Describe and Compare the Two Forms of Cubism

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According to the Tate Gallery’s exposition (1979) Cubism has remained the most important and influential movement of the 20th century, notwithstanding the movement’s short duration. According to Read (1994) the major period for Cubism was from 1907 to 1914, with Picasso and Braque as the main originators of the movement. The rationale for the Tate’s statement is given as “the artists associated with [Cubism] took some of the most decisive steps towards abstraction”, and this extreme development “has become the archetype of later revolutionary movements” (p. 84). The movement, according to Read, was the first abstract style of the 20th century, and named by the art critic Louis Vauxcelles, who took up a remark by Matisse about “Braque’s little cubes” (p. 100). One source ( cites Vauxcelles as saying: “M. Braque scorns form and reduces everything, sites, figures and houses, to geometric schemas and cubes.”

One of the most innovative developments is that the creators of Cubism sought to replace a single viewpoint and light source, normal within the western art world since the Renaissance, with a much more complete representation of any object, combining many ‘aspects’. Initially colours were temporarily abandoned and shapes were simplified and flattened. Space was furthermore rendered by means of oblique lines and overlapping forms (The Tate Gallery, 1979). According to Belton (2002, p. 109) Picasso and Braque both struggled with the problem of representing three dimensional objects and figures in the two dimensional medium of painting; “their solution was to create an abstract form that could display two or more sides of an object simultaneously”.

Whilst Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon is generally viewed as the first Cubist painting, Read (1994) argues that the painting might be more usefully viewed as ‘pre-Cubist’, or ‘proto-Cubist’, as it was so heavily influenced by Iberian or African art. Cézanne’s later work is often viewed as the catalyst for the development of Cubism, and Read cites Cézanne’s advice to Bernard “to deal with nature by means of the cylinder, the sphere and the cone” (p. 100). Cézanne, by trusting his eyes and attempting to express natural, binocular vision, allowed for the ‘truth’ of the shifted viewpoint (Moszynska, 1990). Cubism gives the artist a way of depicting the world in a way that goes beyond what can be seen, and attempts to deal with the energies of objects.

According to Read (1994) Cubism could be categorized into various divisions, including ‘analytic’, ‘hermetic’ and ‘synthetic’. This essay will mainly concentrate in the analytic and synthetic forms of Cubism. The term ‘hermetic’ refers to the largely or wholly indecipherable way of representing an object in the flatter type of abstraction, as typical of both Braque’s and Picasso’s later way of working. In this phase the allover pattern became more important. Other sources (including refer to ‘analytic’ cubism as ‘facet’ cubism.

Analytical and Synthetic Cubism acquired their names through the comments by art historian Einstein, and in effect are retrospective labels. Einstein wrote that the “simplistic distortions” employed by Picasso, as typified by his portrait of Gertrude Stein, led to “a period of analysis and fragmentation and finally to a period of synthesis” (as cited in Foster, Krauss, Bois and Buchloh, 2004, p. 106).

The analytical phase of Cubism, as developed by Braque and Picasso, was characterised by a number of different features, starting with the contraction of the painters’ palettes, away from the full colour spectrum to rather monochrome selections, which Foster et al. term ‘abstemious’. The second characteristic is the extreme flattening of the visual space, “as though a roller had pressed all the volume out of the bodies” (ibid., p. 106). The third characteristic identified by Foster et al. is the visual vocabulary used to describe “the physical remains of this explosive...
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