Cubism History

Cubism History

Cubism is an artistic movement, created by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, which employs geometric shapes in depictions of human and other forms. Over time, the geometric touches grew so intense that they sometimes overtook the represented forms, creating a more pure level of visual abstraction. Though the movement’s most potent era was in the early 20th Century, the ideas and techniques of Cubism influenced many creative disciplines and continue to inform experimental work.


Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque first met in 1905, but it wasn’t until 1907 that Picasso showed Braque what is considered the first Cubist painting, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. This portrait of five prostitutes draws heavy influence from African tribal art, which Picasso had recently been exposed to at the Palais du Trocadéro, a Paris ethnographic museum.

Breaking nearly every rule of traditional Western painting, the work was such a huge leap from his previous blue and pink periods, which were far more representational and emotional. Picasso was hesitant to display the work to the public, and it went unseen until 1916.

Braque, who painted in the Fauvist movement, was both repelled and intrigued by the painting. Picasso worked with him privately on the implications of the piece, developing together the Cubist form. Braque is the only artist to ever collaborate with Picasso, and over a period of two years, they spent every evening together, with neither artist pronouncing a finished work until agreed on by the other.

Braque’s response to Picasso’s initial work was his 1908 painting Large Nude, noted for incorporating the techniques of Paul Cézanne as a sobering influence. Thus began the first era of Cubism, known as Analytical Cubism, which was defined by depictions of a subject from multiple vantage points at once, creating a fractured, multi-dimensional effect expressed through a limited palette of colors.

The term Cubism was first used by French critic Louis Vauxcelles in 1908 to describe Braque’s landscape paintings. Painter Henri Matisse had previously described them to Vauxcelles as looking comprised of cubes. The term wasn’t widely used until the press adopted it to describe the style in 1911.

In 1909, Picasso and Braque redirected their focus from humans to objects to keep Cubism fresh, as with Braque’s Violin and Palette.


Wider exposure brought others to the movement. Polish artist Louis Marcossis discovered Braque’s work in 1910, and his Cubist paintings are considered to have more of a human quality and lighter touch than the works of others.

Spanish artist Juan Gris remained on the fringes of the movement until 1911. He distinguished himself by refusing to make the abstraction of the object more essential than the object itself. Gris died in 1927, and Cubism represents a significant portion of his life’s work.

French painter Fernand Léger was initially influenced by Paul Cézanne and upon meeting Cubist practitioners embraced the form in 1911, focusing on architectural subjects.

Marcel Duchamp flirted with Cubism beginning in 1910 but was often considered at odds with it. His famous 1912 painting, Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2), reflects the influence but features a figure in motion. Typically in Cubist works, the viewer is more placed in motion, since the perspective presented on canvas are multiple planes, as if the artist is moving around the subject and capturing all views in one image.


By 1912, Picasso and Braque had begun to incorporate words in the paintings, which evolved into the collage elements that dominate the second era of Cubism, known as Synthetic Cubism. This phase was also marked by the flattening of the subjects and brightening of colors.

Braque further experimented with collage, leading to his creation of the papier collé technique, seen in 1912’s Fruit Dish and Glass, a concoction of wallpaper placed within the gouache. The introduction of collage broadened the form’s color palette further.

Sculptors also explored Cubist forms. Russian artist Alexander Archipenko first publicly showed in 1910 alongside other Cubists, while Lithuanian refugee Jacques Lipchitz entered the scene in 1914.


An offshoot movement designated Orphic Cubism centered on the Puteaux Group collective. Formed in 1913 by French painter Jacques Villon and his brother, sculptor Raymond Duchamp-Villon (both brothers to Marcel Duchamp), this branch embraced even brighter hues and augmented abstraction.

Robert Delaunay is considered a primary representation of this wing, sharing similar architectural interests as Leger, which he applied multiple times to Cubist depictions of the Eiffel Tower and other notable Parisian structures.

Other members Roger de la Fresnaye and Andre Lhote viewed Cubism, not as a subversion from the norm but instead a way to return order and stability to their work, and found inspiration in Georges Seurat. De la Fresnaye’s best-known painting, 1913’s The Conquest of the Air, is a Cubist self-portrait of he and his brother in a hot air balloon.


World War I effectively halted Cubism as an organized movement, with a number of artists, including Braque, Lhote, de la Fresnaye and Léger, getting called up for duty. De la Fresnaye was discharged in 1917 due to tuberculosis. He never fully recovered, attempting to continue art-making but dying in 1925.

