Cubism Art Movement: History, Characteristics, Artwork

cubism art movementCubism is an avant-garde art movement characterized by the breaking down of forms into geometric shapes to the point where representation confronts abstraction. Often this had an uneasy effect and had as a result of the establishment of multiple viewpoints within a single work. At first, this was done on the flat two-dimensional surface but later encompassed three dimensions.

Pablo Picasso, The Poet, 1911, oil on linen, 51 5/8 x 35 1/4 inches, Guggenheim Collection, Venice
Pablo Picasso, The Poet, 1911, oil on linen, 51 5/8 x 35 1/4 inches, Guggenheim Collection, Venice


The movement is typically held to have begun around the middle of the first decade of the 20th century in Paris in the studios of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, who also collaborated together. Depending on the art historian’s interpretation, the movement lasted from around 1905 until at least the First World War, with some maintaining that it remained at the forefront of the avant-garde into the 1920s. Indeed, some Cubists persisted with the aesthetic of the movement much later, well into the 1930s.

Broadly speaking, there were two schools within the movement of Cubism: those of the Picasso/Braque collaboration and the Salon Cubists. This latter group began exhibiting extensively in Paris from around the year 1911. From the art history of the former school (that of Picasso and Braque), two stages were held to define the evolution of the Cubist movement: the analytic stage and the synthetic stage. However, other means of understanding the growth of Cubism have been suggested.

Georges Braque, Portrait of a Woman, 1910, oil on canvas, 35.8 x 24 inches, private collection
Georges Braque, Portrait of a Woman, 1910, oil on canvas, 35.8 x 24 inches, private collection

In the mid to late 19th century, innovations in art that we would now recognize as revolutionary were already underway with the advent of Impressionism, as well as other later movements, in France. The artist Paul Cézanne influence was by far the greatest modern influence on the entire Cubist movement, however. This impulse for pictorial novelty among artists persisted into the early 20th century. Yet, combined with this drive toward modernity, was the inspiration of the older artworks of cultures outside of Europe.

Some of the major artists of the Cubist movement include its pioneers, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes, Juan Gris, Robert Delaunay, and Fernand Leger.

A few of the major artworks associated with Cubism include Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon, Guernica, and The Weeping Woman by Pablo Picasso, Cubist Self-Portrait by Salvador Dali, and Portrait of Pablo Picasso by Juan Gris.

In the sections below we will outline the history of Cubism; the influence of Paul Cézanne on the Cubist artists; the characteristics of Cubist art; describe several leading artists of the movement as well as some of the primary artworks; compare the respective aesthetics of Cubism and art movements like Surrealism, Impressionism, and Futurism; and describe which art movements both influenced and were influenced by Cubist art.

History of Cubism

The exact dates of the first Cubist paintings are a matter of debate but what is certain is that around the years 1907 and 1908 they were being produced by Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso in Montmartre, Paris. Which of these two artists are to be called the sole originator is also uncertain, as they collaborated on their Cubist work together.

Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907, oil on canvas, 96 x 92 inches, Museum of Modern Art, New York
Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907, oil on canvas, 96 x 92 inches, Museum of Modern Art, New York

The first Cubist pictures that followed the Proto-Cubist work Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon by Pablo Picasso are part of what is termed analytic Cubism. Analytic Cubism was typified by the fragmentation of the picture space, or the fracturing of the objects depicted. In this sense, the objects and the pictorial space were broken down or ‘analysed’ in such a way as to furnish the viewer with a three-dimensional view or views on the two-dimensional surface.

At the end of the analytic phase of Cubism in around 1911-2 came the so-called ‘synthetic’ phase. This synthetic Cubism was marked by the use of papier collé and collage elements. Papier collé is a type of collage where pieces of paper were affixed to the flat surface as part of the composition. Collage includes this but also refers to materials other than paper being glued to the surface.

Pablo Picasso, Glass and a Bottle of Suze, 1912, charcoal, gouache, collage and cardboard, 25 x 20 inches, Washington Gallery of Art, St. Louis
Pablo Picasso, Glass and a Bottle of Suze, 1912, charcoal, gouache, collage and cardboard, 25 x 20 inches, Washington Gallery of Art, St. Louis

Synthetic Cubism included works like Pablo Picasso’s Glass and a Bottle of Suze of 1912, which uses glued paper, labels and cardboard; and George Braque’s Still Life on a Table from 1913, which makes use of pasted paper as well as the more traditional pencil, gouache, charcoal, and ink.

Synthetic Cubism brought the realm of high art in touch with the low, the seemingly worthless cast off materials of everyday life. Accordingly, it brought into question the status of the art object.

The art movement of Cubism did not simply end at a convenient date for the art historian to show. But at its height of influence, its heyday could be dated from about 1910 0r 1911 until the 1920s. However, Pablo Picasso, one of its originators, returned to this style time and time again long after the 1920s when its avant-garde status was superseded. New directions in art occurred in the 1920s, such as: Futurism and Surrealism. These movements took inspiration from Cubism but pursued their own aesthetic and became the torch-bearers for new innovation.

