Picasso created cubism

Hello dear art friends,

the period between 1900 and the beginning of the First World War was certainly the most significant in art history. The development of expressionism and the emergence of abstract painting coincided with this period. We have heard about it in the last few broadcasts, about the emergence of Fauvism in France, about the bridge painters and the artists of the blue rider.

Today we want to deal with a chapter in painting that began in France around 1907 and lasted until the mid-twenties. We are talking about "Cubism", and there are two names in particular that must be associated with this new form of painting: George Braque and Pablo Picasso. The name cubism comes from the Latin word Cubewhat cube means.
Cubism was based on the idea that every object can be traced back to simple geometric bodies such as cylinders, cuboids, cones and spheres.
In itself this thought was not new. Paul Cezanne had already stated: "All forms in nature can be traced back to spheres, cones and cylinders."
In 1907 there was a large commemorative exhibition in Paris with works by Cezanne. Many artists had already dealt with his works before. In some pictures you could already see a regular application of the paint in the form of rectangular areas. However, the natural appearance of the motif was retained. Cezanne dealt with the representation of volume through color alone and the combination of two-dimensional and spatial effects; therefore he often repeated the pictures, repeatedly creating variations on the same motif in order to gain new insights: the mountain rangeSainte-Victoire in his homeland he painted countless times.
Inspired by the idea of ​​being able to break up nature into geometric archetypes and archetypal bodies, some artists began to depict a motif no longer realistically. The Impressionists used to do this and the Expressionists didn't do this now either, but with them you could still clearly see what a picture was supposed to represent. In addition, for the Expressionists, the image was a carrier of emotions; the colors and their effects were extremely important; except for Kandinskys, who turned to abstraction, the pictures still remained representations of something that existed.

Cubists, on the other hand, dismantled what was to be represented into individual parts, mixed these parts again, stylized them and put them together in a different way. It took imagination to recognize the subject of the picture. Or rather: the object againaward. In contrast to abstract painting, which knows no object, cubism tried to look at familiar objects anew and to reformulate them. It was assumed that every object has an essence, something that distinguishes it. By changing it or reassembling it, this essential becomes fathomable or visible.
But what is this essential? How can it be represented?
The ancient Egyptians resorted to the method of using any object characteristic view to represent. They renounced every detail and space. Their images had no depth.
Well, we also know that artists of all later times tried to cope with this basic problem of painting: to create depth and space on a surface. Cubism was an attempt not to cover up this contradiction between surface and the creation of space, but to exploit it for new effects.
The Cubists did not deal with political or social conditions, as did the German Expressionists, for example, but rather had purely artistic goals with their works.

So while at the same time the Expressionists were experimenting with the power of colors, the Cubist painters were occupied with construction, with forms; it had to be modeled in order to create completely new effects of an image.
   (Violin, braque) When we think of any object, for example a violin, we see this violin with our spiritual eye very differently from how we actually see it. We have memories of their appearance, their body, their sound, their shape, their material; and if we were to look at a violin from different perspectives, from the front, from the back, from above or below, lying on a table or hanging on a wall, held by a musician, etc., these different views are often ours at the same time present. Some details such as the strings, the bow, the snail neck are more clearly visible to us than other parts. So it may be that if we only look at a violin from the side, we don't see the resonance holes or the arch or the curvature of the sides at all, as is the case with a photograph, but we still know that these components exist - and that we could see them from a different perspective.

The Cubists now created pictures that took this into account: They dismantled an object into individual parts and fragments, scattered these parts on the canvas, partially hid them or changed their size, created new weights, simply reassembled fragments or showed one object at the same time on a surface from different perspectives.

Of course, this method of image production has a disadvantage, which the inventors of Cubism were aware of: you could only depict known objects; if you want to understand the cubist image of a violin, you first have to know what a violin looks like, otherwise you will never be able to correctly relate the various fragments to one another. For this reason, the Cubists also chose common objects that everyone is familiar with: guitars, bottles, bowls with fruits or the human figure, in order to enable the viewer to easily recognize the partial views and to relate them to one another.

If you are a bit conservative you might think of the whole thing as an intellectual gimmick; for an artist game that may or may not be fun. If we are honest, we have to admit that many inexperienced visitors to a Cubist exhibition are skeptical, perplexed or even negative about the pictures; that it was rather the fame of a Picasso and the prices of his paintings that attracted them. It is indisputable, however, that the research into artistic means and possibilities was significant for all later artists and influenced the art movements of the 20th century, although Cubism only lasted a short time.

