Cubism- noun: cubism; noun: analytical cubism; noun: synthetic cubism, an early 20th-century style and movement in art, especially painting, in which perspective with a single viewpoint was abandoned and use was made of simple geometric shapes, interlocking planes, and, later, collage.
Cubism was a very important art movement and marks the beginning of Modern Art; it is a very influential movement in art history. In this essay I will explore the influences, which caused Cubism to begin, and how it began. I will aim to show how World War I affected the movement and the Cubist artist. This essay will show facts about Cubism and reflect on the lives of the Cubist artists during World War I and their work after the war had ended.
Cubism began in 1906; two artists; Pablo Picasso and George Braque started it. This movement was inspired by the artwork from Paul Cezanne and influenced by non-European art, specifically African art. Cubism is often referred to as the mark of Modern Art as it abandoned the ‘rules’ of pre-Raphaelite art, which was used more or less up to this point. Cubism has inspired many art movements after its time, a few of which are Dada and Surrealism. There were two stages of Cubism, ‘Early Cubism’, from 1906-1908 and ‘High Cubism’, from 1909-1914. ‘Early Cubism’ also known as Analytical Cubism, was developed in Picasso’s and Braque’s studios and ‘High Cubism’ also known as Synthetic Cubism, was the phase of Cubism where Juan Gris played an important role. It was around the 1910’s when Cubism began to spread through Europe. The main key artists of this movement are; Pablo Picasso, George Braque, Juan Gris and Fernand Leger. They all played key roles in developing Cubism in to what we know it to be today.
World War I began in 1914, this affected Cubism as it separated the artists and caused their work to slow down or stop throughout this tragic event. It has proved to be a tough time for some of Cubism’s key artists. The first cause of World War I was the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the archduke of Austria-Hungary. Gavrilo Princip, who was a Serbian nationalist and had links to a secret military group called Black Hand, assassinated Franz Ferdinand. It was because of this group and Gavrilo Princip that major European military powers towards war. The key Cubist artists who went to when to war and fought were George Braque and Fernand Leger. The war still affected Pablo Picasso and Juan Gris but not in the same way as if they’d got to fight. However, World War I ended at 11am on the 11th November 1918. Germany signed an armistice that had been prepared by Britain and France. After the war, the artists went back to producing artwork, however it was not the same as before the war.
Cubism was influenced by the work of Paul Cezanne. Braque and Picasso were inspired the Cezzanes use of multiple brush lines and his use of small flat shapes. They were also influenced by how Cezanne gave impressions of three-dimensional objects; he did this by showing the objects from multiple angles. This showed that the object was a three-dimensional object even though the painting does not make the object look three-dimensional in the conventional way. By doing this Cezanne cast aside the use of traditional perspective drawing as he felt this denied the fact that the painting itself is a flat, two-dimensional object. Cezanne liked to flatten the space in his paintings to place more emphasis on the surface; by doing this Cezanne stressed the difference between a painting and reality. Paintings that Cezanne created were more abstract because of the construction and arrangement of colour on a two-dimensional surface. This abstract approach to painting is what Picasso and Braque were influenced by and appealed too. They took this to an extreme in some of their work, examples of this are; Picasso’s ‘Factor at Horta de Ebbo’ and Braque’s ‘Viaduct at L’Estaque’.
Cubism was also influenced by non-European art, primarily African Art. In 1907 Picasso visited the Trocedro, which is a museum, which displayed art and objects from different countries. It was here Picasso saw the African art, which inspired the Cubism movement. Picasso was very interested in the African masks and sculptures, as they did not show accurate representations of the human face. Picasso felt that the pieces were vivid and powerful. He said:
“A head is a matter of eyes, nose, mouth, which can be distributed in any way you like.”
