Be it through painting, sculpture or cubist drawing, Cubism radically redefined the scope of fine art. At the beginning of the 20th-century artists found themselves in the midst of social, political, and technological advances. The birth of photography forever changed the role of art. Instead of the artist’s pencil or brush, camera lens recorded the major advances and the innovative Cubist artists pushed for the new understanding and presentation of the modern age. In the midst of such innovations, what place did the cubist drawings hold? Was the cubist drawing understood as a mere sketch, preliminary study for the celebrated Cubist oil paintings or was it understood as another important form of art which showcased the innovations of the period and helped to create the new style?
Ever since the Renaissance, if not before, painters painted pictures from a single fixed viewpoint. With the birth of Cubism, and the rejection of the linear perspective by its founding artists, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, Cubist drawing and painting shared the two-dimensional look which celebrated the flatness of the paper or canvas. Influenced by the Post-Impressionist artist Paul Cezanne, the two Cubist artists rejected the inherited concept that art should copy nature and created drawings which displayed the reduced and fractured objects into geometric forms. The highly abstracted images, and the frequent use of the cube inspired the French art critic Louis Vauxcelles to name the movement Cubism.
Next to the rejection of the traditional linear perspective, Cubist drawing and painting showcased the use of multiple or contrasting vantage points. Analyzing the human figure or an object into a multitude of small facets, authors pushed for the idea of totality within their works. This notion was achieved by the analysis of the object from every possible angle and then the fusion of different points into one drawing or paintings. This process of viewing the world, rejected not only the traditional three-dimensional tools, such as perspective, the use of high contrast or shading known as chiaroscuro, but focused on the intellectual idea of form as well.
There are several stages which help to define the entire Cubist movement. The early influence of Paul Cezanne lasted between 1908 and 1909 and induced the production of flat images. Using either pencil or charcoal, artists created studies of human figures which were very difficult to define. Between the years 1908 and 1912, a highly intellectual and, for some, hermetic Analytic Cubism, influenced the rejection of color and the use of almost monochromatic shades of gray, brown, or black. In Cubist drawing, the play between surfaces and various facets created almost a grid-like structure which was later echoed in the creations of Piet Mondrian and the De Stijl Neoplasticism movement. During this period, drawings and paintings were abstracted to a mere play of surfaces. Again, it was difficult to define the subject matter which often included still lifes or human figures. Continuing their research of multiple perspectives, both Picasso and Braque introduced a foreign element into their compositions in 1912. Picasso implemented wallpaper, while Braque began glueing newspaper to his paper or canvas and thus the idea of both the collage and the papier-colle was created. Defined as Synthetic Cubism, such experiments moved towards a more conceptual rendering of objects and figures.
Such innovations joined the ideas of Cubist drawing and painting as equal. Unlike the present division between drawing and painting, Cubist drawing shared the same space as painting and was considered as an extension to the revolutionary and avant-garde art production.
Picasso’s painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is considered as a breakthrough image which fused the new inspirations of both the distant primitive cultures and the new rejection of the traditional art canons. The creation of this image for sure required elaborate line drawings which helped the study of the stylization and fragmentation of the figures. Following the developments and the various styles of the Cubist movement, both painting and drawing displayed the same focus and interest for the new presentation of the world. Similarly, as in the drawings of the Synthetic Cubism phase, Cubist sculpture implemented the use of found object. Rejecting the traditional ideas of carving, Picasso relied on collage and defined the concept of assemblage. Various ink or chalk drawings were extremely helpful for the creation of numerous print images, created with the help of intaglio techniques such as aquatint, drypoint or lithography.
Considered as the first movement which marked the beginning of modern art, Cubism showcased the force of revolutionary thought and determination of its authors. Various other artists who followed, such as Marcel Duchamp, went through a Cubist phase and his notorious work Nude Descending a Staircase reflects this influence. The grid-like structure of both the drawings and paintings found their way into the patterns of Art deco and the reduced works of the Minimalist movement. The idea of non-representational art that has shaped the present contemporary art production would not even exist if there weren't for the experimentations and innovation of the Cubist artists.
Editors’ Tip: Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection
The book represents the history of the Cubism movement, told by the most important names of art history. Described and analyzed are over 80 works, part of the significant art collection which was recently donated to the Modern of Modern Art. Twenty-two essays explore various facets of Cubism from its origins and consider small groupings of works in light of specific themes—such as a study by neuropsychiatrist Eric Kandel on Cubism and the science of perception. Also included is a fascinating interview in which Lauder discusses his approach to collecting. This is a work to place beside other great histories of Modernism. It is a comprehensive, copiously illustrated book that offers a greater understanding of Cubism and will stand as a resource on this pioneering style for many years to come.
All images used for illustrative purposes only. Featured image: George Braque - Drawing. Image via metmuseum.org