By 1917, Picasso returned his practice of injecting more realism into his paintings, though his refusal to be pinned down meant Cubism reappeared in some works over the years, such as The Three Musicians (1921) and The Weeping Woman (1937), a response to the Spanish Civil War.

Braque continued his experimentation. His further work featured elements of Cubism, though noted for less rigidity in the abstractions of the subjects and using colors that don’t reflect the reality of the still life.


Though Cubism never regained its place as an organized force in the art world, its vast influence has continued in art movements like Futurism, Constructivism, Abstract Expressionism, and others.

Cubism influenced other forms as well; in literature, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein and William Faulkner; in music, Igor Stravinsky; in photography Paul Strand, Aleksandr Rodchenko and László Moholy-Nagy; in film Hans Richter and Fritz Lang; as well as graphic design and scenic design.


Cubism. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Tudor History of Painting in 1000 Color Reproductions. Robert Maillard, Editor.
The Story of Painting. Sister Wendy Beckett and Patricia Wright.
Art in Time: A World History of Styles and Movements. Phaidon.
Cubism: A New Vision. Ninón Rodríguez, Miami Dade College.

How Cubism Changed During The 20th Century?

Art history changed lot during the start of the 20th century. First World War affected this transition and changed up the process as many artist tried to express their feelings in a different way during the war times. Early cubism can be found in the works of Paul Cezanne and his simplified view of nature in his art. Cezanne influenced both Picasso and Braque with his art and open way for cubism to evolve.

Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon work of art opened a new page in cubism and it becomes a cornerstone for the first revolution in 20 th -century art. Painting produced between 1906-07 said to be the first signings of the “Cubist thought”. Picasso was definitely impressed and influenced by Paul Cezanne’s Female Bathers in From of a Tent, with the composure of the subject matter and the perspective used in the artwork. He then used this approach in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon as he created a different perspective by using three-dimensional female nudes and the two-dimensional space including ornaments in the room.

Paul Cezanne, Female Bathers in Front of a Tent, 1883-85, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart

In addition to this, when Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918) introduced Picasso to Georges Braque who already overwhelmed by the Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, in 1907, cubism completed its frontrunners. Early friendship influenced Braque to produce the picture Large Nude in 1908. While frontrunners took the lead in the cubism history in the year 1910, cubist’s artists divided into two groups named Gallery cubists (Braque and Picasso) opposed to Salon cubists (Robert Delaunay, Henri Le Fauconnier, Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger). This separation was triggered when Picasso rejected to exhibit in salons for his artworks and Braque followed his decision afterwards, too.

Georges Braque, Large Nude, 1907-08, Paris, Musee national d’art moderne

Early era of cubism (1906/1907-09) discredited also by these two painters which changed the primary subject in the artworks as it no longer imitates the nature but they created their own reality. It continued analytical cubism formed by Picasso and Braque. Their motifs are not only portrayed from various perspectives simultaneously but are also fragmented into smaller forms, which let them become set pieces of a physical whole.

Pablo Picasso, Girl with a Mandolin, 1910, New York, The Museum of Modern Art

However with the start of the First World War, situation of the artists changed lot. Many artists in that era were still young and they mostly conscripted to military service. Communication between them disrupted and cubism as an independent artistic style was lost in the confusion of the First World War.

Salon Cubism: Concepts, Styles, and Trends

Crystal Cubism

During World War I, Jean Metzinger’s style evolved into what came to be called Crystal Cubism, which came into full flower following the war. Seen as part of the era’s "return to order," the term "Crystal Cubism" originated with the French art critic Maurice Reynal. Metzinger’s Soldier at a Game of Chess (1914-15), with its flat simplified multiple planes of color, emphasizes what the art historian Christopher Green has called the "orderly qualities" and "autonomous purity" of Crystal Cubism’s geometric and abstract structure. The emphasis in Crystal Cubism was on the painting as an object in itself, as Green further described, "a single-minded insistence on the isolation of the art-object in a special category with its own laws and its own experience to offer, a category considered above life."

Metiznger along with Juan Gris, who had been closely associated both with the Cubism of Picasso and Braque and the Salon Cubists, popularized this new style. Works like Gris’s Portrait of Josette Gris (1916) used a simplified, monochromatic palette with overlapping geometric planes. Leger and Gleizes and other Salon Cubists, including the sculptors Laurens and Lipchitz, also gravitated toward Crystal Cubism. Green argues that Crystal Cubism was the most influential form that Cubism took, writing, "In terms of a Modernist will to aesthetic isolation and of the broad theme of the separation of culture and society, it is actually Cubism after 1914 that emerges as most important to the history of Modernism."