The cubist phase of painting can be divided into different periods:

Early Cubism

The first cubist image is "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon“By Pablo Picasso. It was created in 1907, even before Cubism was spoken of as an art form in its own right.
  The women depicted are represented with block-like body shapes, the background is also divided into geometric areas. Fabric is not shown as flowing but also angular and geometrical. The areas are clearly separated from each other. You can see the figures from different angles, e.g. the face from the front and the nose in profile. The faces look like masks, in some cases you can see the influences of African masks, with the woman in the top right the face is comparable to a dog's snout. The natural proportions are distorted and the effects of light and shadow are not taken into account. The room is not shown in perspective.

Picasso and George Braque worked together and developed Cézanne's basic principles. They were of the opinion that Cézanne did not fully capture the space in his pictures because he was looking at the subject from one point. Only when the painter looked at the motif from several sides could he depict the space and the body of the motif. Therefore, Picasso and Braque began to combine several views in one representation. For example, by depicting a face from the front and in profile, they were able to record more information about its appearance, but this depiction contradicted conventional viewing habits. In contrast to traditional painters, the Cubists - as already said - did not depict what they saw, but what they knew existed.
Due to the different perspectives, there was no longer a central perspective; the different views sometimes overlapped. Body shapes were depicted in a rough and roughly structured manner, the images were divided into larger areas of color. Everyday objects were used for still lifes, which were traced back to basic geometric shapes, but were still clearly recognizable.

Cubism was initially rejected by traditional painters, especially the representation from different angles was criticized.

Analytical Cubism

“Analysis” means “systematic, structured investigation”. In analytical cubism, the motif was broken down into small geometric shapes, no distinction was made between background and motif. ( Still life with violin, Picasso)
Body and space were completely dissected, often there was no longer a focus on the picture but a regular network of surfaces and lines. During this phase, artists mainly used muted hues such as brown, gray, green, and ocher. The color was less important to them than the content of the picture and the examination of the forms. A spatial effect was mostly dispensed with. In contrast to the pictures from the initial phase, clear cuboid or cylinder shapes were no longer visible, but rather two-dimensional shapes. There was no longer a light source that divided the image uniformly into illuminated and unlit areas, only lighter and darker colored areas. The artists also started adding letters and numbers to their paintings.

  Frequent motifs were, as already mentioned, still lifes, but also landscapes and portraits, such as the "Portrait of Ambroise Vollard " by Picasso, a portrait of his gallery owner. You can still see the facial features, but the whole picture is cut through by geometric lines, the contours of the figure are not exactly delimited from the background. In contrast to the still lifes in the initial phase, where several objects were seen from different angles, a single motif was now often shown from different perspectives. Analytical Cubism finally split the motif so strongly that one could hardly discern any clues as to its content. One also spoke of "Hermetic Cubism". Hermetic means locked, encrypted and indecipherable. Individual details could be seen several times, distributed over the entire picture, and various objects overlapped. The “superimposed” areas were referred to as “plans superposés”. Although the pictures appeared abstract, the painters still assumed an object as the basic motif. Abstraction was not the goal of Cubist painting.

Synthetic Cubism

This phase lasted only a few years; besides Braque and Picasso, it was also influenced by Juan Gris and Fernand Léger. “Synthesis” means the connection of individual parts to a whole. A motif was no longer broken down into geometric shapes, but abstract shapes were put together to form a motif. A saying by Juan Gris makes this difference clear: "If analytical cubism made a cylinder out of a bottle, now in synthetic cubism a bottle is produced out of a cylinder. "

Another new development was the collage, the adhesive picture. In addition to painted objects, newspaper pages, wallpaper, colored paper, wrapping paper, etc. were glued on. As a result, a reference to reality was re-established even with more abstract images. The collage was later adopted by many art movements, e.g. Dadaism, and is considered an important new technique in 20th century art. The surrealists also used the process.

Three-dimensional objects and sculptures also developed from the collage.

The colors became livelier again, and a three-dimensional representation was largely dispensed with. In contrast to the pictures of analytical cubism, which are subdivided into small areas, larger, uniform areas were painted or glued on again. Wood grain or block letters, for example, were also imitated. The shapes and colors became clearer, painted areas of color were also juxtaposed like cut pieces of paper. The mixing of front and side views was also continued in synthetic cubism, three-dimensional views were mostly dispensed with.

