Cubism was a 20th century avant-garde art movement, pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, that revolutionized European painting and sculpture, and inspired related movements in music and literature. The first branch of cubism, known as Analytic Cubism, was both radical and influential as a short but highly significant art movement between 1908 and 1911 in France. In its second phase, Synthetic Cubism, (using synthetic materials in the art) the movement spread and remained vital until around 1919, when the Surrealist movement gained popularity.
English art historian Douglas Cooper describes three phases of Cubism in his seminal book The Cubist Epoch. According to Cooper there was Early Cubism, (from 1906-1908) during which time the movement was initially developed in the studios of Picasso and Braque; the second phase being called High Cubism, (from 1909 to 1914) during which time Juan Gris emerged as an important exponent; and finally Cooper referred to Late Cubism (from 1914 to 1921) as the last phase of Cubism as a radical avant-garde movement.
In cubist artworks, objects are broken up, analyzed, and re-assembled in an abstracted form—instead of depicting objects from one viewpoint, the artist depicts the subject from a multitude of viewpoints to represent the subject in a greater context. Often the surfaces intersect at seemingly random angles, removing a coherent sense of depth. The background and object planes interpenetrate one another to create the shallow ambiguous space, one of cubism's distinct characteristics.
Some believe that the roots of cubism are to be found in the two distinct tendencies of Paul Cézanne's later work: firstly to break the painted surface into small multifaceted areas of paint, thereby emphasizing the plural viewpoint given by binocular vision, and secondly his interest in the simplification of natural forms into cylinders, spheres, and cones.
However, the cubists explored this concept further than Cézanne; they represented all the surfaces of depicted objects in a single picture plane, as if the objects had had all their faces visible at the same time. This new kind of depiction revolutionized the way in which objects could be visualized in painting and art.
The invention of Cubism was a joint effort between Picasso and Braque, then residents of Montmartre, Paris. These artists were the movement's main innovators. A later active participant was the Spaniard Juan Gris. After meeting in 1907 Braque and Picasso in particular began working on the development of Cubism. Picasso was initially the force and influence that persuaded Braque by 1908 to move away from Fauvism. The two artists began working closely together in late 1908 - early 1909 until the outbreak of World War I in 1914. The movement spread quickly throughout Paris and Europe.
French art critic Louis Vauxcelles first used the term "cubism", or "bizarre cubiques", in 1908 after seeing a picture by Braque. He described it as 'full of little cubes', after which the term quickly gained wide use although the two creators did not initially adopt it. Art historian Ernst Gombrich described cubism as "the most radical attempt to stamp out ambiguity and to enforce one reading of the picture - that of a man-made construction, a coloured canvas.
Cubism was taken up by many artists in Montparnasse and promoted by art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, becoming popular so quickly that by 1911 critics were referring to a "cubist school" of artists. However, many of the artists who thought of themselves as cubists went in directions quite different from Braque and Picasso. The Puteaux Group was a significant offshoot of the Cubist movement; it included Guillaume Apollinaire, Robert Delaunay, Marcel Duchamp, his brothers Raymond Duchamp-Villon, and Jacques Villon, and Fernand Léger, and Francis Picabia. Other important artists associated with cubism include: Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger, Marie Laurencin, Diego Rivera, Marie Vorobieff, Louis Marcoussis, Jeanne Rij-Rousseau, Roger de La Fresnaye, Henri Le Fauconnier, Alexander Archipenko, František Kupka, Amédée Ozenfant, Léopold Survage, Patrick Henry Bruce among others. Section d'Or is another name for a related group of many of the same artists associated with cubism and orphism.
In 1913 the United States was exposed to cubism and modern European art when Jacques Villon exhibited seven important and large drypoints at the famous Armory Show in New York City. Braque and Picasso themselves went through several distinct phases before 1920, and some of these works had been seen in New York prior to the Armory Show, at Alfred Stieglitz's "291" gallery. Czech artists who realized the epochal significance of cubism of Picasso and Braque attempted to extract its components for their own work in all branches of artistic creativity - especially painting and architecture. This developed into Czech Cubism which was an avant-garde art movement of Czech proponents of cubism active mostly in Prague from 1910 to 1914.