Though Orphism began around 1911 as the work and theory of Robert and Sonia Delaunay converged with the work of František Kupta, it was officially launched in 1912. Robert Delaunay’s Simultaneous Windows series (1912-1913) and Kupka’s Amorpha: Fugue in Two Colors (1910-1911) exemplified the approach that, as Delaunay wrote, "would depend only on color and its contrast but would develop over time simultaneously perceived at a single moment." The poet and art critic, Apollinaire first used the term Orphism at the 1912 Section d’Or, and as a result, Orphism was seen as a sub-movement, developing out of Cubism. However, Delaunay subsequently was to break with the Puteaux Group and, feeling that his Simultaneous Windows were a major artistic breakthrough, described himself as "the heretic of Cubism." The Delaunays became the major practitioners of Orphism, and, while their work emphasized geometric patterns, often in fractured planes, color and not form was the foundation of the increasingly abstract compositions.

Orphism influenced later artists like Paul Klee in his abstract color shapes and the development of abstraction, in both its geometric and lyrical styles. The Op art of Bridget Riley, Richard Anuskiewicz, and Wen-Ying Tsai were influenced by Orphism’s emphasis upon color to create depth and movement. Sonia Delaunay’s design works, based upon the principles of Orphism, had a wide ranging impact on all fashion and interior design as her Orphic idiom became part of the public consciousness.

Cubism Art: Technique & History

Before the twentieth century, art was recognized as an imitation of nature. Paintings and portraits were made to look as realistic and three-dimensional as possible, as if seen through a window. Artists were painting in the flamboyant fauvism style.

French postimpressionist Paul Cézannes flattened still lives, and African sculptures gained in popularity in Western Europe when artists went looking for a new way of showing their ideas and expressing their views.

In 1907 Pablo Picasso created the painting Les Damsoilles d’Avignon, depicting five women whose bodies are constructed of geometric shapes and heads of African masks rather than faces.

This new image grew to be known as “cubism”. The name originating from the critic Louis Vauxcelles, who after reviewing French artist and fellow Cubist Georges Braque exhibition wrote of “Bizzeries Cubiques”, and that objects “had been reduced to cubes (Arnheim, 1984).

Cubism changed the way art was represented and viewed. Picasso, together with Braque, presented a new style of painting that showed the subject from several different angles simultaneously.

The result was intended to show the object in a more complete and realistic view than traditional art, to convey a feeling of being able to move around within the painting.

“Cubism abandoned traditional notions of perception, foreshadowing and modeling and aimed to represent solidarity and volume in a three-dimensional plane without converting the two-dimensional canvas illusionalistically into a three-dimensional picture space” (Chivers, 1998).

Picasso and Braque pioneered the movement and worked so closely together that they had difficulty telling their own work apart. They referred to each other as Orville and Wilbur, knowing that their contributions to art were every bit as revolutionary as the first flight (Hoving, 1999). Cubism was divided into two categories.

Analytical Cubism, beginning in 1907, visually laid out what the artist thought was important about the subject rather then just mimicking it. Body parts and objects within the picture were broken down into geometric shapes that were barley recognizable as the original image. Braque wrote that “senses deform and the spirit forms”.

Analytical Cubism restricted the use of color to simple and dull hues so the emphasis would lie more on the structure. Cézanne said, “Nature should be handled with the cylinder, spear and cone” (Miki, 1976). The shapes painted were to be dissected, separately analyzed, and then reconstructed to form a new whole.

The outcome was to be of intellectual vision rather then spontaneous. “The aim of Analytical Cubism was to produce a conceptual image of an object, as opposed to an optical one” (Harden, 1999). Around 1912, Analytical Cubism reached a point where it threatened to go beyond the visual comprehension of the viewer.

At this time Picasso and Braque took a different approach by replacing parts of the pictures of real things with abstract signs and symbols. In Synthetic Cubism size scales no longer mattered in Picassos painting The Three Musicians the hand of a man playing the guitar would be two inches while the guitar itself was two feet.

Bright, flashy color returned. Synthetic Cubism is credited with creating the collage. Picasso made the first collage using decorative paper and words and images clipped from newspaper and sheet music put on wood to create the image of a guitar. Other artists began using sand, rope and even mirrors to symbolize things.