Orphic Cubism

Orphic Cubism or Orphism is a special form that emerged parallel to analytical cubism. He was shaped by the writer Apollinaire and the color theories of the chemist Chevreul. Apollinaire did not paint himself, but was one of the first to represent Cubism in public. Robert Delaunay in particular, whom we heard about on the last broadcast, and his wife Sonja dealt with orphism. Circular shapes in bright colors are typical. The effect of an image should only be created through the colors. Robert Delaunay often used the Eiffel Tower as a motif, and Sonja created numerous abstract works that she also executed on textiles such as silk.

Cubist sculpture

In sculpture, alongside Braque and Picasso, among others Raymond Duchamp-Villon and Alexander Archipenko dealt with Cubism. They reduced heads and figures to a few basic geometric elements. Archipenko was one of the first artists to create abstract sculptures. In sculptures made of various materials such as wood, metal and paper, Picasso explored the spatial basis for Cubist painting. His bronze sculpture "Woman's Head", which is counted as part of analytical cubism, is well known.

Important representatives of cubism

Pablo Picasso

The Spaniard Pablo Picasso was initially influenced by Art Nouveau and Late Impressionism. As a teenager he was already painting pictures ready for exhibition. He went to Paris and dealt with the current art movements and the works of Cézanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas etc. In the so-called "blue period" he mainly represented misery, disease and poverty, the color palette was increasingly limited to shades of blue. The pictures show a melancholy mood. During the "pink period" the colors became more diverse again, motifs were people from the circus world such as jugglers, artists and harlequins.

Picasso later began to work with African and Iberian sculptures. These influences can also be seen in “Les Demoiselles d´Avignon”. Together with Georges Braque he further developed cubism and also created cubist sculptures, so-called "constructions". At first there were few Cubist sculptures, it was only when Picasso began with collages that he turned to them again. Frequent motifs were musical instruments, e.g. "Construction: Violin", which consists of cut, bent and painted sheet metal and wire and depicts a violin through rectangular and cuboid shapes. The sculpture looks rather abstract. While studying African sculptures, Picasso recognized the sequence of individual volume forms as the basis.

  He used this knowledge, for example, in the portrait of his partner Fernande "Woman with pears", in which the face is divided into different parts. The parts of the face such as the lips, chin, etc. are represented as arched bodies. However, the picture is not yet as dissected as later pictures of analytical cubism, e.g. the "Portrait of Ambroise Vollard" and has even more vivid colors.


     D.The picture "Three musicians“Is considered the climax of synthetic cubism.
Picasso used a group of people as a cubist motif for the first time. The person on the left represents a Pierrot, it consists of white, blue and brown square surfaces. You can see his eyes, nose and hands; he is playing an instrument similar to a flute. In front of him is a brown surface with several small shapes on it, it could represent a table. The person in the middle is a harlequin, wearing a costume made of red and yellow triangles and holding a guitar. You can see the eyes, nose and the black headgear. There is a black and white checkered area on the face. The person on the right represents a monk, wearing a black robe with a pointed hood and holding a sheet of paper with notes in his hands. The face and beard are gray. The background of the picture is brown and represents a square room. You can also see an animal with brown fur, which lies behind the people to the left and looks to the side. The three people can be seen straight from the front, they mostly consist of angular surfaces in clear colors and fill most of the picture. In some cases it is not possible to precisely assign individual areas. Although it is an oil painting and not a collage, it looks like stuck-on colored paper.There are no shadows or three-dimensional effects, only the background has spatial depth.  

After the Cubist phase, Picasso worked in different styles at the same time, he also created many sculptures and ceramics. The sculptures were partly made from found rubbish. At times, influences from surrealism and motifs from antiquity can be seen in the pictures.
In some works he went into the events of the war, e.g. the well-known picture "Guernica“, Which refers to the bombing and destruction of the city of Guernica. He was very productive well into old age and achieved great recognition.


Georges Braque

Georges Braque began as a decorative painter, later he studied in Paris and was influenced by the works of Cézanne. He joined the Fauvists.

