[Part 1/3] Cubism: Square the Circle

In 1907, one painting signalled the prelude to a change in painting: Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. When Pablo Picasso first exhibited this bordello scene with five female figures, even the collector Sergei Shchukin and his friend Georges Braque considered the painting to be “a loss for French painting”. However, the significance of this new view of reality was not lost on Braque. In this work, Picasso crafted for the first time a clear and rational lens without any aesthetic allusions.

Taking Cézanne’s analysis of shape further, Picasso fragmented the forms into small cubes. It was the task of the viewer, when standing before the canvas, to put this puzzle of various spatial views together into a whole. Moreover, the muted colours signalled another new direction for painting. However, most of the novelty lay in the independence of the painting from the preconditions given by nature.

Pablo Picasso , Still Life with Chair Caning, 1912. Oil on oil-cloth over canvas edged with rope, 29 x 37 cm. Musée Picasso, Paris

This was the artist’s response to the changed preconditions of science regarding space and time, using Cézanne’s demand that in nature one should seek out the sphere, the cone and the cylinder as the basis for his compositional ideas.

At the 1909 ‘Salon des Indépendants’, the critic Louis de Vauxcelles spoke of cubes, and Cubism was born. The movement underwent many evolutionary steps. Friends Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso said later: “We did not have the intention of creating Cubism. Moreover, we just wanted to express that which moved us. … It almost seemed as if we were two mountain climbers who were hanging from a single rope.”

Jean Metzinger , Dancer in a Café, 1912. Oil on canvas, 146.1 x 114.3 cm.
Albright-Knox Art Gallery , Buffalo.

Between 1909 and 1912, they separated their art from everything real without turning completely to abstraction, in a phase called Analytical Cubism. In particular, the artists now painted figures and still lifes. They no longer painted an object viewed from one perspective, but rather layered views from many angles in order to capture the subject from all sides. They analysed the object and brought it to the canvas as a fragmented picture. Shape and space melted into one another in one composition of enmeshed, intersected and dissected surfaces.

Instead of creating volume, the painters focused on revealing facets and constructing surfaces. The situation captured in the painting became far more indefinite. Some surfaces became transparent, weightless or suddenly transformed themselves into a book or an instrument, something recognizable. With regard to colours, the paintings were dominated by brown, grey and blue hues.

Additionally, artists no longer painted in the open air, but rather kept to their studios, where the arsenal for their subjects was already at hand. Later, they no longer arranged their still lifes so that they could paint from reality; rather, they created them out of the imagination, adding numbers and word fragments to the compositions.

Robert Delaunay, The Cardiff Team (Third Representation), 1913. Oil on canvas, 326 x 208 cm. Musée National d’Art Moderne , Centre Georges-Pompidou, Paris.

Braque and Picasso’s artistic vision brought them to Synthetic Cubism, a movement in which they were joined by Juan Gris. Now, it was no longer about taking the objects apart; Pablo Picasso now artists set about creating new objects with new materials. One recognized new qualities for works of art, using the most varied materials, even items that were meant to be thrown away. During this period, the collage became a form of painting.

Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso invented a new type of painting, expressing daily life in the form of real materials. For this, they used fabrics, wax cloth, wallpaper scraps and newspaper shreds, using these items to create fine art. This was the birth of their so-called papiers collés. The interest of Picasso in the tactile and in unusual materials found its first visual realization in May 1912 with his piece entitled Still Life with Chair Caning. This painting showcases Picasso’s use of common materials in an unorthodox manner. The printed pattern on the wax cloth conveyed the illusion of chair caning.

Juan Gris , Breakfast, 1915. Oil and charcoal on canvas, 92 x 73 cm.
Musée National d’Art Moderne , Centre Georges-Pompidou, Paris.

The pasted paper appears to be something other than what it truly is, while the rope framing it is a tangible object. Shortly thereafter, Braque found a roll of wallpaper with an oak pattern, which he then cut into pieces and integrated them into a drawing. These endeavours eventually led to pure surface textures being contrasted against one another and forming a coherent artwork.

Braque and Picasso considered their studio to be a place completely devoted to craftsmanship. Using everyday materials, they experimented with extending art into the realm of the ordinary. In 1912 and 1913, they chose paper as their primary medium. In order to develop their idea of a “popular iconography”, they used cardboard, paper of many shades and patterns, sand, combs, sawdust, metal shavings, ripolin varnish, sheet metal stencils, razor blades and craft tools.

Georges Braque. The Portuguese (The Emigrant), 1911-1912. Oil on canvas, 117 x 81.5 cm. Kunstmuseum Basel

Apollinaire and André Salmon compared the efforts of Braque and Picasso with those of the poet François de Malherbe; the painters sought readily comprehensible simplicity, just as the poet had studied the slang spoken by the dock workers in order to enrich his own language. The ‘‘papiers collés ‘‘were preceded by paper sculptures, first by Braque and later on by Picasso.

Already by 1911, Braque had created his first paper sculpture. Picasso, when viewing the construction scaffolding of these first Braque paper sculptures, was reminded of the Wright brothers’ biplane. Of all the artists of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso was a true genius. Like no other artist, he made important contributions and innovations to nearly all of the artistic movements of the 20th century. He journeyed to unexplored shores in the sea of the art world, and repeatedly produced surprising new masterpieces.

Cubism , PicassoBraque , Juan GrisMuseum of Modern ArtMusée PicassoKunstmuseum BaselMusée National d’Art Moderne , Albright-Knox Art GalleryParkstone InternationalArt , Painting , Ebook Gallery, Image-Bar , Amazon Australia , Amazon Italy , Amazon Japan , Amazon China , Amazon India , Amazon Mexico , Amazon UK , Amazon Canada, Amazon SpainAmazon France , Amazon Germany , Kobo , Douban , Google books , iTunes , Proquest , Scribd

 

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