Cézanne and Cubism

Paul Cézanne, Pyramid of Skulls, c.1901, oil on canvas, 15 x 18 inches, private collection
Paul Cézanne, Pyramid of Skulls, c.1901, oil on canvas, 15 x 18 inches, private collection


The works of Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), particularly his later works executed mostly in the environs of Aix-en-Provence in the south of France, had a profound influence on the early Cubists. Paintings like his many views of Mont Sainte-Victoire and Pyramid of Skulls from c.1901 had a formative impact on Picasso and Braque, among other Cubists.

Although usually Cézanne is called a Post-Impressionist, his oeuvre is uncategorizable. His work fused Impressionist elements with Romanticism but later on his obsessive concern with volumetric balance and ‘pure vision’ separated him from any specific movement. The singular radicalism of his art, as well as his actual style, made a deep impression on the early Cubists. In terms of his style, Cézanne has been described as a bridge or transition from Impressionism to Cubism.

The elements of Cézanne’s style that are relevant to Cubism are: his subversion of rational single-point perspective, the reduction of objects to their basic geometric shapes, his exhaustive observation of nature and objects, and his simultaneous views of a single object.

Cézanne rejected the mathematical receding perspective in place since the Renaissance and he reduced or cancelled illusionistic space. In place of this, he chose to concentrate on the possibilities of binocular vision, or the representation of objects from several visual perspectives at once. This equally would become a primary concern of Cubism and became known as simultaneity.

The simultaneous viewpoints that Cézanne worked on chimed directly with the Cubists who aimed to portray all angles of a given object.

Analytic Cubism

Analytic Cubism is characterized by fragmented objects, multiple viewpoints, muted colors, and a strong sense of line.

Georges Braque, The Portuguese, 1911, oil on canvas, 46 x 32 inches, Kunstmuseum, Basel
Georges Braque, The Portuguese, 1911, oil on canvas, 46 x 32 inches, Kunstmuseum, Basel


By 1910-12, Analytic Cubism was at its height and this phase would last until about 1912. The collaboration of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque was already bearing fruit with works like Braque’s Le Portugais (1911) and Picasso’s ‘Ma Jolie’: Woman with a Guitar or Zither (1911). These works are of similar style and use monochrome browns and greens, as well as both works’ centralisation of the deconstructed objects on the vertical plane.

In Pablo Picasso’s picture ‘Ma Jolie’ (‘My Pretty’) there are trace indications of the figure and objects: the hands playing the instrument, the instrument itself, and rounded shapes such as that of the body of the guitar and perhaps drinking glasses in the left middle all bordered in thick lines. The context is a public café perhaps and, in this light, we can even sense that the lighter side of the picture to the right could suggest a window with its shifting patterns of reflection especially visible on the upper right.

Synthetic Cubism

Synthetic Cubism had evolved by 1912 and was to last several years. By this time the circle of Cubists began to expand, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque being joined by Juan Gris (1887-1927) in Paris. By then Cubism had become synthetic.

Characteristics of synthetic Cubism include: the use of non-traditional materials like newspaper and cardboard, collage elements, the introduction of brighter colors, and a flattening of the picture space.

The collage technique implied the gluing onto the canvas of the everyday materials hitherto not associated with visual art.

Salon Cubism

Jean Metzinger, The Rider (Woman with a Horse), 1911-2, oil on canvas, 64 x 51 inches, Statens Kunst museum, Copenhagen
Jean Metzinger, The Rider (Woman with a Horse), 1911-2, oil on canvas, 64 x 51 inches, Statens Kunst museum, Copenhagen


So-called Salon Cubism was a phenomenon within the movement that was established by 1910-1 and lasted until the First World War. The term ‘Salon Cubists’ was used after their exhibition at the Salon des Indépendants of 1911 in order to differentiate between their group and the ‘gallery Cubists’, or Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Picasso and Braque worked under the aegis of art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, and this afforded them the luxury of developing their Cubist style in private without worrying about payment.

Notable Salon Cubists working from 1910 through 1913 included Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger, Robert and Sonia Delaunay, Juan Gris, and Marcel Duchamp. It was the frequent exhibitions of the Salon Cubists from 1910 which first publicized the new art movement in Paris and beyond.

The Salon Cubists built on the example set by Picasso and Braque but also expanded these pioneers’ vision. Whereas Picasso and Braque painted and made works that were on a small scale, in monochrome largely, the Salon Cubists introduced vibrant colors in works that were on a more monumental scale. Also, their subject-matter – far from being still life and domestic or scenes from Parisian café culture – was more ambitious. Depicting scenes more epic or allegorical subjects, these Cubists performed a fusion of the traditional classicism and the resolutely modern.

The Salon Cubists were informed theoretically also. They drew from the ideas of the French philosopher of the time, Henri Bergson, the notion of simultaneity and the fluidity of time. But they also, and perhaps primarily, were inspired by mathematics. The mathematician Maurice Princet was a friend of the group and interested them with his demonstrations of four-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional surface.

Albert Gleizes, Woman with Phlox, 1910, oil on canvas, 32 x 39 inches, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Albert Gleizes, Woman with Phlox, 1910, oil on canvas, 32 x 39 inches, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston


Prominent Salon Cubist paintings include Woman with Phlox by Albert Gleizes from 1910, Woman with a Horse by Jean Metzinger from 1911-2, and The City of Paris by Robert Delaunay from 1912.