Then his style changed, he started with cubist landscapes and still lifes and worked with Picasso. In analytical cubism he first used letters and the motif of musical instruments in his pictures. Later during the Synthetic Cubism he also made numerous collages, so-called "Papiers collés" (paper glued together). He also used so-called “eye illusions” in his collages, in which materials were imitated. The collage gave him the opportunity to separate color and shape. In his opinion, this represented the great discovery in the collage. Balanced, coordinated color combinations are typical. Alongside Picasso, he is considered a leading exponent of Cubism.

After the First World War, the contact with Picasso almost broke off, he now worked more with color as a means of expression. Many studio, landscape and bird pictures were created; numerous graphics and also stage decorations. He worked with Juan Gris and created colored plaster reliefs and sculptures. His later works often have realistic features again.

Juan Gris

  The Spaniard Juan Gris initially created works in Art Nouveau style, he made contact with Pablo Picasso in Paris. He not only dealt with cubism in his pictures, but also gave lectures and wrote texts on the concept of cubism and the possibilities of painting. Many theoretical considerations and developments on synthetic cubism originate from him. He proceeded methodically and logically in the development of his works, which means that the pictures often appear rather strict, e.g. “Still life on a table”. A large part of his cubist paintings are still lifes. He also made book illustrations and stage decorations and painted numerous watercolors in his later phase. His works received recognition late.


Fernand Leger

  Fernand Léger started with impressionist painting and then came to cubism. In addition to paintings, he also created film, stage and wall decorations. Machine parts, gears, etc. often appeared in his pictures. During the twenties he also designed human figures such as machines or technical constructions, he had a positive attitude towards the new developments in technology. Typical of his works are tubular shapes and a rather simple color scheme, often only in the basic colors blue, yellow and red. These features can be clearly seen in his picture "Woman with a Vase". In his later works he depicted figures more human again and also painted landscape motifs again, surrealist themes also appear. He also influenced poster art.

Franz Marc also dealt with Cubism, Cubist influences can be seen, for example, in his picture "Foxes", which I presented in the last broadcast.


Dear art friends,

At this point I would like to go back briefly to George Braque and Picasso, to the relationship between the two. And to André Derain, whom we talked about in a previous program ...

At the end of 1907, Braque saw the picture Demoiselles d'Avignon in Picasso's studio in the Bateau-Lavoir. The Bateau-Lavoir was a neglected house on Montmartre in Paris. The name of the house went down in art history because at the turn of the 20th century a group of artists who later became famous lived there and rented studios. One of the residents was Picasso, who lived there with his dog Frika from 1904 to 1909. It was here that he painted his first Cubist works, and his painting Les Demoiselles d メ Avignon was also created in this place. The Atelierhaus Bateau-Lavoir can therefore be described as the birthplace of Cubism. In addition, Kees van Dongen, Otto Freundlich, Pablo Gargallo, Juan Gris, Max Jacob, Amedeo Modigliani, Pierre Reverdy and André Salmon found affordable accommodation here in the otherwise expensive Paris. (By the way, Modigliani: According to statements by his daughter Jeanne, her father once destroyed a number of paintings by his painters friend in the Bateau-Lavoir one night in a drunken state. It often seems to have been a riot ...)
The house was a meeting point for many well-known people from the avant-garde at the time, such as Guillaume Apollinaire, Georges Braque, Henri Matisse, Jean Cocteau and Gertrude Stein, who visited the artists who lived there.

So George Braque saw Picasso's picture and his initial reaction was negative: "With your pictures you apparently want to make us feel like swallowing ropes and drinking kerosene. ”Also Henri Matisse and André Derain, who are often guests, were initially negative. But from now on there was heated discussion in Picasso's studio about his other works and the Braques from the fishing village L´Estaque, which were created in the summer of 1907, often with Derain's participation. Braque later recalled: "It wasn't long before I exchanged ideas with Picasso every day; we discussed and checked each other's ideas, [...] and compared our respective work. "
The joint creative period of the two artists, which is now beginning, achieved fame with the expression “la cordée” (the rope team). Their collaboration was so close and cooperative that they compared themselves to the Wright brothers, the flight pioneers, and therefore dressed like mechanics ... (Today you can recognize an artist by the hat he wears, which has gone out of fashion - but usually it is not an important one Artists who walk around like that, you can only argue about Beuys ...)

