Cubism: Technical and Stylistic Aspects
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Cubist sculpture

Just like in painting, cubist sculpture is rooted in the reduction by Paul Cezanne of drawn objects to compound planes and geometric bodies (cubes, spheres, cylinders and cones). And just like in painting, it became an all-pervasive influence and significantly contributed to constructivism and futurism.

Cubist sculpture developed in parallel with cubism in painting. In the fall of 1909, Picasso created “The Head of a Woman (Fernando)” with positive features using negative and positive space. According to Douglas Cooper: “The first real cubist sculpture was the impressive“ Woman’s Head ”by Picasso, modeled in 1909-1910, the equivalent in three dimensions for many of these analytical and faceted heads in his paintings of that time.” These positive / negative changes were ambitiously used by Alexander Arkhipenko in 1912-1913, for example, in The Walking Woman. After Arkhipenko, Jozsef Chaki was the first sculptor in Paris to join the Cubists, with whom he exhibited his works since 1911. They were followed by Raymond Duchamp-Villon, and then in 1914, Jacques Lipschitz, Henri Laurent and Osip Zadkin.

Indeed, Cubist construction was as influential as any Cubist-style artistic innovation. It became an impetus against the background of the proto-constructivist works of Naum Gabo and Vladimir Tatlin and, thus, the starting point for the entire constructive direction in modernist sculpture of the 20th century.

“Pure” Cubism
1914-1918

A significant change in cubism in 1914-1916 indicated a special attention to large overlapping geometric planes and the activity of a flat surface. A similar grouping of styles of painting and sculpture, especially significant in 1917-1920, was practiced by several artists; especially those who were contracted with art dealer and collector Leon Rosenberg. The compression of the compositions, the purity and sense of order reflected in these works, led to the fact that the critic Maurice Reinal called him “pure” cubism. The questions that Cubists worried about before the start of World War I, such as the fourth dimension, the dynamism of modern life, the occult, and the concept of Henri Bergson’s duration, have now been eliminated, giving way to a pure formal system of views.

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Jean Metzinger, 1914-1915, Soldat jouant aux échecs (“A soldier plays chess”), oil on canvas, 81.3 x 61 cm, Smart Art Museum, University of Chicago

“Pure” cubism and its associative rappel à l’ordre (call for order) were associated with motivation – those who served in the armed forces and those who remained in the civilian sector – to avoid the reality of World War I, during and directly after the conflict. In French society and culture, the “purification” of Cubism from 1914 to the mid-1920s, with its close-knit unity and voluntary restrictions, combined with a much broader ideological transformation towards conservatism.

Cubism after 1918
Until 1914 was the most innovative period of cubism. After the First World War, thanks to the support provided by the dealer Leons Rosenberg, Cubism again took first place among artists and remained there until the mid-1920s, until its avant-garde status began to raise doubts due to the appearance of geometric abstraction and surrealism in Paris . Many Cubists, including Picasso, Braque, Gris, Leger, Glez and Metzenge developed other styles, periodically returning to Cubism, even after 1925. Cubism reappeared in the 1920s and 1930s in the work of the American Stuart Davis and the Englishman Ben Nicholson. However, in France, cubism was in decline, beginning around 1925. Leons Rosenberg exhibited not only artists left by Canweiler in exile, but others: Lawrence, Lipschitz, Metzinger, Gleza, Chucky, Erben and Severini. In 1918, Rosenberg presented a series of Cubist exhibitions at his gallery L’Effort Moderne (Modern Endeavor) in Paris. Louis Vosel made an attempt to claim that cubism was dead, but these exhibitions, along with the well-organized cubist exhibition of the Salon of Independents in 1920 and the revival of the Salon of the Golden Section in the same year, showed that he was still alive.

The revival of cubism coincided with the appearance in about 1917-1924 of theoretical written works by Pierre Reverdy, Maurice Reynal and Daniel-Henri Canweiler, among artists Gris, Leger and Glez. A periodic return to classicism – figurative creativity, either exclusively or along with cubism – which many artists faced during this period (the so-called neoclassicism) was associated with a tendency to deviate from the realities of war, as well as the cultural prevalence of the image of classical or Latin France during and right after the war. Cubism, after 1918 in French society and culture can be seen as part of a broad ideological shift towards conservatism.

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