Crystal Cubism

Characteristics of Crystal Cubism include: the emphasizing of the flatness of the picture plane and overlapping geometrical structures. These works usually use a bedrock of geometric forms onto which or into which figures, and objects are placed. In Crystal Cubism there is a clarity and an almost classical sense of order.

The high point for Crystal Cubism was between 1917 and 1920 but it emerged around the beginning of the First World War in 1914. It was practiced by most of the Salon Cubists, particularly those under contract with art dealer Léonce Rosenberg. These artists included Jean Metzinger, Juan Gris, and Albert Gleizes.

Artworks that are prime examples of Crystal Cubism are: Soldier at a Game of Chess (1914-5) by Jean Metzinger, and Portrait of Josette Gris (1916) by Juan Gris.

Jean Metzinger, Soldier at a Game of Chess, 1914-5, oil on canvas, 32 x 24 inches, Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago
Jean Metzinger, Soldier at a Game of Chess, 1914-5, oil on canvas, 32 x 24 inches, Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago

Jean Metzinger’s Soldier at a Game of Chess (1914-5) is a study where observed reality meets abstract geometry. Perhaps a self-portrait, the calculations of the soldier in the playing of the game are analogous to the rigorous decision-making on the part of Metzinger the artist in the construction of his composition. There are multiple perspectives here, as the chess pieces are seen side on while the chess board is impossibly raised towards us. This, combined with the overlapping planes of color lends the image a dynamic movement, as if the motive force of thought is rendered visible.

Juan Gris’s Portrait of Josette Gris (1916) is a portrait of the artist’s partner. But far from making a true likeness or a psychological portrait, Gris is concerned with mathematics and how it permeates the world. The stable, pyramidal composition lends solidity but the light and sometimes transparent geometric forms that are laid over the sitter makes for a spectral presence. Primacy is afforded to the pure form and color is relegated to a monochromatic neutrality.

Characteristics of Cubism

Characteristics of Cubism include: the broken picture plane, multiple perspectives, three-dimensional rendering, analysis and synthesis, and simultaneity.

The Broken Picture Plane

Cubism’s broken picture plane avoided the sheer surface and highly polished finish of the Academic art of the 19th century. The Cubist forms seem to alternately jut out into the world of the viewer and recede from it. There is no ‘all-over’ consistency of texture, with fragmented forms in a syntactical relationship with the gaps and omissions of space.

Multiple Perspectives

Cubism’s multiple perspectives subverted the single-point perspective that had been an artistic convention since the Renaissance. Even though earlier artists like Manet and Cézanne similarly rejected linear perspective, the Cubists did so idiosyncratically as their analysis of space and objects allowed multiple views not only of the object at once but within each plane and angle that composed it.

Three Dimensions

Cubism’s three dimensional rendering is related to its multiple perspectives. The object or figure is painted with such faceting that it, and the picture itself, seem to possess a tactile solidity for all the flux of shifting views.

Analysis and Synthesis

Cubism’s analysis and synthesis is related to the process of construction. The Cubist object is not as it appears in the visible world but it is not simply broken up (analyzed). It is broken up into parts and then reassembled (synthesized) in order to re-imagine it.


Cubism’s simultaneity is related to time. The partial objects, traces of hands, analyzed heads all convey the blur of movement and request of the viewer in his own time and place to complete the holistic perception of the work. Just as these works show a convergence of different angles, shapes, and textures, so they also mark a convergence of time through the union of their various ‘moving parts’.

Cubist Artists

Some of the major Cubist painters and makers include: Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes, and Juan Gris.

Pablo Picasso

Self-portrait with Cloak - PICASSO, Pablo - 1901
Self-portrait with Cloak – PICASSO, Pablo – 1901

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) was born in Spain but spent most of his working life in Paris where he, along with Georges Braque developed Cubism in the middle of the first decade of the 20th century. Picasso and Braque would subsequently be seen as the leaders of this new art movement. This was despite the fact that they operated in private under the patronage of art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler for these crucial years.

Pablo Picasso’s Cubism of his analytic phase is virtually indistinguishable from that of Georges Braque, so closely did they work together. They painted quiet studies of forms broken up and reassembled in three dimensions in shallow space, and with muted colors. But one detectable difference between the two is the modeling. Picasso’s analytic forms are broadly more sculptural and solid, while those of Braque are more airy, ethereal presences.

However, in terms of the immediate inspiration for the new style, Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon of 1907 was of singular significance. That image was itself influenced by Iberian sculpture and African masks but Picasso became the forerunner of Cubism with his sharp angles and the disorientation of scale and space.

Pablo Picasso’s Cubism evolved over time, from the early analytic Cubism through the synthetic phase towards his later combination of Cubism with irrational Surrealist elements. From his early analytic still lifes and portraits when collaborating with Georges Braque, the two artists entered the stage of synthetic Cubism and used extraneous materials in their painting. This stage, a more tactile Cubism, straddled the line between painting and sculpture as well at that between the aesthetic and the everyday.

Major works by Picasso include Girl with a Mandolin (Fanny Tellier) (1910), The Aficionado (1912), and Weeping Woman (1937).

