Student Name: Sinéad Nestor
Student ID No: 09000898
Certificate in the History of Art and Design, University of Limerick. Academic Year: 2010/2011.
“Describe in detail the main characteristics of Cubism through the works of two artists.” Word Count: 2,897 words
This essay seeks to describe the Cubist movement’s main characteristics in detail, using the work of two artists to illustrate. The chosen artists are Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973), and Georges Braque (1882 – 1963), a Spanish and French artist respectively.1 Golding explains that the seminal Cubist painters felt that traditional painting techniques were exhausted entirely at the end of the nineteenth century, and that a new visual vocabulary was required to treat formal painting elements – ‘form, space, colour, and technique’ with fresh eyes.2 The Cubist movement is contemporarily regarded as twentieth-century classicism, and is so influential that it changed how art is viewed, perceived and created ever since.3 This essay hopes to provide a detailed description of Cubism. It will focus on the Cubist paintings of both artists, mapping the movement from 1907 – 1914. During this time, Cubism morphed from its seminal beginnings to its actualisation as a highly developed, classical art movement. Late nineteenth and early twentieth-century art movements such as Fauvism and Expressionism used colour to express their ideas.4 These works, with all of their brilliance and catharsis, used visceral, expressionistic palettes. Colour was a primary concern, to the subordination of other elements, such as form.5 Cubism was practically the antithesis of these concerns, as it prized form above all other artistic elements.
Rosenblum, Robert, Cubism and Twentieth-Century Art (New York, 1976), p.14. Golding, John, Cubism – A History and an Analysis, 1907 – 1914 (London, 1968), p.17. Ruhrberg, Karl, Art of the 20th Century, Volume 1 – Painting (Cologne, 2005), p.67. Ibid.
Cerebral reasoning and intellect created the work.6 However, according to Ruhrberg, all of the above movements shared a common element. This was the quest to portray three-dimensional images onto a two-dimensional matrix such as the picture plane or surface – and to achieve this without resorting to illusionist perspective techniques.7 Twentieth-century society was seeking out truth, as people and culture began to question the so-called ‘absolute truths’ of stalwart traditional ideas such as Positivism.8 Oxford Dictionary of English defines Positivism as “a philosophical system recognizing only that which can be scientifically verified, or which is capable of mathematical proof, therefore rejecting metaphysics”.9 Even scientists began to express doubt in the absoluteness of scientific proof.10 Groups of artists in Paris met on a regular basis to discuss and debate the nature of the human mind, perception, and what constitutes reality.11 A term was being employed by groups to describe a metaphysical plane of reality which they called ‘The Fourth Dimension’.12 They argued that true reality
8 Cox, Neil, Cubism (London, 2000), p.173.
9 Stevenson, Angus, Oxford Dictionary of English (Oxford, 2010), p.1386. 10 Cox, Cubism, p.173.
12 Ibid, p.174.
transcended the physical laws of nature, and by piercing the veil of reality through intellectual means, one could see through to a metaphysical essence.13
Illustration One: Pablo Picasso, ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ (1907, Oil on Canvas, 243.9cm x 233.7cm)
Picasso reflects these questions in his seminal work ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ (1907, Oil on Canvas, 243.9cm x 233.7cm, New York, Museum of Modern Art) .14 This painting, which caused shock at the time, challenged the nature of pictorial illusionistic perspective that had ruled the picture plane since Renaissance times.15 The piece
Anne, Cubism (Cologne, 2006),...
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