In this way Synthetic Cubism came back slightly to the conventional method of representing objects realistically and the shape of objects became easier to recognize. Cubism gained the interest of critics who had mixed views. One critic viewed a Picasso painting of a violin and said he considered it an insult to the viewers’ intelligence to be expected to believe that a violin would look like that.

Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, a Paris art dealer and friend of Picasso and Braque who supported Cubism, distributed pamphlets advertising the “new look” of reality and art (Robinson, 1995).

After viewing a portrait done of her by Picasso, Gertrude Stein told him: “I don’t look like that”. He answered, “you will”. She later wrote, “it is the only reproduction of me which is always I, for me” (Schaffner, 1998). Other artists soon adopted the style. Juan Gris was one of the first to copy cubism and brought it beyond France to his native Spain and other countries.

In the spring of 1911, the Paris salon Des Independence began collecting the works of local Cubist painters and held an exhibit featuring Jean Metzinger, Fernand Leger and Robert Delaunay. It was the first large Cubism exhibit. During 1913 and 1914 so many artists in Paris had turned to Cubism that it had temporarily became the universal language of avant-garde painting (Arnheim, 1984).

Artists in China, Russia and South America caught on and began experimenting with different forms of Cubism. Aaron Douglas and Stuart Davis brought the style to America in 1912, although their interpretation was not as abstract as what was being done in Europe at the time.

In 1913 the Midtown Armory in New York hosted an exhibit that drew large crowds. Cubism became the dominating influence in the art world of New York until 1918.

The start of World War I marked the decline in Cubism in Europe. Braque and many other artists were called off to fight. After being injured by shrapnel Braques painting was never the same. The war killed many of the friends Picasso collaborated with. The community that surrounded Cubism was over. Cubism led the way for other new radical ideas in painting.

Dada, Surrealism and Art Deco followed after 1918. These still showed objects in a symbolic manner but in a realistic, more traditional semblance. Picasso experimented with new styles of painting he tried his hand with Surrealism but turned to a classical style in 1920. Picasso also took up designing theater sets and costumes.

In 1937 the Spanish Civil War broke out between the Republicans and the Fascists under General Franco’s rule. Picasso was asked by the Republicans to paint a mural for the Spanish Pavilion at the World Exposition in Paris. He wanted the work to express the horrors man can carry out on his fellow man. In April of that year, German planes under Francos’ orders bombed the small village of Guernica in the southern French Braque countryside (Schaffner, 1998).

After hearing of the total destruction caused by the attack, Picasso returned to Cubism and completed piece Guernica. Taking influence from Goya, the painting showed the townspeople in agony over their loss.

Off to the side a mother cries over her dead child while in the center a horse is painfully dying. This would become his most famous painting. Cubism redefined art in the twentieth century.

It succeeded in giving people a different perspective with which to look at reality and evoked new emotions. Cubism set a new standard for what is accepted as a work of art. “Art no longer had to be aesthetically right or nice to be a masterpiece”(Hoving, 1999).

It also set the stage for other artists to test new styles that would have been considered too unorthodox before. Cubism truly embodied the phrase, “art is in the eye of the beholder.”


Arnheim, Rudolf. Art and Visual Perception, a psychology of the creative eye. Los Angelas: University of California Press, 1984. Arnheim, Rudolf. Visual Thinking. Los Angelas: University of California Press, 1984. Chilvers, Ian, Harold Osborne, Dennis Farr. The Oxford Dictionary of Art. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. Hoving, Thomas. Art for Dummies. Foster City California: IDG Books Worldwide, 1999. Miki, Tamon. What is Cubism? The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo. November 29,1999. Robinson, Walter. Instant Art History, from cave art to pop art. New York: Bryon Press Visual Publications, 1995. Schaffner, Ingrid. The Essential Picasso. New York: Harry

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Top 7 Works Of Cubism.

Guernica By Picasso (1937)

Guernica will always be top on the list, any day, anytime! It is an oil on canvas painting that is regarded as one of the most powerful anti-war paintings in history and it helped bring attention to the Spanish civil war. This work is no doubt Picasso’s most popular painting though it bears a strong relation to his surrealist period, it is still related to his distinct cubist style.

Bottle And Fishes By George Braque (1910-1912)

Braque depicted both bottles and fishes and in his paintings throughout his career, the painter thoroughly enjoyed painting bottles and fishes and this particular painting that is a part of the analytical cubism phase contains both of his favorite subjects. It is an oil on canvas painting with a very simple design and is one of his most outstanding paintings.

