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By introducing a design concept independent of nature, cubism began a new tradition and way of seeing that challenged the four hundred- year Renaissance tradition of pictorial art. The genesis of this movement was a series of works by the Spanish painter, Pablo Picasso.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
The son of a professor at the academy in Barcelona, Picasso grew up in a city which in the 1890s was a center for Art Nouveau. Picasso and close friend Georges Braque (1882-1963), created a new kind of pictorial space to which the misleading term Cubism was applied before its character and implications were fully understood.

Cubist space differs from Expressionist space in the sense that it cannot be analyzed or described in terms of either two-dimensional pattern or three dimensional perspective.

The first hint of this new kind of space occured in Cézanne’s (1839-1906) late paintings. You see how the figure begin to become an extension of the background so that if the figure were to be removed the objects that define the space/background would collapse.

This new concept of pictorial space is easier to describe than it was to discover. Neither Piccasso nor Braque delibertly started out to be a Cubist. What had become a new kind of painting was the result of their experimentation with various kinds of form description. Figures are abstracted into geometric planes and classical norms of the human figure are broken. the spatial illusions of perspective give way to an ambiguous shifting of two-dimensional planes.

Cubism has a strong relationship with the process of human vision. Our eyes shift and scan a subject; our minds combine these elements into a whole.

Cubism had two periods;
Analytic cubism (1910-1912), in which planes of the subject were analyzed often from several points of view – the subject becoming the colors, textures, and values used in spatial relationships.

Picasso Work WorkWorkWork Braque

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This evolved into Synthetic cubism in 1913, here the artist drew from the past and invented forms that were signs rather than representations of their subject.

Picasso Work WorkWorkWork Braque


There were two other major painters in the cubist era.

Juan Gris (1887-1927)
He played an important role inthe development of synthetic cubism. He combined composition from nature with an independent structural design of the picture space. First Gris would plan an architectural structure using the golden section proportions and a modular composition grid, then he would lay the subject matter onto this grid. Gris had a profound influence on the development of geometricart and design.

"Gris had a profound influence on the development of geometric art and design."

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Fernand Léger (1881-1955)
About 1910, Léger took Cézanne’s philosophy about the cylinder, sphere, and cone much more seriously than any of the other cubists. Léger was also influenced by his military service for France, heightening of his visual perception during the war turned him toward a style that was more accessible and popular than his previous cylindrical work.

Born in the Normandy area of France, Léger started his artist career as an apprentice to an architect. During his lifetime he was considered; a painter, draftsman, illustrator, printmaker, stage designer, film-maker and ceramist. In 1900 Léger moved to Paris and continued working for an architect until 1902.

Around 1909 Léger became associated with the Cubists. Léger had seen the work of Picasso and Braque and became influenced by them along with the artist Cézanne. Léger actually took words that Cézanne wrote in 1904 quite literally: “Treat nature by means of the cylinder, the sphere, and the cone, everything brought into proper perspective, so that each side of an objective or plane is directed towards a central point.”

Unfortunately, Léger destroyed most of his work from 1905 - 1910, so its hard to say exactly where he came from in his work. One of the earliest works we have of Léger’s is his Woman Sewing from 1909-1910. In this piece you see the blocky, regularized forms that are parallel Picasso’s work.

Léger’s time spent in military service (WWI) heightened his visual perception – his work became more accessible (he painted common people/places). In 1917 Léger was released from military service because he was gassed. By 1919, Léger's style changed from what is called Analytic Cubism to Synthetic Cubism. What this means is that in the previuos work figures are represented pictorially with solid, rounded shapes, and now the painting surface became more opaque, forms have been flattened, and you begin to see fragments of objects rather than smaller complete objects. Léger's perception of the urban ervironment became compositions of brightly colored planes.

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