Emerging around the same time as expressionism, cubism was amongst the first truly great leaps away from realism. More than just a differing approach to colour, or style of stroke, cubist artists attempted to re-imagine how the world could be depicted to capture an entirely different kind of reality. Sometimes described as like looking through a kaleidoscope, cubism opened minds for abstract movements like constructivism and neo-plasticism to develop, and brought us some of the most recognisable works of modern art ever created.
Though widely thought of as an Impressionist, Cézanne provided a crucial bridge between that movement and the cubists, with his original artworks often featuring flat planes of colour, simple geometric shapes, and even features which appeared to have been captured from multiple points of view. These small shifts would leave a huge legacy, forming a foundation built upon by Picasso and Braque, that led to a phenomenally different world of art in the 20th century; those two artists he inspired often referred to Cézanne as “the father of us all”.
Pablo Picasso, the cubist
One of the primary founders of the cubist movement, and by far it’s most famous and celebrated name, Picasso showed incredible artistic flair from a young age, and was always a great experimenter; exploring ideas, techniques, and styles. Fauvists like Matisse inspired him to explore more radical styles, and the two artists were often hailed as the leaders of modern art. Cubism emerged through a period of experimentation with Georges Braque, where both artists sought to break apart objects, analysing their shape, and ways to represent multiple perspectives on the same object in a single painting. Picasso soon added collage to his work as well, one of the first to use it in a fine art context just a few years before Dadaists would start using it extensively.
Often lost in the shadow of the charismatic Picasso, in more recent years Braques contribution to the development of cubism has been far more widely noted and respected. Picasso and Braque worked closely together developing a range of shared ideas drawn from their own artworks, and those of Cézanne. Braque’s focus was often on lighting, rendering even very complex architectural structures to simple cubes, yet shading it in a way to create both flatness and a three dimensionality. Also influenced by Fauvism and Cézanne, much of his cubist work was indistinguishable from Picasso’s and the very much share the honours as creators of the movement.
An emerging artist who played with Neo-Impressionism, Divisionism, and Fauvism, Metzinger was also driven by Cézanne’s original artworks to develop some of the earliest cubist art. Influential as an artist, he was also a key theorist for the movement, writing the first theoretical works, defining the concept of painting an object from multiple angles and views within the same canvas; cubism killed the single viewpoint in art. An important figure in developing crystal cubism through his interest in mathematics within art, his legacy includes inspiring scientists in their understanding of quantum mechanics.
Cubist Juan Gris
Starting his career as an illustrator for various journals, Gris made a decision to switch to painting, and took inspiration from Picasso and Metzinger to develop his own unique and very distinct style of Cubism. Maths became an important aspect of his work also, with grids used to create a structure and regularity to the shapes and ‘cubes’ in his work, unlike the more instinctive and chaotic approach of other cubist artists. Bold in his use of collage and harmonious colours, geometry increasingly drove his work into the crystal cubist style, before his life was tragically cut short from kidney failure when he was just 40 years old.
A self-proclaimed founder of cubism, who co wrote Metzinger’s first theories on the movement, and played an important role in general raising the wider public awareness and understanding of modern art. His cubist style developed from experimentation to avoid commercialism, an interest in Fauvist colour, and the geometric simplifications of Les Nabis artworks. Remaining a cubist artist through most of his life, Gleizes writing on theory is amongst his most important work, including attempts to define the fundamental laws of painting around concepts of rhythm, mathematical relativity, and space as a concept of the human psyche.