The artwork, which Picasso saw inspired a painting he created, ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’, this, is seen to be the bridge between Picasso’s African period to the Cubism period. However, Picasso being able to be inspired by art from other countries would have only occurred due to advances in technology such as travel, (cars and aeroplanes) and in the artistic media (cinema and photography). This increased the ability for artists to be inspired by work from different countries and it was becoming more readily available. This would have help with Picasso’s influences from different countries. Although, the African art, which Picasso was inspired by, was most likely to have come from European attacks on African civilizations where they striped everything of value from colonialized places. Then once the art arrived in Europe avant-grande artists, dealers and critics collected it. Then they were places in museums in major European cities but were not seen as the beautiful pieces of art they are. They were treated as valueless and worthless pieces of art. However, these pieces of art were most likely to have been sculpture of family members to the people they were taken from. These would have been the pieces of interesting and unique artwork, which Picasso would have been inspired by.
Pablo Picasso and George Braque were the two artists, which began the Cubism movement. Together they devolved the basis of Cubism, which was to finding a new geometric form and a new spatial relationship. Picasso and Braque decided on the basis of Cubism though their influence of Paul Cezannes work. However, as Braque was heavily influenced by Picasso’s work he dramatically changed his style and within three years they had created Analytical Cubism. This was a completely new concept of depiction in the visual world. Because of this George Braque was the only artist to collaborated with Picasso as his equal. Braque described their relationship as they were, ‘like climbers roped together, each pulling the other up’. Together they pushed Cubism to new levels, encouraging each other in the process. As they worked together some of their art pieces critics found difficult to tell them apart, as they were so similar because they both adopted the same style.
When World War I broke out, Picasso was able to stay in Paris and continue with his work, as he was a Spanish citizen. However, most of his close friends went off to fight. This was a difficult time for Picasso and it is reflected in his work. However, as Picasso’s friends where fighting in the war, he made some new friends. He met Jean Cocteau who was a young poet. Together they got involved in a new project designing the set for the ballet, Parade. Whilst creating the set Picasso became part of a new group of friends, these were Serge Diaghilev’s famous Ballet Russes. For the Parade set, Picasso designed a Cubist décor, and some of the performers wore cubist body masks.
Picasso continued to design ballet sets for the Ballets Russes until 1924, however he still found time to paint. Although his last major work in Synthetic Cubism was ‘Three Musicians”, which he painted two of. Even though Picasso still explored Cubism in the 1920’s he announced his move into neo-classicism with the painting ‘Three Women at the Spring’. The impact of war on Picasso and his loss of friends such as George Braque caused Picasso to have a change of direction. I believe that if war had not have occurred Picasso would have stretched the boundaries of Cubism even more. Although, as his circumstances changed, he met new people he did not have the support and ideas to bounce off of as before.
At the outbreak of World War I, in 1914, George Braque joined the army as an infantry sergeant. Whilst in the war he served with great distinction and received three medals for this. However, in 1915 he was injured and suffered from a serious head wound. Because of this Braque spent several months in hospital, and a long period of convalescence at home at Sorgues. In this period, Braque added to some of the sayings, which he used to scribble in the margins of his drawings. In 1917, Braque published a collection of these sayings which he called: ‘Thoughts and Reflections of Painting”. Once Braque was released from military service, he rejoined the Cubist movement whilst it was still in its synthetic stage. But as Picasso had made a new selection of friends Braque started to paint again under the influence of Juan Gris. As of this Braque started to create work that used geometric shapes and the strong use of colour, one example of this is ‘Women Musician’. However Braque began to move away from the use of geometric shapes into softer forms created by loser drawing and freer brushwork, and example of this is ‘Still Life with Glass, Dice, Newspaper and Playing Cards’. From this point Braque’s style ceased to evolve in the methodical way, which it had during the phases of Cubism.
Juan Gris, who was often referred to as the Third Musketeer of Cubism, did not fight during World War I. However, he spent time with Henri Matisse at Collioure in 1914 and he returned to Paris in 1915. Whilst in Paris Gris suffered from poverty during World War I. Although, he still continued to work within Cubism and pushed its boundaries until his death at the ages of 39 on May 11th 1927 in Paris. However, in 1916 Gris’ paintings started to become more stately and architectonic. The forms in his paintings became larger and flatter but the use of multiple viewpoints was pushed aside and to an extent forgotten. This can be seen in ‘Violin’. Gris was said to have referred to these paintings as: “Flat, coloured architecture”.
