Cubism: Technical and Stylistic Aspects
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Europeans discovered African, Polynesian, Micronesian and Native American art. Artists such as Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso were intrigued and inspired by the incredible power and simplicity of the styles of these foreign cultures. Around 1906, Picasso met Matisse thanks to Gertrude Stein, at a time when both artists were only interested in primitivism and Iberian sculpture, African art and masks of African tribes. They became friendly rivals and competed with each other throughout their lives, which, perhaps by 1907, brought Picasso to a new period in his work, which was marked by the influence of Greek, Iberian and African art. Picasso’s paintings of 1907 are defined as protocubism, the forerunner of cubism, which is especially evident in the painting Avignon Maidens.
Jean Metzinger La Femme au Cheval (“Woman with a Horse”), 1911-1912, State Museum of Art, National Gallery of Denmark. It was exhibited in the Salon of Independents in 1912 and published in Apollinaire’s book Cubists. Aesthetic Reflections ”in 1913. Provenance: Jacques Nayral, Niels Bohr
Art critic Douglas Cooper argues that Paul Gauguin and Paul Cezanne “had a great influence on the formation of cubism, and especially on Picasso’s paintings from 1906-1907.” Cooper says that: “Avignon Maidens,” as a rule, is called the first cubist image. This is an exaggeration, because, although it was the first major step towards cubism, it is not yet cubism. The subversive, expressionist element in it even contradicts the spirit of cubism, which looks at the world in a separate, realistic spirit. Nevertheless, the Avignon Maidens is a logical picture, adopted as the starting point of Cubism, because it marks the birth of a new painting style, because in it Picasso violently destroyed established customs, and because everything subsequent grew out of it. ”
The most serious objection to the “Avignon Maidens” as a source of cubism, with an obvious influence on the picture of primitive art, is that “such conclusions are historically unreliable,” wrote art critic Daniel Robbins. This familiar explanation “does not give due attention to the versatility of the flourishing art that existed before and during the period when Picasso’s new painting was painted. In 1905-1908, a conscious search for a new style caused rapid changes in the art of all of France, Germany, Holland, Italy and Russia. The impressionists used a double point of view, and the nabids and symbolists (who also admired Cezanne) aligned the picture plane, reducing objects to simple geometric shapes. The neo-impressionistic structures and themes most noticeable in the works of Georges Seurat (for example, Parade, Cancan and Circus) were another important influence. There are also parallels in the development of literature and social thought.
In addition to Seurat, the roots of Cubism can be found in two different trends of Cézanne’s late work: the first is the division of the painted surface into small multifaceted areas, thereby emphasizing the multiple point of view of binocular vision, and the second is the interest in simplifying the natural forms to cylinders, spheres and cones . However, cubists explored this concept more deeply than Cezanne. They represented all the surfaces of the depicted objects in one picture plane, as if at the same time all sides of the objects became visible. This new kind of image has fundamentally changed the way objects are visualized in painting and art.
The historical study of cubism began in the late 1920s, relying on the first of the sources with limited data, namely the opinions of Guillaume Apollinaire. It also depended heavily on Daniel Wein zum Kubismus’s book (The Way to Cubism) (published in 1920), which focused on the development of Picasso, Braque, Léger, and Gris. The terms “analytical” and “synthetic”, which appeared later, have been widely recognized since the mid-1930s. Both terms are historically imposed, and arose after the facts that they define. None of the two steps were established as such at the time the corresponding work was created. Daniel Robbins wrote: “If Kanweiler considers Cubism as Picasso and Braque, our only fault is to subordinate the work of other Cubists to the severity of this limited definition.”
The traditional interpretation of “cubism”, formed after the fact as a way of understanding the works of Braque and Picasso, affected our assessment of other artists of the twentieth century. It is difficult for painters to appeal, such as Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleize, Robert Delaunay and Henri Le Focognier, whose fundamental differences from traditional cubism made Canweiler question their right to be called Cubists.