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The Three Stages of Cubism

Page history last edited by R Melles 12 years, 4 months ago

 The three stages of Cubism with examples 

It is very clear when you look at these three images, how Cubism developed toward Abstraction. Carefully look at the first image, then follow on to the next and then look at the last one. See how the picture space opens out completely in the last one and there seems to be no substance to the subject (it's mainly linear). This information is good for all of the achievement standards but especially 3.1 (Style).



Facet (Early) Cubism 


Girl with a Mandolin by Pablo Picasso

Girl with the Mandolin (Picasso)

Girl with a Mandolin is not only one of the most beautiful, lyrical and accessible of all Cubist paintings, but is also a valuable document of the period. For the fact that at the time Picasso saw the work as unfinished, allows us an insight into his aesthetic intentions and his technical procedure. 


In the first place, the legibility of this canvas demonstrates conclusively that although Cubist paintings were becoming more abstract in appearance, the artists were still deeply conditioned, at least in the early stages of their works, by the material existence and the physical appearance of their subjects. Then again the painting illustrates in a very concrete fashion the pull Picasso felt between the desire to give forms an explicit, volumetrical treatment, and the need to flatten them up onto the picture plane (compare, for example, the almost sculptural treatment of the breasts and the arms with that of the head, which is rendered in terms of two flat planes). Had the painting reached completion, it would have become simultaneously more elaborate, more abstract and more consistent in style. 

Paintings executed during this period showed the breaking down, or analysis, of form. Right-angle and straight-line construction were favoured, though occasionally some areas of the painting appeared sculptural, as in Picasso's "Girl with a Mandolin" (1910). 



Analytical Cubism 


Portrait of Ambroise Vollard 


Analytical cubism is generally considered the early phase of cubism. During this time, about 1908 to 1911, the cubist quality of fragmentation -- overlapping planes- was heightened, and an objects depiction moved even further away from physical reality. Unconventional shading also added to the distorted appearance of an object. By the end of the analytical phase even an objects outlines were beginning to fade, making objects even less identifiable. One of the best examples of the analytical phase is Portrait of Ambroise Vollard. In this painting the layered planes, or faceted shapes, take on a prism like form. The fading away of Ambroise outline and the introduction unconventional shading and of bland color are also aspects of analytic cubism that are evident in the work. It is also worth noting that while many of the traditions set forth by the Renaissance period are left behind, the Renaissance idea of a painting being a window into another world that is receding is maintained. 


Colour schemes were simplified, tending to be nearly monochromatic (hues of tan, brown, gray, cream, green, or blue preferred) in order not to distract the viewer from the artist's primary interest--the structure of form itself. The monochromatic colour scheme was suited to the presentation of complex, multiple views of the object, which was now reduced to overlapping opaque and transparent planes. These planes appear to ascend the surface of the canvas rather than to recede in depth. Forms are generally compact and dense in the centre of the Analytical Cubist painting, growing larger as they diffuse toward the edges of the canvas, as in Picasso's "Portrait of Ambroise Vollard". 



Hermetic Cubism 


Le Portugais (The Emigrant) (Braque)

In 1911, Braque stenciled letters into "The Portuguese" and thus significantly strengthened the idea, full of consequences for the future of art, that a picture was not a representation but an autonomous object.

Across a painting entitled Le Portugais Braque stencilled the letters BAL, and under them numerals. Braque had first introduced letters into a still life, probably of early 1910, but they are blended into the composition and have no function other than that of identifying as a newpaper the object over which they are painted... 


The stencilled letters and numbers are assertions of the realistic intentions of Cubism - 'as part of a desire to come as close as possible to a certain kind of reality, in 1911 I introduced letters into my paintings', Braque has said - but the implications are wider. In Le Portugais they fulfill several obvious functions. In the first place, in a style in which one of the fundamental problems had always been the reconciliation of solid form with the picture plane, the letters written or stenciled across the surface are the most conclusive way of emphasizing its two-dimensional character; Braque has stressed this when he said of the letters: 'they were forms which could not be distorted because, being quite flat, the letters existed outside space and their presence in the painting, by contrast, enabled one to distinguish between objects situated in space and those outside it.' In other words, Braque is in effect saying 'My picture is an object, a flat surface, and the spatial sensations it evokes are a painter's space which is intended to inform and not deceive.' Secondly, the letters in Cubist painting always have some associative value; here the letters D and BAL (the D must be the last letter of the word GRAND) were probably suggested by a dance hall poster hanging in a bar, and help to convey a 'cafe' atmosphere. Then, in the Portugais the letters have a purely compositional value, providing a terminal note for a system of ascending horizontal elements. Fourthly, they have a certain decorative value. 


The stencilled letters and numbers have yet another effect on the paintings in that they serve to stress their quality as objects. For in the same way in which the number or title of a painting in an exhibition catalogue gives it an identity as a material object different from all others of the same type, so the letters and numbers on a Cubist painting serve to indiviualize it, to isolate it from all other paintings. Then, again, and in this they point ahead to the invention of collage, the letters and numerals stress the material existence of the painting in another way: by applying to a canvas or sheet of paper letters, other pieces of paper or fragments of glass or tin - elements generally considered to be foreign to the technique of painting or drawing - the artist makes the spectator conscious of the canvas, panel or paper as a material object capable of receiving and supporting other objects. 



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