Georges Braque

Georges Braque, Man with a Guitar, oil on canvas, 46 x 32 inches, Museum of Modern Art, New York
Georges Braque, Man with a Guitar, oil on canvas, 46 x 32 inches, Museum of Modern Art, New York

Georges Braque (1882-1963) spent most of his working life in Paris. With Pablo Picasso, Braque had a fundamental role in the foundation of the new Cubist style in the first decade of the 1900s.

While Picasso had a wide variety of influences, from Iberian sculpture, African art, and Paul Cézanne, Georges Braque focused largely on the aesthetic legacy of Cézanne’s multiple perspectives. In his Cubism, Braque is more calm and meditative than Picasso. Despite this, in large degree in the analytical cubism phase which was typified by an extremely close mutual influence, it is difficult to differentiate between a lot of their pictures. However, Georges Braque was more dismissive of color than Pablo Picasso until much later in his career. Another difference was that Braque was apolitical in his Cubism, concentrating mostly on still lifes containing musical instruments and drinking vessels. Picasso by contrast frequently included social and political references.

Some major works by Georges Braque include Fruit Dish (1908-9), Pitcher and Violin (1909-10), The Guitar (1909-10), and Violin and Candlestick (1910).

Jean Metzinger

Jean Metzinger, Soldier at a Game of Chess, 1914-5, oil on Canvas, 32 x 24 inches, Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago
Jean Metzinger, Soldier at a Game of Chess, 1914-5, oil on canvas, 32 x 24 inches, Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago

Jean Metzinger (1883-1956) was living in Paris during the development of his Cubism. As an artist but also as an influential theorist, Metzinger occupied an important role in Salon Cubism, or those Cubists who exhibited frequently in Paris at the beginning of the 1910s, unlike Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.

Metzinger’s theoretical studies informed a more regimented approach to his art. Especially, he made use of geometry, faceting and multiple perspectives. It is his geometric forms that placed mathematics at the center of his efforts, particularly in his Crystal Cubist phase when he distilled form into a purity of geometric shape without veering entirely into abstraction.

Jean Metzinger’s early Cubism was analytic but his forms were more mobile and muscular than those of his forebears, Picasso and Braque. Much like the analytic period of Picasso and Braque, Metzinger’s Cubism is often difficult to single out when it is compared to that of his own artistic (and theoretical) partner, Albert Gleizes.

In contrast to the Cubism of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, Jean Metzinger (and Albert Gleizes) were more influenced by artistic tradition, with the subject-matter being often classical or at least allegorical. Metzinger and Gleizes jointly published their manifesto of Cubism, Du Cubisme in 1913. In this book, the two authors outline a classical Platonic concept of the relation between form and idea: “…to discern a form is to verify a pre-existing idea…”

From about 1912, Jean Metzinger began to place equal emphasis on color and form, whereas beforehand he focused on form. In his Crystal Cubist phase, he developed overlapping and intersecting planes and furthered his purification of abstract structures. His forms were simplified by now and he abandoned what the contemporary art critic Maurice Raynal called “artifices of the palette,” meaning painterly effects.

Some major works by Jean Metzinger include: Le Goûter (1911), At the Cycle-Race Track (1912), and Soldier at a Game of Chess (1914-5).

Albert Gleizes

Albert Gleizes, The Bathers, 1912, oil on canvas, 48 x 67 inches, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
Albert Gleizes, The Bathers, 1912, oil on canvas, 48 x 67 inches, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

Much of what is said about Jean Metzinger’s Cubism can be said of Albert Gleizes (1881-1953), his close associate in Paris. Gleizes shared Metzinger’s rigorous approach to Cubism in terms of mathematics and fashioned his art accordingly, concentrating on form rather than on colour in much of his work.

Albert Gleizes deployed intersecting and overlapping shapes to produce a dynamism in his pictures reminiscent of much of Picasso’s Cubism. However, Gleizes’s art was more rationally structured than Picasso’s. Even in works with quiet subject-matter like Woman with Phlox from 1910 Gleizes achieves through his method a panoramic movement and a mobile perspective that belies the anchoring of the seated woman in the center.

In The Bathers of 1912, Albert Gleizes participates in the traditional classical theme of women bathing. Both he and Metzinger aimed to contribute to the classical tradition and even saw in their art its culmination.

In The Bathers nature serves more as a backdrop in front of which the foreground scene of the women bathing is placed. Gleizes’s figures are more complete or conventional than Metzinger’s, and the artist deploys much less angularity in the articulation of the limbs. Unlike Metzinger, Gleizes’s women have facial features, if only rudimentary: these are individual women. In The Bathers, there is also a clash between the classicising subject-matter and the background of factory chimney stacks. This juxtaposition of the traditional and the modern is a visual exemplar of the objective of the Salon Cubists: the completion of the western tradition in art. There is more a sense in this painting than that of Metzinger of the influence of history upon which the Cubist artist acts and builds. Where with Metzinger there is the absence of history, Gleizes reveals the aesthetic and historical mission of his Cubism here.

Some major works by Albert Gleizes include: Woman with Phlox (1910), The Bathers (1914), Woman with Animals (1914), Composition for “Jazz” (1915), and Woman with Black Glove (1920)

Juan Gris

Juan Gris, Woman with a Mandolin, after Corot, 1916, oil on canvas, 36 x 24 inches, Kunstmuseum, Basel
Juan Gris, Woman with a Mandolin, after Corot, 1916, oil on canvas, 36 x 24 inches, Kunstmuseum, Basel

Born in Madrid, Juan Gris spent most of his artistic career in Paris where he was associated with both Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque on the one hand, and the Salon Cubists on the other. By 1906, Gris was living in Paris where he became friendly with Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, Jean Metzinger, and then Pablo Picasso. Gris took up painting in 1911, after years of working as a satirical cartoonist.