While Picasso seldom showed his work in public, George Braque and André Derain presented their new works in March 1908 in the Salon of the Independents (Salon des Indépendants) - We have often talked about André Derain as a main representative of the Fauvists alongside Matisse and about the role of the salons in previous programs, so I won't go into it again here ...)
The writer and art collector Gertrude Stein reported: “We […] saw […] two large pictures that looked pretty much alike. One is by Braque, the other by Derain, [...] The pictures seemed strange to us, with oddly shaped figures like blocks of wood. "[

If Picasso suspected Braque in the spring of wanting to exploit his work without identifying the connection with the author, in the autumn of 1908 they compared the works they created in the summer. The pictures were strangely similar, for example Maisonette in the garden by Picasso (left) and Houses in L´Estaque from Braque.


The Autumn Salon (Salon d’Automne) turned down an exhibition of Braque's pictures in 1908, but they were shown at Galerie Kahnweiler. The exhibition opened on November 9, 1908, one day after the fall salon closed. It caused a sensation in artistic circles. In his review of November 14, 1908, Louis Vauxcelles was the first to associate the works with the term “cubes”. He wrote: "Braque despises shapes, reduces everything [...] to basic geometric shapes, to cubes. " A few months later he called this style "cubist" and by the end of 1909 this expression was in use by all painters and critics.

André Derain later explained: “They tried to explain cubism mathematically, geometrically and psychoanalytically. This is pure literature. Cubism has plastic goals. We see in it only a means of expressing what we perceive with the eye and the mind, using all the possibilities that lie in the essential properties of drawing and color. That became a source of unexpected joys, a source of discovery. "

Through his contact with Picasso and Braque, Derain was in close contact with their founders at the moment when Cubism was developing, but he never completely gave himself up to Cubism. He was already dissatisfied with his Cubist advance, the wildness of which was not in harmony with his own nature, and in 1908 destroyed all those works which he was reluctant to represent. This is what Kahnweiler reports in his book The way to cubism from 1920, Derain had created “quite a number of compositions with life-size figures. He put some of them in the Indépendants from - such a bull, a picture with bathers. Fortunately, the bathers were bought and have remained with us. Derain burned all the others in 1908. "

For Pablo Picasso, the starting point of Cubism was to remove the “ancient” conflict of a painting: the illustration of the form - the representation of the three-dimensional and its position in space - on the two-dimensional surface while preserving the unity of the work. Or in Picasso's words: "Cubism has never been anything else than this: painting for the sake of painting, excluding all concepts of non-essential reality. The color plays a role in the sense that it helps to represent the volume. "
Braque and Picasso thus abandoned the path of preserving the greatest possible natural probability - the "real" form and the "real" color - of what is being depicted.

Braque joined after the XXV. Exhibition of the Salon des Indépendants in 1909, reflecting Picasso's decision to no longer exhibit in the Salon. The works of Picasso, which had rarely been seen in public before, and Braques were only present in the gallery exhibitions at Kahnweiler and Ambroise Vollard. Between 1908 and 1913, Picasso and Braque either did not sign their pictures at all or only subsequently signed them on the back. They were guided by the desire to eliminate the character of the personal. - Amazing when you know how vain and also jealous artists can be ...

In the winter and spring of 1914, both artists worked again in Paris. The titles of the works suggest the close contact: e.g. Still life with an ace of hearts (Braque) and a wine glass with an ace of cross (Picasso). In June, Braque set off on a bicycle tour, the destination of which was the summer house in Sorgue was. Picasso and André Derain were already waiting for him there. Picasso had moved into a house with Eva in neighboring Avignon. After Austria declared war on Serbia, Braque and Derain were drafted into military service, Picasso, as a Spaniard, was not required to do military service.

On August 2, 1914, Picasso took both painters to Avignon train station. Picasso later stated that he had never seen Braque since then. In December 1914, Alfred Stieglitz 'showed twenty pictures by Braque and Picasso from the Francis Picabia collection in his gallery in New York.

After 1914

In 1915, Braque was seriously wounded in the head while working at the front. After a long convalescence in Sorgue, he returned to Paris in the spring of 1917 and often met Juan Gris. He no longer had any personal contact with Picasso. He moved away from Cubism and developed his own style in which he mainly painted still lifes. In 1922, Braque was invited to take part in the Salon d’Automne exhibition in a separate room. He sold all 18 works on display.

The artist died on August 31, 1963 in his Paris apartment.

Exhibition information