Between 1917-1920, Gris started to introduce new complexity into his work and in 1917 created his only sculpture, a painted plaster, ‘Harlequin’. In his more complex work, Gris started to show the links between objects and their shadows, by doing this he reintroduced complicated intersections between multiple planes and extravagant colours and textures. An example of this is, ‘Fruit Bowl on Checkered Cloth’. In 1920 Gris took part in the Salon des Independents at the last exhibition of the united Cubist group.
Fernand Legers Cubist work was influenced by his experiences in World War I. Leger joined the army in 1914, during his time at war he spent two years at the front line in Argonne. Whilst there he created sketches of artillery pieces, airplanes, and fellow soldiers also in the trenches. This is also where Leger got the inspiration to paint, ‘Solider with a Pipe’, whilst he was on furlough from the army. During his time in the trenches in Verdun, Leger was faced with a Mustard Gas attack, where he nearly died. However because of this attack he had time in convalescence, during this time he painted, ‘The Card Players’, in this painting the soldiers are shown to look like robot-like monsters. Leger was influenced by the use of industrial work and attempted to show this in his work by depicting people and objects in machine like forms. One of his most recognized paintings is, ‘The City’. The pieces of art, which Leger created inspired and influences Neoplasticism in the Netherlands and Constructivism in the Soviet Union.
In Legers later paintings, he is seen to have separated colour from his figures. They still resembled their robot-like shapes. However, they were painted in black lines with bold colours laid over areas on the canvas to from separate compositions which all tied together. An example of this is, ‘The Great Parade’, which is also one of his last paintings.
It was in 1909 that Fernand Leger started to include Cubism in his work after having taken ideas from Paul Cezannes work. However, he preferred to use bold tubular shapes apposed to the fragmented elements of Analytical Cubism. Harsh critics would later name Legers style as Tubism. Because World War I affected Legers work and he met a wide range of soldiers from all manner of places he decided he wanted his work to be available and accessible to everyone. He also came to the conclusion during his time at war that machines would become a big part of the post war world ahead of him. This provoked him to take his inspiration from the artillery machines in the war and resemble machines in him work. At the end of World War I, Leger began his ‘Mechanical Period’ of painting. In this period Leger painted tubular and machine-like forms. However, he still used geometric tendencies within his work. An example of his work during his ‘mechanical period’ is, ‘Two Women Holding a Pot of Flowers’. Leger was very enthusiastic about this style of painting and that was shared with some of his artist friends. These friends were the joint-founders of Purism, which was a rational, mathematically based style of art, which wanted to update the pre-war look of Cubism.
To conclude, Cubism was a very influential art movement and was seen as the first movement in Modern Art. It had strong influences and artist who pushed each other to create new work and test the boundaries of the movement. If World War I had not broken out around the time of Cubism, I believe it would have developed further and become a bigger movement than it was. The artists unfortunately dispersed due to the war and were not able to support each other in the same way. I feel this impacted the movement and caused its end. Therefore World War I had a big impact on Cubism and the artists involved. In some ways the war influenced great pieces of work to be created and helped develop new ideas and styles within cubism, such as Fernand Legers style, Tubism. However, I believe World War I will have also prevented new pieces from the artist too, especially from Picasso and Braque who were parted due to the outbreak of war. So in conclusion, Cubism links to World War I due to its part in ending the movement and causing the artists to separate. However, Cubism has still played a very important part in the history of art and still to this day inspires people in the art world to cast aside the ‘normal’ and influences people to experiment.
Thank you for reading my essay on Cubism and World War I, I wrote this for one of my modules on my college course and really enjoyed diving back into my love for writing so it is quite long! If you had the time, patience and/or interest to read this essay thank you, I hope you enjoyed it and possibly learnt something new.
Ta-ra for now old chaps!