Cubism art was a modern movement that is known today as the most influential period in 20th-century art. It has also inspired subsequent styles in architecture and literature. It is known for its deconstructed, geometric representations and breakdowns of spatial relativity. Developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque among others, Cubism drew on post-impressionist art, and particularly the works of Paul Cézanne, which challenged traditional notions of perspective and form. Below are 10 iconic cubist works and the artists who produced them.
Proto Cubism Art
Proto-Cubism is the introductory phase of Cubism that began in 1906. This period reflects the experimentation and influences that resulted in geometric shapes and a more muted color palette in sharp contrast to the preceding Fauvist and post-impressionist movements.
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) by Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso was a Spanish painter, printmaker, sculptor, and ceramicist who is known as one of the most prolific influences on 20th-century art. He, along with Georges Braque, founded the Cubism movement in the early 1900s. However, he also made significant contributions to other movements including Expressionism and Surrealism. His work was known for its angular shapes and challenging traditional perspectives.
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon depicts five nude women in a brothel in Barcelona. The piece is rendered in muted, paneled block colors. All the figures stand to confront the viewer, with slightly disconcerting facial expressions. Their bodies are angular and disjointed, standing as if they are posing for the viewer. Below them sits a pile of fruit posed for a still life. The piece is one of the most famous examples of Cubism’s divergence from traditional aesthetics.
Houses at L’Estaque (1908) by Georges Braque
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Georges Braque was a French painter, printmaker, draughtsman and sculptor who was a leading artist in both the Fauvism and Cubism movements. He was closely associated with Pablo Picasso during early Cubism and remained loyal to the movement throughout the rest of his career despite changing his style and color use. His most famous work is characterized by bold coloration and sharp, defined angles.
Houses at L’Estaque reflects the transition from post-impressionism into Proto-Cubism. The viewer can see the influence of Paul Cézanne in the uniform brushstrokes and thick paint application. However, Braque incorporated elements of cubist abstraction by removing the horizon line and playing with perspective. The houses are fragmented, with inconsistent shadows and a background that blends in with the objects.
Analytical Cubism in the early phase of Cubism, beginning in 1908 and ending around 1912. It is characterized by the deconstructed representations of objects with contradictory shadows and planes, which play with traditional notions of perspective. It also featured the restricted color palette of Proto-Cubism.
Violin and Candlestick (1910) by Georges Braque
Violin and Candlestick depicts an abstracted violin and candlestick still life. It is composed on a grid with deconstructed elements that form a single composition, allowing the viewer to draw their interpretation of the piece. It is rendered in muted tones of brown, grey and black, with juxtaposing shadows and a flattened perspective. It consists mainly of flat, horizontal brush strokes and sharp outlines.
I and the Village (1911) by Marc Chagall
Marc Chagall was a Russian-French painter and printmaker who used dream iconography and emotive expression in his work. His work predated the imagery of Surrealism and used poetic and personal associations rather than traditional artistic representations. He worked in several different mediums throughout his career and studied under a stained-glass maker which led to him to take up its craftsmanship.
I and the Village depicts an autobiographical scene from Chagall’s childhood in Russia. It portrays a surreal, dream-like setting with folk symbols and elements from the town of Vitebsk, where Chagall grew up. The piece is thus highly emotional and focuses on several associations with the artist’s significant memories. It has intersecting, geometric panels with blended colors, confusing the perspective and disorienting the viewer.
Tea Time (1911) by Jean Metzinger
Jean Metzinger was a French artist and writer who wrote the leading theoretical work on Cubism with fellow artist Albert Gleizes. He worked in the Fauvist and Divisionist styles in the early 1900s, utilizing some of their elements in his cubist works including bold colors and defined outlines. He was also influenced by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, who he met when he moved to Paris to pursue a career as an artist.
Tea Time represents Metzinger’s hybridization of classical art with modernism. It is a portrait of a woman having tea in a characteristic cubist composition. It resembles classical and Renaissance bust portraiture but has a modern, abstracted figure and elements of spatial distortion. The woman’s body and the teacup are both deconstructed, featuring plays on light, shadow and perspective. The color scheme is muted, with elements of red and green blended into it.
Synthetic Cubism is the later period of Cubism spanning between 1912 and 1914. While the precedent Analytical Cubism period was focused on fragmenting objects, Synthetic Cubism emphasized experimentation with textures, flattened perspective and brighter colors.
Portrait of Pablo Picasso (1912) by Juan Gris
Juan Gris was a Spanish painter and a leading member of the Cubism movement. He was part of the 20th-century avant-garde, working alongside Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Henri Matisse in Paris. He also designed ballet sets for the art critic and founder of the ‘Ballets Russes’ Sergei Diaghilev. His painting was known for its rich colors, sharp forms and reformation of spatial perspective.
Portrait of Pablo Picasso represents Gris’ homage to his artistic mentor, Pablo Picasso. The piece is reminiscent of Analytic Cubism works, with spatial deconstruction and paradoxical angles. However, it also features a more structured geometric composition, with clear color planes and pops of color. The background angles fade into those of Picasso’s face, flattening the piece and blending the subject with the background.
Guitar (1913) by Pablo Picasso
Guitar perfectly represents the shift between Analytical Cubism and Synthetic Cubism. The piece is a collage combined with drawn elements, made up of paper and newspaper clippings, adding varying degrees of depth and texture. It portrays disjointed and asymmetric parts of a guitar, recognizable only by the central shape and circle. Its mainly beige, black and white color scheme is contrasted by a bright blue background, emphasizing the bold colors of Synthetic Cubism.
The Sunblind (1914) by Juan Gris
The Sunblind portrays a closed blind partially covered by a wooden table. It is a charcoal and chalk composition with collage elements, adding in textures typical of a Synthetic Cubism piece. Gris uses perspective and size distortions between the table and the blind to add an element of confusion. The bright blue color both contracts against and frames the central table, adding textural variation and an asymmetrical balance.
Later Work with Cubism Art
While Cubism’s innovation peaked between 1908-1914, the movement had a monumental impact on modern art. It appeared throughout the 20th-century in European art and had a considerable impact on Japanese and Chinese art between 1910 and 1930.
Cubist Self-Portrait (1926) by Salvador Dalí
Salvador Dalí was a Spanish artist who was closely linked to Surrealism. His work is some of the most notable and recognizable of the movement, and he remains one of its most prominent contributors. His art is known for its precision and is characterized by dreamlike imagery, Catalonian landscapes and bizarre imagery. However, despite his primary interest with Surrealism, Dalí also experimented with the Dadaism and Cubism movements during the first half of the 20th century.
Cubist Self-Portrait exemplifies the work done in Dalí’s cubist phase between 1922-23 and 1928. He was influenced by the works of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque and experimented with other outside influences during the time that he made cubist works. His self-portrait exemplifies these combined influences. It has an African style mask at its center, surrounded by collaged elements typical of Synthetic Cubism, and featuring the muted color palette of Analytical Cubism.
Guernica (1937) by Pablo Picasso
Guernica is both one of Picasso’s most famous works and is renowned as one of the most prolific anti-war artworks in modern history. The piece was done in response to the 1937 bombing of Guernica, a Basque town in Northern Spain, by Fascist Italian and Nazi German forces. It depicts a group of animals and people suffering at the hands of wartime violence, many of which are dismembered. It is rendered in a monochrome color scheme, with thin outlines and geometric block shapes.