception. During this period Cubism was widely publicized, thanks to the publication of the doctrinal work of Gleizes and Metzinger, Du Cubisme, in 1912. It also saw its division into many tendencies, of which the principal two were Orphism and the Section d'Or, which preceded the later derivations of Abstraction (vide Abstract Art) and Purism.
In the following year, 1913, Apollinaire published Les Peintres Cubistes, in which he spoke already of conceptual painting (vide Apollinaire). This term was premature, because it can be applied only to the last, or synthetic, phase of Cubism, which began in 1913, with the very active participation of Gris and Léger (vide these names). Although Léger's interest in Cubism dates back to 1910, he did not go through the analytical period, being restrained by his sense of the monumental and his taste for the massive. In 1911 Juan Gris had begun to break down the object methodically in his painting, but reversed his procedure in the summer of 1913, during his stay at Céret with Braque and Picasso. He defined the change in attitude in these words: 'From a cylinder I make a bottle'. The multiple figuration of the same object on a canvas had made it difficult to understand and distorted its rhythm, even though it remained figurative. In synthetic Cubism the break with the naturalist and traditional representation practised since the Renaissance is complete. The new method discarded completely all imitative processes, and used freely invented plastic 'signs' comparable to the metaphors of poets. These signs created a reality through lyrical allusion, rather than representative illusion. Gone was the initial austerity of their palettes. The planes grew broader and more supple, the colours of the spectrum began to appear, form and local colour could at last be harmoniously united without breaking the basic architecture of the picture. Cubism ceased to be an aspect, an empirical technique, and became a conceptual aesthetic philosophy, an objective ordering of the world represented in its essence, and not its appearance. The realist cult of the 'object' (the importance of which has been revealed by psychology and sociology) played, at the beginning of the twentieth century, the same role as the passion for 'subject' did during the Romantic period. In line with the evolution of science and contemporary thought, a new plastic language has been created, whose rigour fosters, without fettering, the élan of the individual. The 1914 war dispersed the creators of Cubism, each to follow the course of his own artistic destiny. But the collective exaltation of those heroic years from 1907 to 1914 will never be lost
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