Home / Art / Art HistoryCubism: How Picasso and Others Broke From Tradition to Transform Modern Art

Cubism: How Picasso and Others Broke From Tradition to Transform Modern Art

Phases

Proto-Cubism

Before the movement was underway, both Picasso and Braque applied elements of the soon-to-be style to their respective genres. This fascinating transition into Cubism is especially apparent in two of their works: Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907) and Viaduct at L'Estaque (1908).

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon is perhaps Picasso's most famous piece from his African Period. Dated 1907, it was created on the cusp of Primitivism and Cubism, as evident in the figures' mask-like faces and the fragmented subject matter.

NYC - MoMA: Pablo Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon

Pablo Picasso, ‘Les Demoiselles d'Avignon' (1907)

Viaduct at L'Estaque depicts Braque's interest in playing with perspective and breaking subjects into geometric forms—key Cubist traits.

Braque, Viaduct at L'Estaque

Georges Braque, ‘Viaduct at L'Estaque' (1908)

Analytic Cubism

The first official phase of the movement is known as Analytic Cubism. This period lasted from 1908 through 1912, and is characterized by chaotic paintings of fragmented subjects rendered in neutral tones.

What is Cubism Definition Cubism Art Picasso Cubism

Pablo Picasso, ‘Still Life with a Bottle of Rum' (1911) (Photo: The Metropolitan Museum of Art via Wikimedia Commons)

The fractured forms often overlap with one another, displaying the subject from multiple perspectives at once.

What is Cubism Definition Cubism Art Picasso Cubism

Georges Braque, ‘Still Life with Metronome' (1909) (Photo: The Metropolitan Museum of Art via Wikimedia Commons)

Picasso also applied the principles of Analytic Cubism to his sculpting practice, culminating in a collection of busts and figures that emphasize the phase's experimental approach to perspective.

Picasso

Pablo Picasso, ‘Head of a Woman' (1909–10)

At this time, other artists interested in the avant-garde joined Picasso and Braque, including Spanish painter Juan Gris.

What is Cubism Definition Cubism Art Picasso Cubism

Juan Gris, ‘Portrait of Picasso' (1912) (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Gris would go on to become another well-known Cubist painter, particularly known for his role in Synthetic Cubism.

Synthetic Cubism

Synthetic Cubism is the movement's second phase, emerging in 1912 and lasting until 1914. During this time, Picasso, Braque, Gris, and other artists simplified their compositions and brightened their color palettes.

What is Cubism Definition Cubism Art Picasso Cubism

Juan Gris, ‘Still Life with Bordeuaux Bottle' (1919) (Photo: The Yorck Project via Wikimedia Commons)

Synthetic Cubism showcases an interest in still-life depictions, rendered as either paintings or collage art.

What is Cubism Definition Cubism Art Picasso Cubism

Georges Braque, ‘Rum and Guitar' (1918) (Photo: L'Opinion via Wikimedia Commons)

What is Cubism Definition Cubism Art Picasso Cubismt

Pablo Picasso, ‘Head' (1913-1914) (Photo: National Galleries, Edinburgh via Wikimedia Commons)

Precursors

Given the popularity of Post-Impressionism and Braque's own relationship with Fauvism, it is no surprise that both movements played a pivotal role in shaping Cubism.

Post-Impressionism

Cubists borrowed several artistic elements employed by Post-Impressionist painters—namely, Paul Cézanne.

These include flat planes of color, geometric forms, and, most significantly, a distorted sense of perspective. “The hard-and-fast rules of perspective which it succeeded in imposing on art were a ghastly mistake which it has taken four centuries to redress,” Braque explained to The Observer in 1957. “Cézanne, and after him Picasso and myself, can take a lot of credit for this. Scientific perspective forces the objects in a picture to disappear away form the beholder instead of bringing them within his reach as painting should.”

What is Cubism Definition Cubism Art Picasso Cubism

Paul Cézanne, ‘Mont Sainte-Victoire' (1904-1906) (Photo: The Yorck Project via Wikimedia Commons)

Fauvism

In addition to Post-Impressionism, Cubist art was inspired by Fauvism.

On top of Braque's association with the movement, this influence was strengthened by Picasso's relationship to Matisse, an artist renowned for using blocks of artificial color and repeating patterns to compose a scene. “You have got to be able to picture side by side everything Matisse and I were doing at that time,” Picasso recalled in the 1960s. “No one has ever looked at Matisse's painting more carefully than I; and no one has looked at mine more carefully than he.”

Portrait of Madame Matisse, The Green Line, Henri Matisse, 1905

Henri Matisse, ‘Portrait of Madame Matisse' (1905)

Influence

Like other modern art movements, Cubism would eventually influence—and even spawn—several other genres of art.

Futurists found inspiration in Cubism's energetic compositions, while Surrealists adopted and adapted collage art. Similarly, the idea of deconstructing subjects into fragments influenced artists associated with the Dada, De Stijl, Bauhaus, and Abstract Expressionist movements.

What is Cubism Definition Cubism Art Picasso Cubism

Marcel Duchamp (Dadaist), ‘Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2' (1912) (Photo: Philadelphia Museum of Art via Wikimedia Commons)

In addition to these modern genres, Cubism's influence is also evident in contemporary art. From Cubist tattoos to graffiti inspired by Picasso's portraits, these playful pieces showcase the timeless aesthetic, captivating compositions, and lasting legacy of Cubism.

Related Articles:

Iconic Artists Who Have Immortalized Themselves Through Famous Self-Portraits

You Can Now Explore Every MoMA Exhibit Since 1929 for Free Online

Stunningly Colorful Cubist Tattoos Inspired by Picasso

Simple Line Tattoos Inspired by Surreal Artists Like Picasso

Page 2/2

Want to become a My Modern Met Member?

Find out how by becoming a Patron. Check out the exclusive rewards, here.

Popular On The Web

From Our Partners