Portrait Of Picasso By Juan Gris ( 1912)

Juan Gris after creating this painting became recognized as an established cubist. As at then, his work was the first cubist work that was created without the influence of Braque or Picasso. It portrays the artist, Pablo Picasso at a young age, with his hair still in place, holding a palette and putting on a suit. There was a level of neatness in Gris’ work that would later be rejected as the cubist artists produced more disorganized paintings and Gris separated himself with more systematic geometry.

Violin And Palette By George Braque( 1909)

This oil on canvas painting is part of the later developments of cubism, the analytic cubism era and a departure from fauvism. The painting is like a still life in abstract form and though the violin and palette are visible, they are broken up and represented along with other angular shapes. It is one of George Braque’s most valued works and was a core part of the development of the cubism movement.

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon By Picasso (1907)

This work no doubt saw to the end of fauvism and established the beginning of cubism. Though it was deemed immoral and at the time, in this work, Picasso set aside perspective and made use of a 2-dimensional picture plane split up into geometric shards. It was a great source of inspiration for Braque and has been traced as the source of their collaboration and development of the cubism art movement.

The Three Musicians By Picasso (1921)

This is the title of two similar oil on canvas paintings by Picasso. It takes the style of synthetic cubism and has an appearance of cut paper. It emphasizes lively colors, angular shapes, and flat patterns and is still life work. It is a perfect example of Picasso’s cubist style and is the second best-known painting of Picasso. The two versions of this painting can comfortably make it on to our top 7 list of cubist works but whichever version you prefer, this piece of art is a true representative of the cubism movement.

Man On A Balcony (1912) by Albert Gleizes

Last but not least on our list of top 7 cubist works is a large oil painting by Albert Gleizes called “Man on a Balcony”. Being a founder of cubism as well, Gleizes demonstrates the principles of cubism in this outstanding work of art. The artist intentionally created a contrast of angular and curved shapes, while block-like forms of the figure and head take their shape from the principle of cubism.

Cubism remains one of the most influential art movements known. It changed a wide range of ideas as far as art was concerned in the 1910s and 1920s. It also allowed for the development of abstract modern art movements. It defied the rules of art and turned out to be one of the greatest breaks in art history.

Take the innovative, you too can try something new. Perhaps, you’ve been stuck on other art movements and have been looking to learn about cubism, I’m sure this post has been helpful.

Cubism is one great way to have fun with art. All you have to do is let go of your fear like Picasso did, and explore!


Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.

Cubism, highly influential visual arts style of the 20th century that was created principally by the artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in Paris between 1907 and 1914. The Cubist style emphasized the flat, two-dimensional surface of the picture plane, rejecting the traditional techniques of perspective, foreshortening, modeling, and chiaroscuro and refuting time-honoured theories that art should imitate nature. Cubist painters were not bound to copying form, texture, colour, and space. Instead, they presented a new reality in paintings that depicted radically fragmented objects.

Cubism derived its name from remarks that were made by the critic Louis Vauxcelles, who derisively described Braque’s 1908 work Houses at L’Estaque as being composed of cubes. In Braque’s painting, the volumes of the houses, the cylindrical forms of the trees, and the tan-and-green colour scheme are reminiscent of Paul Cézanne’s landscapes, which deeply inspired the Cubists in their first stage of development (until 1909). It was, however, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, painted by Picasso in 1907, that presaged the new style in this work, the forms of five female nudes become fractured, angular shapes. As in Cézanne’s art, perspective is rendered through colour, with the warm reddish-browns advancing and the cool blues receding.

The movement’s development from 1910 to 1912 is often referred to as Analytical Cubism. During this period, the work of Picasso and Braque became so similar that their paintings are almost indistinguishable. Analytical Cubist paintings by both artists show the breaking down, or analysis, of form. Picasso and Braque favoured right-angle and straight-line construction, though occasionally some areas of their paintings appear sculptural, as in Picasso’s Girl with a Mandolin (1910). They simplified their colour schemes to a nearly monochromatic scale (hues of tan, brown, gray, cream, green, or blue were preferred) in order not to distract the viewer from the artist’s primary interest—the structure of form itself. The monochromatic colour scheme was suited to the presentation of complex, multiple views of the object, which was reduced to overlapping opaque and transparent planes. These planes appear to move beyond the surface of the canvas rather than to recede in depth. Forms are generally compact and dense in the centre of an Analytical Cubist painting, growing larger as they diffuse toward the edges of the canvas, as in Picasso’s Portrait of Ambroise Vollard (1909–10). In their work from this period, Picasso and Braque frequently combined representational motifs with letters their favourite motifs were musical instruments, bottles, pitchers, glasses, newspapers, and the human face and figure.

