Cubismes or not cubisme

Published March 12 at 12:20

Cubismes or not cubisme

You learned in the article “Cube-y, or not cube-y?” about the evolution of cubism. In this article we will explain what the four phases of cubism were. 

The first phase from 1906 to 1908 can be characterised as "pre- or proto-cubist".

The two protagonists diverged from their reciprocal influences: the divisive neo-impressionism of Seurat (who introduced a desire for order and exactness into the instinctive sensitivity of the impressionists) and Fauvism for Braque, and Gauguin’s post-impressionism for Picasso. Painting needed more structure.

From 1907 to 1909-1910, Cubism was said to be “Cezannian”.

Wherever the artists were, Estaque or La Roche-Guyon for one, Rue-des-Bois in the Oise or Horta de Ebro in Spain for the other, they used Cézanne’s technique to create increasingly subtle transitions from one form to another and shapes using the background. They followed Cézanne in his determination to make the optical sensation seem real and achieve a lasting expression. His statements guided their work - "use cylinders, spheres, and cones to depict nature, all this put into perspective..." - and their paintings were well-structured without trivial detail.

The third phase, from 1910-1911 to 1912, called Analytic Cubism.

The forms, more angular, intermingle more, moving towards a rupture which is at the limit of being legible and which solidifies the entire pictorial space. A chiaroscuro gloominess invades the muted colours of the previous period. The technique negates the usual volume of the model in favour of a continuous modulation. The traditional concave monofocal perspective is replaced by convexity and multiple points of view. Signs appear which provide new ways of identifying objects and people and which create new associations.

Finally, the fourth period, from 1911-1912 to 1914, called Synthetic Cubism.

It was at the end of the previous period that modes of reference to reality other than painting made their appearance. Letters, writing or sound could replace, overlap with or take the place of sculptural rules. In summer 1912 the two friends were in Sorgues in the Vaucluse. They went to Marseille where they bought African “negro” works. Braque continued to produce paper sculptures and invented the “papier collé” (pasted paper) technique. Picasso followed him.

Cut-up paper became at once space, sign, form, colour and material. A painting of materials, like the imitation that is faux bois, could cover parts of the texture of the canvas and objects. Picasso would declare much later: "We tried to get rid of trompe l'oeil [French for "fool the eye"] to find trompe l'esprit ["fool the mind"].

The painters often adopted the oval format, a sign of birth where vivid colours made their reappearance. Words, colours and materials appear to be synthetic ellipses, alien to painting, interpreting or maintaining reality and not falling into abstraction. The introduction of pasted paper brought relief into painting, and then moved it towards the construction of a new object, an "object-painting" as Kahnweiler concluded.

Braque and Picasso radically transformed painting, relating it to industrial transformation, changes in communication, new technologies (photography, cinema, phonographs, trains, etc.) and a new, faster space-time element that was more mobile than before. The Cubist destruction of the object is also a reappropriation where perception and the object merge into one.

The two artists did not start out from theories and it was not until much later that they consented to assign a meaning to the word "cubist". Picasso would say: "When we did cubism, we had no idea that we were doing cubism, we were expressing what was inside us."

Braque stated clearly that the main direction of Cubism was, in his opinion, "the materialisation of this new space which I sensed." He rendered the tangibility of the object as space, declaring: "I do not paint things, I paint the relationships between things." This may be nearer to the statement by Picasso in which he showed that the definition of things by language had been replaced by analogies, transformations that can exist by themselves: "Whether I paint a guitar or a woman, it is the same thing."

Between 1910 and 1912, many artists were influenced by Picasso and Braque. Some took their work towards more original directions and others formulated Cubist theories that deviated from the original spirit.

See also Methods of the Great Masters.