What is cubism? Cubism was an art movement invented jointly by Pablo Picasso and
Georges Braque. Picasso and Braque shared their ideas and the result of their combined
vision was called cubism. The foundation of the movement was Picasso’s early work
including Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, (shown above right), which gradually developed
into the style we now recognise as cubism.
Cubism was the first of the Abstract Art movements of the 20th century. It was praised
by the avant garde and seen as the future of art. It quickly took hold amongst the
arty elite in Europe.The public however gave this radical new movement a luke warm
reception at first. An art critic at the time said one canvas looked like a sheet
of broken glass.
Some say the name was suggested by Picasso’s friend and rival Henri Matisse others
credit the French art critic Louis Vauxcelles with coining the term.
Below, La Guitare, by Georges Braque 1913
In cubism, traditional ideas of painting such as proportions and perspective were
abandoned in favour of a minds eye or total view of an object.
Cubists argued that the mind sees an object from many different viewpoints simultaneously
and can hold all these in the memory to create what we know as the object. When
seen from above or below or from behind or to the side, the mind can put all these
viewpoints together simultaneously to recognise an object.
Perspective had been used in painting since the 15th century to reproduce a three
dimensional image on a two dimensional canvas. This wasn’t enough for the cubists
who wanted to capture the notion of several viewpoints at once to create a multi
dimensional image on a two dimensional canvas.They wanted a total view, a multi dimensional
Organic shapes were distilled into geometric angular patterns of colour. Cubism was
not haphazard but very analytical and each shape was created with purpose and design.
Subjects were carefully deconstructed and then reconstructed as if seen from several
viewpoints simultaneously. This shattered the ideals of conventional art at the time
which Picasso, Braque and their contemporaries considered too stuck in the past.
There were two stages of cubism, first came Synthetic Cubism between 1907-1911 followed
by Analytic Cubism 1912-1921. Although artists continued working in the cubist style,
around this time the vitality of the movement petered out. The Surrealist movement
came along and gradually replaced it.
Shown below, Bottles and Knife” Juan Gris”
Juan Gris was considered the third leading light of the cubist movement and pushed
the form even further. His untimely death at the age of 39 robbed the world of a
What is cubism was hard to define sometimes. Many of the artists who considered themselves
as cubist went off in a different direction to Picasso and Braque.
One such was Marcel Duchamp. Like many artists, his work encompassed more than one
art “ism” and he was a leading exponent of dadaism as well as cubism. His paintings
were more mechanical in style, often using ‘time lapsed’ images of a single body
in motion. In 1912, he painted his definitive version of “Nude Descending a Staircase”.
In Cubist literature Gertrude Stein employed some of the cubist ideas. Building narrative
using repetitive words and phrases to create passages and sometimes whole chapters.
Cubist sculpture developed at the same time as the paintings and often by the same
artists. Picasso himself was a sculptor of some renown. Cubism became established
in France and was the dominant art movement for many years.
Just to prove what goes around comes around, the Surrealist Joan Miro who came along
later, abhorred cubism because by then it was establishment bourgeois art. He famously
declared he would “smash their guitars” in reference to Picasso’s paintings. Guitars
and Mandolins were a favourite subject of the cubists.
We hope we have answered the question of what is cubism? Cubism paintings are amongst
the best selling prints, posters and canvases gracing living rooms, bedrooms and
offices the world over. We hope you’ve enjoyed our facts about Cubism and we’ve inspired
you to own some Cubism art for yourself.
Shown top left Picasso’s “Still life with mandolin”
top right Picasso’s Les Demoiselles D’Avignon 1907
Influential art movement started 1907 to around 1921 in Paris
Cubism was founded by Pablo Picasso and
A favourite subject was the guitar
Influenced by Paul Cezane, who abandoned perpective in his paintings claiming it
was too restrictive
Started in Paris, quickly spread throughout Europe and into other art forms including
sculpture and even literature
What is cubism? Cubism is multi dimensional. Cubists tried to see a subject through
the Mind’s Eye, not just retina. The subject was not just seen from one angle I.e.
from the front, but given a 360 degree view.
First of the 20th century Abstract Art movements
Cubism was followed by Surrealism
“Nude descending Staircase” painting by Marcel Duchamp