Both painters Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque moved toward abstraction, leaving only enough signs of the real world to supply a tension between the reality outside the painting and the complicated meditations on visual language within the frame, exemplified through their paintings Ma Jolie (1911), by Picasso and The Portuguese (1911), by Braque.
In Paris in 1907 there was a major museum retrospective exhibition of the work of Paul Cezanne shortly after his death. The exhibition was enormously influential in establishing Cézanne as an important painter whose ideas were particularly resonant especially to young artists in Paris. Both Picasso and Braque found the inspiration for Cubism from Paul Cézanne, who said to observe and learn to see and treat nature as if it were composed of basic shapes like cubes, spheres, cylinders, and cones. Picasso was the main analytic cubist, but Braque was also prominent, having abandoned Fauvism to work with Picasso in developing the Cubist lexicon.
The first work of this new style was Pablo Picasso's Still Life with Chair-caning (1911–1912), which includes oil cloth pasted on the canvas. At the upper left are the letters "JOU", which appear in many cubist paintings and may refer to a newspaper titled "Le Journal". Newspaper clippings were a common inclusion in this style of cubism, whereby physical pieces of newspaper, sheet music, or the like were included in the collages. JOU may also at the same time be a pun on the French words jeu (game) or jouer (to play). Picasso and Braque had a constant friendly competition with each other and including the letters in their works may have been an extension of their game.
Whereas analytic cubism was an analysis of the subjects (pulling them apart into planes), synthetic cubism is more of a pushing of several objects together. Picasso, through this movement, was the first to use text in his artwork (to flatten the space), and the use of mixed media—using more than one type of medium in the same piece. Opposed to analytic cubism, synthetic cubism has fewer planar shifts (or schematism), and less shading, creating flatter space.
Another technique used was called papier collé, or stuck paper, which Braque used in his collage Fruit Dish and Glass (1913).
The written works of Gertrude Stein employ repetition and repetitive phrases as building blocks in both passages and whole chapters. Most of Stein's important works utilize this technique, including the novel The Makings of Americans (1906–08) Not only were they the first important patrons of Cubism, Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo were also important influences on Cubism as well. Picasso in turn was an important influence on Stein's writing.
The poets generally associated with Cubism are Guillaume Apollinaire, Blaise Cendrars, Jean Cocteau, Max Jacob, André Salmon and Pierre Reverdy. As American poet Kenneth Rexroth explains, Cubism in poetry "is the conscious, deliberate dissociation and recombination of elements into a new artistic entity made self-sufficient by its rigorous architecture. This is quite different from the free association of the Surrealists and the combination of unconscious utterance and political nihilism of Dada. Nonetheless, the Cubist poets' influence on both Cubism and the later movements of Dada and Surrealism was profound; Louis Aragon, founding member of Surrealism, said that for Breton, Soupault, Éluard and himself, Reverdy was "our immediate elder, the exemplary poet. Though not as well remembered as the Cubist painters, these poets continue to influence and inspire; American poets John Ashbery and Ron Padgett have recently produced new translations of Reverdy's work.
Wallace Stevens' "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" is also said to demonstrate how cubism's multiple perspectives can be translated into poetry.
The composer Edgard Varèse was heavily influenced by Cubist writing and art.
Far from being an art movement confined to the annals of art history, Cubism and its legacy continue to inform the work of many contemporary artists. Not only is cubist imagery regularly used commercially but significant numbers of contemporary artists continue to draw upon it both stylistically and perhaps more importantly, theoretically. The latter contains the clue as to the reason for cubism's enduring fascination for artists. As an essentially representational school of painting, having to come to grips with the rising importance of photography as an increasingly viable method of image making, cubism attempts to take representational imagery beyond the mechanically photographic and to move beyond the bounds of traditional single point perspective perceived, as though, by a totally immobile viewer. The questions and theories which arose during the initial appearance of cubism in the early 20th century are, for many representational artists, as current today as when first proposed.