Interest in this subject matter continued after 1912, during the phase generally identified as Synthetic Cubism. Works of this phase emphasize the combination, or synthesis, of forms in the picture. Colour assumes a strong role in these works shapes, while remaining fragmented and flat, are larger and more decorative. Smooth and rough surfaces may be contrasted with one another, and frequently foreign materials, such as newspapers or tobacco wrappers, are pasted on the canvas in combination with painted areas. This technique, known as collage, further emphasizes the differences in texture and, at the same time, poses the question of what is reality and what is illusion.

While Picasso and Braque are credited with creating this new visual language, it was adopted and further developed by many painters, including Fernand Léger, Robert and Sonia Delaunay, Juan Gris, Roger de la Fresnaye, Marcel Duchamp, Albert Gleizes, and Jean Metzinger. Though primarily associated with painting, Cubism also exerted a profound influence on 20th-century sculpture and architecture. The major Cubist sculptors were Alexander Archipenko, Raymond Duchamp-Villon, and Jacques Lipchitz. The adoption of the Cubist aesthetic by the Swiss architect Le Corbusier is reflected in the shapes of the houses he designed during the 1920s.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Alicja Zelazko, Assistant Editor.

Early Cubist Painting (c.1907-9)

If pushed, most art historians would say that the movement known as Cubism began in 1907 with Picasso's picture Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (MOMA, NY). This work signalled the start of an exploratory phase, during which Picasso and Georges Braque came together to establish a number of new and important principles of modern art.

This collaboration did not happen overnight: it wasn't until 1908 that both artists formed the intimate working relationship ("two mountaineers roped together"), based on the ideas of Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) - especially as expressed in his masterpiece The Large Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses) (1894-1905) - which led to the invention of first Analytical Cubism (c.1909-1912) and then Synthetic Cubism (1912-14).

Les Demoiselles D'Avignon (1907)
MOMA, New York.
Picasso's first real Cubist picture.
Composed of full-on primitivism,
mixed with fractured geometric
shards of deconstructed figures.

Road near L'Estaque (1908)
Museum of Modern Art, New York.
by Georges Braque.

How Did Picasso Discover Cubism?

During his first year or so in Paris, Picasso worked in a manner close to that of Toulouse-Lautrec but bursting everywhere with restlessness, as if impatient to shift into a new direction. This was swiftly followed by his "blue period" which transitioned into his "rose period". But with the restlessness of an explorer or an inventor, Picasso changed again at the end of 1906 in a way that is important as an early step toward Cubism. He began to discipline his graceful figures into new sculptural forms with an imposition of decisive geometrical regularities. Evident to begin with in Lady with a Fan (1905, Private Collection), the new discipline is even more emphatic in Woman with Loaves (1906, Philadelphia Museum of Art), with its geometrical solids built firmly upon one another into a compact whole. The ovoid form of the torso is surmounted by the white cylinder of the cap, which is pierced to reveal the simplified sculptural forms of the head. The two loaves of bread rest on top of this structure like architectural members surmounting a column.

For a guide to concrete and
non-objective art, see:
Abstract Paintings: Top 100.
For a list of important styles,
see: Abstract Art Movements.

For a quick reference guide,
see: 20th Century Painters.

Woman with Loaves was painted in the summer of 1906 (despite the date 1905, added in error beneath the signature). Earlier that year Picasso had begun a Portrait of Gertrude Stein (1906, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), the American writer who had set herself up in Paris a few years earlier and had already become a major patron, proselytizer, and practitioner in the international intellectual avant-garde. After eighty sittings Picasso had wiped out the face of her portrait. Whatever the face had been like, it is obvious that in the rest of the picture Cezanne is very much present. When Picasso returned to the picture after the summer interval during which he painted Woman with Loaves, the new force at work in his art produced the masklike face which is so at variance with the Cezannesque forms that surround it. In his Self Portrait (1906, Philadelphia Museum of Art) painted immediately afterward, the masklike quality has increased, and its severe half-primitive quality has extended to the figure also.

By his own statement, in Woman with Loaves, the Stein portrait, and his own portrait, Picasso was influenced by the archaic sculpture of pre-Roman Spain. But the two portraits show that he had already discovered African sculpture also. At any rate the ingredients for Cubism were now assembled. These were: the painting of Paul Cezanne, with his concept of volume and space as abstract geometry to be dealt with at whatever necessary rejection of their natural relationships primitive art, that is, African and archaic sculpture with their untheoretical but exciting reduction of natural forms to geometrical equivalents and, finally, the intuitive genius of Picasso and the deductive mind of Braque to merge these components with dashes of several others in their search for new expressive means.

