An Analysis of the Cubist Movement in Art History

The Cubist movement inspired by the Post-impressionist painter Paul Cezzane (1839-1906) was officially introduced by the works of the French Fauvist painter Georges Braque (1882-1963) and Spaniard Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) in the years of 1907-09. The movement rejected the painterly conventions that existed in Renaissance art. The unique analysis of art that the Cubists explored changed the attitudes of reality in art and brought about revolutionary discoveries in visual representation.

These discoveries were represented in the analysis of space, form, perspective and the invention of multiplicity.

New spatial relationships of objects on the picture plane were discovered by the cubists and were given an ambiguous quality through the use of forms that overlap and penetrate one another resulting in a kind of unity or interlocking of foreground and background. Pictorially this can seem confusing to the eye but acts to dismantle the traditional representations of three-dimensional form. In a pre-curser to Cubism Cezzane depicts these spatial discoveries in the painting of Monte Sainte Victore 1902-04.

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The mountain seems to merge with the sky as parts of the contour of the mountain are left unfinished giving a sense of pictorial illusion as to where the boundaries of the objects lie. This undermining of the illusion of space has been dubbed by art historians as the passage.

The passage device also created an abandoning of the traditional conventions of perspective and a centralized view point. A revolutionary discovery that was able to represent objects from multiple view points resulting in the invention of a new visual language.

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One that would not imitate nature as traditional art had done. In Picassos Toreador Playing a Guitar 1911 multiple view points are explored with the extensive use of line and overlaying to the point where it frees the object of external references or any vestiges of representation. Little distinction is made between objects and space which serves the cubist aim to represent three dimensions without compromising the flat surface.

The influence of African art on Cubism was a revolutionary discovery as it played an important role in the manner of representation. The artists believed that “true reality lay in the essential idea and not in its reflection of the material world” (Wadley, p.14), an idea that was inherent in African art. The ‘essential idea’ manifested itself in the simplification, distortion and emphasis of forms and objects. Picasso in particular adopted this discovery in his paintings and sculpture by limiting the use of his colour palate to earth toned and natural colours, typical of African art. This technique was used to enhance the forms of objects and not to distract the viewer from the essential forms.

The appearance of faces in Picassos work took on a simplified mask-like quality reflecting his interest in African art which can be seen in one of Picasso’s most famous paintings Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon 1907. In The Book of Modern Art, Nicholas Wadley states that this formal freedom of African tribal art made possible a break from existing concepts. The second major development of the Cubist period, Synthetic Cubism, introduced the discovery of multiplicity and collage in 1912.

This involved combining a variety of styles, surfaces and visual languages into one painting. A revolutionary discovery as ‘nobody had ever before put anything but paint on a painting’ (Dempsey, p.81) which reinforced an idea to merge outside elements of life with art and to be considered as art. Picasso and Braque began to include bits of newspaper, wallpaper or advertising in their paintings opening the door for any object or material to be included within a work of art.

In Picasso’s Still Life With Chair Caning 1912 the inclusion of a piece of oil cloth printed to look like chair caning was a radical move towards new techniques. The scale of the 20th centaury changes deeply affected and excited the cubists not in the heroic way of the Futurists but in a more introspective and intuitive manor preferring a scientific but rational analysis of art. Picasso later wrote that ‘Cubism has kept itself within the limits and limitations of painting, never pretending to go beyond it’ (Wadley, p.11). Perhaps the greatest revolutionary discovery of the Cubist movement was that it brought art closer to life and to the facts and inconsistencies of everyday experience than art had ever done before. It revolutionized attitudes towards reality in art through the discoveries of new pictorial languages that have had a lasting importance and influence.

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An Analysis of the Cubist Movement in Art History. (2022, Nov 06). Retrieved from

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