When Juan Gris saw Jean Metzinger’s work Le goûter in 1911 he had an epiphany, and came to realize the centrality of mathematics, according to art historian John Richardson. This realization was to permeate the subsequent art of Gris who developed a characteristic grid structure to bring order to his representations.

The art historian Peter Brooke maintained that Juan Gris’s art had a more “rational and measurable quality” than the analytical Cubism of both Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. This is certainly true, but Gris’s Cubism evolved from a not-yet mathematical treatment of form in works like Houses in Paris (1911) in which shading and painterly effects are minimized. After his analytic phase, Gris also developed a concern for color, especially in bright harmonics, which was influenced by the Fauvism of his friend Henri Matisse.

By 1916-7, Gris had entered his Crystal Cubist period. At this time, he refined his mathematical approach, painting simple geometric forms and fusing objects and figures with their ground. His geometry was the starting point for his representations and the foundation for his union of disparate elements through a flattening of the picture space.

Some major works by Juan Gris include Houses in Paris (1911), Portrait of Picasso (1912), and Woman with a Mandolin, after Corot (1916).

Cubist Artwork

Significant cubist artwork includes Guernica by Pablo Picasso,

Guernica by Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso, Guernica, 1937, oil on canvas, 137 x 306 inches, Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid
Pablo Picasso, Guernica, 1937, oil on canvas, 137 x 306 inches, Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid


Guernica by Pablo Picasso has as its theme the suffering and death of warfare. It is an imagined scene of the experience of war by innocent civilians (with the exception of the dead soldier) who inevitably suffer the most. This picture was painted as a reaction to the bombing of the Spanish city of Guernica by German and Italian planes in April 1937 at the instigation of the Spanish nationalists during the country’s civil war.

While Guernica is a response to a particular wartime atrocity, it also symbolises a revulsion to war in general through a documenting of its horrors.

The picture shows a claustrophobic and shallow space that is seemingly as inescapable as the anguish caused by violence. A mutilated and dismembered dead soldier lies on his back in the left foreground, his severed arm holding a broken sword out of which blooms a flower that is perhaps the single note of hope in the painting. A bull that is perhaps the symbol for Spain looks out at a presumably desolate landscape to the left. The fact that its tail doubles as smoke points to a pessimism about the destiny of the country racked by civil war. There is a horse screaming in agony, a lamenting mother holding her dead child in her arms, the haunted head of a woman (which may be a surrogate for the artist, or the viewer) peering in at this scene of devastation from the window to the right, and a woman with arms outstretched enveloped in stylised flames in the shape of knives on the extreme right. Overhead, there is a bald light bulb in the shape of an eye that references either the apathy, or the powerlessness of God in the face of such pain.

The Cubist forms of broken surfaces and shapes is an apt means of representing such a subject which denotes physical mutilation and social dislocation. At the center of the picture where there is a chaos of flailing limbs and forms is the passage that is most densely and analytically Cubist, the overlapping shapes of the horse and the soldier speaking of physical injury and confusion.

However, this dense Cubism does not apply to the picture in general. On either side of the central passage, Picasso employs a more visually coherent figuration. He balances the fracturing and distortions of the piece with drawing that more faithfully relates the scene, which arouses shock and pity. It is the confluence of Cubist forms, the unnatural distortions and suffering, and the evocative monochromatic color scheme that mark this image as overwhelming. Perhaps it is the picture’s Cubism that makes it, if not visually realistic, psychologically realistic.

In terms of the significance of Guernica for the development of Cubism, the picture was painted long after the high point of Cubism in the 1900s and 1910s. It can be seen as a mature reflection and distillation of Pablo Picasso’s earlier experiments in the Cubist style. But the picture counterbalances the demands of Cubism with the extreme emotivity of the portrayal of the scene. Instead of the earlier exclusive focus on the fracturing of form and multi-perspectival vision, Picasso tempers this with an accurate account of human agony.

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907, oil on canvas, 96 x 92 inches, Museum of Modern Art, New York
Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907, oil on canvas, 96 x 92 inches, Museum of Modern Art, New York


Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) by Pablo Picasso depicts five women who are workers in a brothel in Barcelona. Three of the women stare blankly and maybe aggressively out at the viewer. Although these women have facial features, Picasso neutralizes any psychological reading other than the fact that the figures are vaguely menacing.

The figure on the extreme left has features traceable to perhaps an islander of the South Seas of the Pacific and reflects the influence of Micronesian art. The heads of the two figures to her immediate right show the forms of Iberian sculpture and the influence of primitivism on Picasso at this time. Alternatively, the heads of the two figures on the right are obvious references to the forms of African masks that contrast with the pink hues of their bodies.

The overall effect is jarring for the viewer, with the sharp angles of the upraised arms, of the facial features, and of the drapery. In addition, the disjunctures of the drawing of the respective faces from different traditions as well as the arguable dehumanisation of the stylised figures (which are compared to the still life of the right foreground) are salient. This bears a relation to the Cubist concern of the succeeding years with the figure as an object to be deconstructed in the name of re-imagining the world.