This new expression was soon to have a name, Cubism, and to be codified into a theory. But for the moment it manifested itself half formed, in 1907, in a large painting by Picasso which, although technically ambiguous, is decisively the beginning point of Cubism. A composition involving five female nudes, the traditional bathers motif, it was later dubbed Les Demoiselles d'Avignon as a joke, and has continued by that name as a convenience.

Everyone admits that these five 'demoiselles' are among the unloveliest females in the history of art, and no one pretends that Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907, MOMA, New York) is an unqualified success in every way, but on the other hand no student of 20th century painting denies its position as a landmark. It is a discordant picture, not only in the way it ruptures, fractures, and dislocates form with a violence that would probably have appalled Cezanne, but in the disharmony of its own parts. On the left the standing figure is hieratic in its formality, posed in a standard attitude of Egyptian sculpture. But by the time the right side of the picture is reached, this formality has given way to a jagged, swinging, crashing line, and the African mask makes its impact with full force in the grotesque faces.

As it was, the year 1907 was exceptionally stimulating for Picasso. He was in the middle of his African or Negro period (1906-7), during which he was absorbing the aesthetics of African tribal art - a process which as we have just seen culminated in Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, as well as oils like Head (1907, Barnes Foundation), Bust of a Woman (1907, MoMA, NY) and Nude (Bust) (1907, Hermitage, St Petersburg). Other vivid examples of his 'African' paintings of the time include: Woman with a Fan (1907, Hermitage, St Petersburg) and Dance of the Veils (Nude with Drapery) (1907, Hermitage, St Petersburg). In 1908, he continued with the primitivist style of Les Demoiselles, executing a number of ethnic-style works with well-modelled, angular bodies. They include: Seated Woman (1908, Hermitage, St Petersburg), Dryad (1908, Hermitage, St Petersburg), and Farm Woman (Full-Length) (1908, Hermitage, St Petersburg). Only in his mid/late-1908 works such as Friendship (1908, Pushkin Museum, Moscow) and Three Women (1908, Pushkin Museum), does the influence of Cezanne begin to emerge.

How Did Braque Arrive at Cubism?

At the start of 1907, Braque was known as a member of Fauvism, the high-fashion style of colourism which had burst onto the Parisian art world in 1905. However two events in 1907 would rapidly change his life. First, he was bowled over by the major Cezanne retrospective, at the Salon d'Automne. Second, his dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler introduced him to Apollinaire and Picasso. Braque visited the latter at his studio in the tumbledown Bateau Lavoir complex in the Rue Ravignan, Montmartre, where he was profoundly impressed by Les Demoiselles. Indeed, he was so taken with it, that he abandoned Fauvism and spent the next six months working on a new picture - Large Nude (1908, Musee National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou) - which required him to transform his whole method of painting.

Unlike Picasso, however, Braque moved directly directly from his Large Nude to more overt Cubist imagery (in the manner of Cezanne), namely his landscapes at L'Estaque. So by late 1908, stylistically he was fractionally ahead of his Spanish partner.

The developmental period of Cubism, 1907-1909, is often called its "Cezanne phase," on the basis of pictures like Braque's Road near L'Estaque (1908, Museum of Modern Art, New York), with its combination of geometrical simplification and faceted shapes. But despite the geometrics, the picture is, in spirit, anything but Cezannesque. The shapes themselves are bolder and more obvious than Cezanne's, and they have a nervousness, an insistence, a thrust, a harsh, angular movement that exaggerates the sense of vibrant life typical of a Cezanne landscape, and sacrifices to it the classical order that also permeates Cezanne's world.

Picasso and Braque: Collaboration (1908-9)

In 1908, by now both deeply intrigued by Paul Cezanne's geometric-style landscapes, Picasso and Braque set about extending their mentor's ideas. First, they completed a series of landscape paintings that were very similar to those by Paul Cezanne. Thus all natural forms were reduced to basic geometric shapes and the colour palette was predominantly subdued blues and greens. (Picasso still maintained his keenness for his warmer ochres and siennas). They painted houses in the form of 3-D cubes: Braque at L'Estaque Picasso at Horta del Ebro in Spain. It was these paintings that the French art critic Louis Vauxcelles was describing in 1909, when he used the expression 'bizarreries cubiques' - which led to the adoption of the word Cubism.

