The Cubism movement emerged during the early-20th-century avant-garde art movement that revolutionized European painting and sculpture. The movement is thought to have begun in Paris (specifically in the neighborhoods of Montmartre, Montparnasse, and Puteaux which were populated by artists) during the 1910s and 1920s. Cubism was chiefly pioneered by artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Other important artists of the movement included Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes, Robert Delaunay, Henri Le Fauconnier, and Fernand Léger. Cubism had a far-reaching impact on the art world and inspired related movements in music, literature and architecture. Subsequently, Cubism is regarded as the most influential art movement of the 20th century.
Art theorists have postulated a connection between the origins of Cubism and the representation of three-dimensional form in the late works of Paul Cézanne. In 1904, a retrospective of Cézanne’s paintings was held at Paris’s Salon d’Automne of 1904, and again in 1905 and 1906. These exhibitions were followed by two commemorative retrospectives held in 1907 after his death in 1906. In Cézanne’s late works, the link between his legacy and Cubism is evident.
In Cubism, objects are analyzed, broken up and reassembled in an abstracted form—instead of depicting objects from a single viewpoint, the artist depicts the subject from a multitude of viewpoints to represent the subject in a greater context.
In France, offshoots of Cubism developed, including Orphism, Abstract art and later Purism. The impact of Cubism was far-reaching and wide-ranging. In other countries, Futurism, Suprematism, Dada, Constructivism, De Stijl and Art Deco developed in response to Cubism. Like Cubist paintings, Futurist paintings fused the past and present as well as the representation of different views points of the subject, shown simultaneously. This convention is also known as ‘multiple perspective’, ‘simultaneity’ or ‘multiplicity’. Likewise, Constructivism was influenced by Picasso’s technique of constructing sculpture from separate elements. Other common threads between these disparate movements include the faceting or simplification of geometric forms, and the association of mechanization and modern life.
Let’s take a closer look at five of the most iconic Cubist paintings created during the 20th century.
Women, Pain, and the Cubism Movement: Picasso’s, The Weeping Woman, 1937
For Picasso, the figure of women were true conduits of suffering. This perspective led him to paint a series of weeping women. Dora, his muse and inspiration, is the model embodiment of ‘the weeping woman’ figure. His series is considered as the last and most elaborate version of a repeated deformation and re-composition in Cubist painting. The painting shows a crying woman who tries to catch her tears with a handkerchief. Shapes, colors and contours are clearly recognizable, and the painting is almost entirely complete, featuring all the central elements of the subjects form.
Juan Gris, Violin and Checkerboard, 1913
Juan Gris, known as a visual poet and one of the founders of the Cubism movement, developed special methods of rotation, translation and reflection to create his Cubist paintings. His masterpiece Violin and Checkerboard is highly decorative in style, almost detracting from its Cubist elements. The work represents the pictorial evolution of simple illustrations in form and color in the Cubist movement. In a very schematic way, the chessboard is embedded into the painting, as is the violin, which can be seen twofold. The painting also exemplifies the way in which Cubist painters would occasionally hide details by mixed them among the highlighted elements of the picture, thus overwhelming the eye.
Salvador Dali “Cubist Self-Portrait”, 1923
Famous for his surrealist work, Dali also made important contributions to Cubism in the early years of his career. Cubist Self-Portrait is one such contribution that displays the artist’s head embedded in a shaded, cut-glass background. Lodged within the foreground are fragments of a newspaper and cigars. The initial effect is reminiscent of a multi-mirror view and proves that Dali also had cubist abilities.
Albert Gleizes “Les Joueurs de Football”, 1912
Frenchman Albert Gleizes was not just a theorist and philosopher, he was also a painter and co-author of the first theoretical thesis about Cubism, which tried to bring Cubism closer to the public. The painting depicts a soccer match in a Parisian stadium. In the background a small bridge appears on which Gleizes reportedly met often with his artist friends. Traditional Cubist elements like square and round shapes contrasting on the canvas, multiple perspective points, and enmeshed detailing are represented in Gleizes’ painting.
Jean Metzinger “La femme au cheval”, 1911
As a masterpiece of the history of German art at the beginning of the 20th century, this painting is a composition of pure geometry, a 360-degree perspective of natural elements. Some objects such as fruits, a vase and plants are clearly visible. A second level shows a woman and a horse that fuse together. Nevertheless, or just because of this fusion, the lady is still elegant and dignified.