The visual dislocations of the scene, the provocative poses, and the drawing of the figures and facial expressions are shocking, particularly as these traits contribute to a radical lack of pictorial unity, or self-containment, which was a traditional prerequisite for painting.

This picture’s Cubist characteristics include: its sharp angularity, uncertain perspective, and its jagged and fragmented forms. However, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon differs from outright Cubism in that the women’s bodies are not ‘analyzed’ in the Cubist sense as they have visual integrity, for all of Picasso’s distortions.

This work was the immediate springboard for the analytic Cubism of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque and has been described accordingly as the example of ‘Proto-Cubist’ art. Although Braque was initially negative in his reaction (as were most of Picasso’s coterie), he made an extensive study of it and his Cubism was formatively affected by it.

Cubist Self-Portrait by Salvador Dalí

Salvador Dali, Cubist Self-Portrait, 1923, oil and collage on paperboard glued to wood, 40 x 30 inches
Salvador Dali, Cubist Self-Portrait, 1923, oil and collage on paperboard glued to wood, 40 x 30 inches


Cubist Self-Portrait (1923) by Salvador Dalí shows the seemingly disembodied head of the artist with its gaunt angularity and prominent eyebrows. The head does not have a mouth, signaling silent observation, perhaps a self-conscious recognition of his recent study and foray into Cubism. The figure’s body is suggested subtly by the convex structure that runs down the center of the composition and flares out toward the foot of the painting.

The picture’s Cubist characteristics include the fact that the structures are ordered but fragmented as if there is a cascade of glasslike shards. This is redolent of the analytic phase of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque of a decade and a half earlier. Yet, Dalí is also making use of the collage technique of synthetic Cubism here. Accordingly, we could categorize the work as a synoptic fusion of the two canonical stages of Cubism. Therefore, the picture functions as a visual history of the art of Cubism through formal and technical rather than narrative means. Also, the basic likeness of the artist confidently places him within this esteemed and historic avant-garde movement.

As this picture dates from 1923, when Dalí was 19, it was painted long after the high point of Cubism. However, it is evidence of Cubism’s continued aesthetic appeal for ambitious artists. Notable also is the fact that Dalí glued the paperboard to a wooden panel, making the image a collage on top of a collage that suggests an infinity of technical possibilities for Cubism and for the artist’s creativity.

The Weeping Woman by Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso, The Weeping Woman, 1937, oil on canvas, 24 x 20 inches, Tate Modern, London
Pablo Picasso, The Weeping Woman, 1937, oil on canvas, 24 x 20 inches, Tate Modern, London


The Weeping Woman (1937) by Pablo Picasso (61 x 50cm, oil on canvas, Tate Modern, London) depicts on a small scale a grieving woman with her handkerchief raised to her face. This picture was painted during the Spanish Civil War in the same year as Guernica which also foregrounded feminine anguish. Including drawings, Picasso produced 36 works based on this theme in 1936-7. Whereas in Guernica the subject is immediately pain and horror, The Weeping Woman is more a study of intimate and quiet grieving in the wake of horror. As such the work can be seen as a companion piece to Guernica, especially as Picasso made of weeping women allegorical figures for Spain. In this way, The Weeping Woman is both personal and political.

The portrait is a highly distorted rendition of Dora Maar, a Surrealist photographer, and lover and muse of Picasso at this time. The weeping figure could reference the abusive relationship of the two artists or Maar’s own oft-cited melancholic temperament.

In terms of the picture’s Cubist characteristics, it is more conventionally ordered than in outright Cubism: the scene is a readily recognizable room with a readily recognizable woman. But here are Cubist elements like the improbable angle of the wall’s paneling in the left background. The clothing of the sitter, too, shows such moments, like the crumples of the garment on the figure’s shoulders. These are exploited and rendered in typically Cubist faceting and ‘moving’ shapes, as if the woman is trembling. Also, the sharp and complex geometry of the handkerchief and the seeming mobility of the face entailed by the uncertain position of the nose are quintessentially Cubist.

Yet the image is not purely Cubist. The influence of Surrealist distortion is also evident. The non-naturalistic, one could say irrational, colors of the face (green, yellow and blue) could be read as a rational link to the sickly state of the experience of sorrow. The irrational colors Pablo Picasso uses here are conceptually appropriate for an outpouring of emotion. Surrealist also is the willful, almost automatic treatment of the face, with the eyes counter-intuitively not on the level and the nose being loosely associated with the rest of the visage.

In terms of the significance of the picture for the development of Cubism, The Weeping Woman by Pablo Picasso evinces a new kind of synthesis, this time of Cubism and Surrealism. By this time, Cubism had had its heyday as a leading force in the avant-garde. Surrealism and Futurism had emerged in the 1920s as the guiding lights of modern art of the 20th century. In response to these developments, Picasso here amalgamates Cubist motifs with a Surrealist sense of extreme emotion, a certain arbitrariness of forms, and the irrationalism of the piece.