Theory of Cubism
The first treatise on the new style, entitled Du Cubisme (1912), written by Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger, was published in 1912, to coincide with the Section d'Or exhibition of Cubist art at Galerie La Boetie in Paris.

Conventions of Perspective Rejected

In this early phase of prototype-Cubism, Picasso and Braque utilized several technical devices to undermine the illusion of space. To begin with, they rejected all the normal conventions of linear perspective. Instead of diminishing size signifying background, perspective was rendered by means of colour: warm reddish browns were used for foreground, cool blues for background. Buildings appear one on top of the other instead of standing one behind the other. In Houses on the Hill (1909, MoMA), Picaso used similar cubic-shaped imagery for his background and foreground (houses). By rendering earth and sky in the same way, he introduced greater unity to the picture but also introduced ambiguity: after all, there was now less difference between ground and air.

Multiple Sources of Light

Another technique used by both Braque and Picasso in their early Cubist art, involved the use of different light sources. Whereas traditional pictures employ a consistent light source (to create the illusion of three-dimensional space), in Cubist canvases light appears to enter the composition from numerous different angles thus confusing the viewer as to whether shapes are convex or concave.

Greatest Early Cubist Paintings

In addition to works already cited, here is a short selected list of early Cubist pictures, executed in the manner of Cezanne, which can be seen in some of the best art museums around the world.

Georges Braque
Viaduct in Estaque (1908) Musee National d'Art Moderne.
Houses at L'Estaque (1908) Kunstmuseum, Bern.
Road Near L'Estaque (1908) Museum of Modern Art, MoMA, New York.
Large Nude (1908) Musee National d'Art Moderne.

Pablo Picasso
House in a Garden (1908) Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.
Little House in a Garden (1909) Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow.
Houses on the Hill (1909) Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Fruit in a Vase (1909) Hermitage Museum.
Woman with a Fan (1909) Pushkin Museum.
Brick Factory at Tortosa (1909) Hermitage Museum.

Note: Picasso's most famous late Cubist paintings include: Guernica (1937, Reina Sofia Art Museum, Madrid) and Weeping Woman (1937, Tate, London).

For works by other Cubists, see Cubist Painters.

• For a list of schools and styles, see Modern Art Movements.
• For styles of painting and sculpture, see: Homepage.

Late Cubism

Art became even more abstract after 1914. Artists now began to emphasize overlapping planes and flat surfaces. Crystal Cubism, as it became, was created by artists who desperately needed to escape the realities of the Great War.

Soldier at a Game of Chess by Jean Metzinger

Though many artists continued to push through with Cubism, it started to decline after 1925. As a result of a shift towards more conservative values, artists dropped the bold colors and shapes for more conservative French styles. Today, it remains a major influence on modern art history.

Three Musicians by Pablo Picasso

Cubist Sculpture

The cubist sculpture has the same aesthetics as the pictorial sculpture and also has the same objectives, the difference is that the cubist works in three different dimensions. The sculpture is characterized by the simultaneity of the perspectives, by the intersection of the volumes, the decomposition of the forms and the new appreciation of the materials.

Listen to William S. Rubin's views, whether it was Braque or Picasso, who invented Cubism and the influence of Paul Cézanne

WILLIAM S. RUBIN: It's sometimes asked whether it was Braque who invented Cubism or Picasso who invented Cubism. And I think there's no single answer to this, in part because there's no single definition for Cubism.

Two major sources of Cubism were the Africanism of Picasso, that is, the art which Picasso had made in 1907 and early 1908 that was influenced by tribal models of art, and, perhaps even more important, the art of Cezanne. I think you could say that to the extent that you feel that Cezanne's model was the germinal element in Cubism, Braque was a little bit more its inventor than Picasso. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine Cubism ever having been created had not Picasso painted "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" in 1907 and in one painting, so to say, swept away the whole 19th-century tradition. Moreover, Picasso made a number of pictures deeply influenced by Cezanne also. And it's very difficult to pick apart in the years 1908 and 1909 just how much it is Braque and how much it is Picasso that are responding to these things. I think we can say that what is extraordinary about it is that such elements as Africanism, so to say, the tribal type of art that Picasso leads into Cubism with, and Cezanne would seem to be totally unmixable. And yet the two fuse in some way in the crucible of the painting of 1908. And that's part of what is remarkable about the history of early Cubism.

Watch the video: Cubism Introduction