Portrait of Pablo Picasso by Juan Gris

Juan Gris, Portrait of Pablo Picasso, oil on canvas, 37 x 29 inches, Art Institute of Chicago
Juan Gris, Portrait of Pablo Picasso, oil on canvas, 37 x 29 inches, Art Institute of Chicago


Portrait of Pablo Picasso (1912) by Juan Gris was painted towards the end of Gris’s analytic phase. It depicts Pablo Picasso, a pioneer of the Cubist art movement, in a monumental style given that the figure of Picasso occupies most of the picture space.

Characteristics of Cubism that this work by Juan Gris shares include: the subdivision of the picture space into, in this case, regular shapes; the muted colors of the canonical works of the analytic phase; and an emphasis on the genre of portraiture. Usually, Gris painted pictures with bright and warm color under the influence of his friend Henri Matisse but for this work he uses muted and cool silver and blue. Perhaps this could refer to the calm intellect of his sitter, who helped to originate this movement that was seen by many as highly intellectual.

The picture space here is not so much fractured as strictly organized with strong structural diagonals. Also, the figure of Picasso is painted with blocked rectangles and, on the arm, cylinders. The diagonals of the setting, as if shafts of light cascading down on the figure, add up to a visual pun on Picasso being an ‘enlightened’ figure as a pioneer of Cubist art. His body’s orientation sitting back bisects at a right angle the careful geometry of the diagonal ‘shafts’ and provides a stable equilibrium and, given the bulk of the figure, a certain monumentality.

In terms of the significance for the development of Cubism, Portrait of Pablo Picasso exhibits a high point in the Salon Cubist style. The mathematical approach of Jean Metzinger’s Le Goûter, such a strong influence on Juan Gris, is evident. However, when these two images are compared, Gris shows a more regularized formalism and uses fewer variations of shape. Aside from this, his work reveals just as rigorous a geometric bent.

This picture was painted by Juan Gris towards the end of his own analytic phase. In his subsequent Crystal Cubist phase, Gris was to increasingly conflate the figure and the background. Here, however, he only makes them interpenetrate, with differentiation between figure and ground occurring through different colors and counterbalancing angles.

Cubism vs. Surrealism

Surrealism developed in the 1920s in France and by 1924 André Breton had published a self-styled manifesto for the burgeoning movement. At its core, Surrealism had the aim of liberating the unconscious mind and bringing it into contact with the external world. According to Breton, its purpose was to “resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality into an absolute reality, a super-reality.”

Both Cubism and Surrealism share characteristics. Both brought about innovations in the pictorial field, and both made a challenge to conventional visuality and traditional means of representation in art. Also shared is a transgression of the compartmentalization of the traditional media, for example the use of collage by the synthetic Cubists and the Surrealist amalgamation of drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, film and philosophy. Two instances of an overlap are The Weeping Woman by Pablo Picasso and Cubist Self-Portrait by Salvador Dalí, the first picture combining Cubist forms with Surrealist irrational colors while the second is a foray into Cubism by an artist that would become a leading light of the Surrealist movement.

Where the two movements differ is on politics and on the role of reason. Cubism was primarily an aesthetic innovation without a politically concerted revolutionary impulse. unlike Surrealism. Cubism was essentially rationalist in its deconstruction of objects and figures into forms and shapes. It also had as a goal the re-creation of perception in an organized picture-world. Cubism made conscious artistic choices that avoided the automatism or the irrationalism that Surrealism embraced. For the Cubists, there was the primary importance of the aesthetic object – each image is the culmination of its painstaking processes. On the other hand, the Surrealists (with some exceptions) prioritized the experimentation itself, with the art merely as (in the word of Breton) “artifacts” of this experimentation.

Surrealist artists include: Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, René Magritte, and Man Ray.

The time period for Cubism at its height is from c.1908 until the mid-1920s, while that of Surrealism was from the 1920s up until the 1950s.

Cubism vs. Impressionism

The Impressionist art movement emerged in the 1870s, with many locating the date of its first occurrence to 1872 and Impression: Sunrise by Claude Monet. At the heart of this new art was a concern with visual perception and its techniques were revolutionary and controversial.

Both Impressionism and Cubism share the objective of new ways of seeing and the making of works that portray the world beyond the conventions of the prevailing Academic art that inherited an earlier classicism. In a further rejection of tradition, both movements often equalize the subject or object painted with the ground or setting, with the result of representing a broader reality outside of any hierarchy of composition.

Both movements sought to portray movement, but their solutions were opposite: Impressionism’s vague and rapid painting opposed Cubism’s exacting analysis. The two art movements were also mostly devoted to modernity and novelty, with their modern subject-matter necessitating their novel techniques.

However, while Impressionism reveled in painterly effects that its artists tried to use to portray the changing quality of light conditions, Cubism restricted the painterly and instead focused on the structural with a precision that contrasts with the often-nebulous character of the work of the Impressionists. There is in Impressionism a spontaneity and the arbitrary application of paint that is entirely lacking in Cubism which adopted a more studied method.

Impressionist artists include Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Edgar Degas.

Impressionism lasted from its inception in the early 1870s towards the close of the 20th century.

Cubism vs. Futurism

Originally, Futurism emerged in Italy at the end of the first decade of the 20th century, almost as early as Cubism. 1909 saw the publication of the Manifesto of Futurism by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, a poet and leader of the movement who intended to outline the scope and ambitions of the group. Later, this phenomenon spread to other countries, notably Russia.

In both Cubism and Futurism there was the aim of making art that reflected and contributed to the rapidly changing artistic landscape. The simultaneity of certain Cubist (especially Salon Cubist) works was taken on by the Futurists as a central tenet of their admittedly diffuse style.

The Futurists were obsessed with technology and the fast-paced growth of modern industry, with Marinetti even writing: “We want no part of it, the past.” Their aims were not merely artistic but also political and had as a goal the nationalist unfettering of Italy from its onerous past. This was to be done by a depiction of exclusively modern subjects and by the deployment of technically experimental methods. In Futurism, technology was glorified and asserted as a symbol of humanity’s victory over nature.

In Futurist theory, it was maintained that objects were not separate from each other and, accordingly, Futurist artworks began to fuse and intersect objects, figures, and the background in a portrayal of the flux of modern life. This element of their art harks back to the analytic Cubist work of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque where parts of objects were rendered as fragmented forms.

In 1911, prominent Futurist Gino Severini visited Paris and was profoundly struck by the Cubist style and would adopt it for his work. Many Futurists were to follow suit and felt that Cubist structures were ideal for the relation of dynamic energy that was central to their aesthetic and theory of life. Another Futurist, Umberto Boccioni, was as influenced by Henri Bergson’s theory of the fluidity of time as the Salon Cubists like Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger were and made use of Cubist forms.

Cubism was hugely significant for the development of Futurist art and theory which adapted its forms for a different purpose. While Cubism was concerned with the re-combination of objects and figures in novel ways in order to suggest new ways of perceiving, Futurism more explicitly allied the Cubist style to a specific philosophical and political agenda that encompassed nationalism and a cult of the modern society.

Some Futurist artists include: Gino Severini, Umberto Boccioni, and Giacomo Balla.

Futurism emerged at the end of the first decade of the 20th century and exerted influence in art well into the 1930s.

What Art Movements Influenced Cubism?

The art movements that influenced Cubism were African and Iberian art, Impressionism, and Paul Cézanne.

In terms of the influence of African masks and Iberian sculpture, the Proto-Cubist work by Pablo Picasso entitled Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is most emblematic. As such, they are perhaps a more indirect influence on the starting point of Cubism but no less integral. West African Dogon, or Ngil masks from Gabon and Cameroon bear striking similarities to several faces in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, while pre-Roman Iberian sculpture with all of its inscrutable and emotionless monumentality is similarly responsible for the painting’s impact. Sculptures from both of these traditions were witnessed in person by Picasso at the Museum of the Trocadéro in Paris in the early 1900s.

In its rebellion against the authority and aesthetic of the prevailing 19th-century Academic style of painting, Impressionism was a forerunner of Cubism. Impressionism dispensed with classical linear perspective and the closed composition. This latter component Cubism both explored and contravened along with the Impressionists while it utterly upended the conventional one-point perspective in the name of either multiple or moving viewpoints.

Paul Cézanne, who is broadly uncategorizable in the history of art of the latter 19th century, was a major influence on most of the Cubists. In particular, his idiosyncratic modulation or manipulations of form and space beyond the directly seen was instrumental and powerful for the Cubists. Also, Cézanne’s three-dimensional effects and his seemingly ‘sculptural’ rendering of objects in multiple or moving perspectives proved formative.

What Art Movements were Influenced by Cubism?

Of the many art movements that were influenced by Cubism were: Orphism, Futurism, Suprematism, and Art Deco.

Orphism was a movement that lasted from around 1912 until 1915 in France. Its use of Cubist fragmented forms was this time devoted to the capture of the often-kaleidoscopic effects of light and color. Orphism used the Cubist analytical philosophy to move further towards a purer abstraction as a result. Foremost among its practitioners were Robert and Sonia Delaunay.

In Futurism, which lasted from 1909 until the 1930s, also there was the adoption of the Cubist deconstruction of forms and objects in order to relate and exemplify, rather than describe the flux and speed of modern and usually modern life. Prime Futurists, all under the sway of Cubist analysis, were Giacomo Balla, Umberto Boccioni and Gino Severini.

Suprematism lasted from 1913 until around 1924 when Stalinist restrictions began to make themselves felt on the freedom of artistic expression in Russia. It developed a more fundamental geometry than most Cubism but owes a debt to Crystal Cubism most of all. Its founder, Kasimir Malevich wrote of the “supremacy of pure artistic feeling” over the object and so differentiated himself from the purely analytic Cubism of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque while seeking a similar alteration to preconceptions about the perception of reality. Major Suprematists included: Kasimir Malevich, Liubov Popova, and Olga Rozanova.

Art Deco, which lasted from the 1910s until the Second World War, embraced visual art, architecture, design. Its emphasis was on craftmanship with opulent materials but made use of Cubist-inspired basic geometric forms. Similar to early Cubism, Art Deco fused syncretic influences, from African to Oceanic art. Eugène Grasset, a major proponent of Art Deco, asserted the importance of a pared-back geometry and emphasized the square and the circle as fundamental to composition. This is directly a result of the study of late Cézanne and Cubism. Among the leading Art Deco artists and designers were the Christofle crystal firm, the jeweler Louis Cartier, and the interior designer René Lalique.

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