picasso cubism

Cubism Art – History, Characteristics and Famous Artists

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Maybe you don’t know exactly what Cubism art is all about – but you’ve probably seen paintings by Pablo Picasso and wondered what actually happened there. Cubism happened. In this article, we will provide a full cubism definition, the cubist movement’s key characteristics, and which well-known artists have influenced cubism art.



What is Cubism Art?

It is a style of visual art that appeared in France around 1906/1907 and replaced Fauvism. Fauvism had already produced exciting, slightly abstract pictures that stood out above all because of their bright colors. Famous examples are some paintings by Franz Marc, who you might have recognized by his depiction of colorful animals – especially blue horses.

Cubism paintings then became much more experimental. It was introduced to Classic Modernism. As the most revolutionary new art movement to date, it also had a significant influence on sculpture and architecture.

Although no theoretical writings were written on Cubism, there are more books on it today than on the other styles of modern art. Perhaps you can see from this how much this artistic upheaval still occupies people today. Among the most important representatives of Cubism is the Spaniard Pablo Picasso, who was already mentioned earlier, the French artists Georges Braque and Robert Delauney also played a major role.

cubism art

Robert Delaunay [Public domain or CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)]



Features of Cubism Paintings

When you look at a photo, you see it only from a single point of view, from where the camera was when it was taken. The perspective of all the objects in the picture fit together. In art, for a long time, people painted in the same way. The viewer should have the impression that he is actually looking at the scene of the painting.

The most important characteristic of cubist paintings is that it breaks this rule. So imagine splitting the picture into individual components, all of which consist of different perspectives. As if you were looking at one part of the painting from the left, one from the right, and the next from the front.

Then you stick them together in such a way that you get half of the object you were looking at. 
So cubist paintings show different perspectives of a thing at the same time in one picture. This is called the “fourth dimension” because there are more than three dimensions in such a painting.

cubism definition

Juan Gris [CC0]

The name is derived from the Latin word for “cube”, cubus. This has to do with the fact that the represented object is not only reduced to different perspectives, but also to geometric figures. Figures and objects are transformed into ornaments made of cubes, spheres, cones, or pyramids, so to speak.

The art form is divided into two styles with different characteristics: Analytical cubism and synthetic cubism. You can find out more about both styles below. First, let’s take a look at the historical background.



History of Cubism

Pablo Picasso’s work “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”, which he completed in the summer of 1907, is regarded as the birth of Cubism. The picture shows five prostitutes whose bodies seem to be fragmented into geometric figures. Picasso cubism is an essential part of the cubsit movement.

You may wonder how an artist suddenly came up with this revolutionary idea. It didn’t happen so suddenly: In the years before, Picasso had intensively studied the works of other painters, for example, Paul Cézanne. He had also come across masks from Africa, whose form and aesthetics impressed him greatly. 1907-1909 is therefore also called Picasso’s “African phase”. It had a strong influence on the development of Cubism.

In 1907 Georges Braque met Picasso. Although he had initially reacted negatively to “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”, both artists realized in 1908 that the paintings they had both painted independently the previous year were becoming more and more similar. Picasso and Braque were on the same artistic wavelength, had the same ideas and a close collaboration developed.

In 1908, the art critic Louis Vauxcelles called Braque’s paintings “cubist” for the first time, mockingly, and so the name for the cubist movement was born. Picasso and Braque developed their new style together.

André Derain also took part in the lively exchange between the two. At first, viewers were not enthusiastic about the strange-looking paintings. But with their works, Picasso and Braque inspired many other artists – including some who joined together in 1910 to form the “Puteaux Group” and called themselves “Cubists”. Members of the group included Fernand Léger, Robert Delauney, and Marcel Duchamp. Some of the members of the group moved more and more towards total abstraction. In their pictures, therefore, there were no longer any concrete objects to be seen, which Picasso and Braque rather rejected.

Fernand Léger, Robert Delauney and Marcel Duchamp influenced Cubism with their respective individual styles.
In 1911, Picasso’s studio neighbor Juan Gris began to engage with Cubism. Along with Picasso and Braque himself, he became a major representative of synthetic Cubism. In contrast to them, however, he also tried to convey his approach to this new art movement theoretically.

With the beginning of the First World War in 1914, Cubism gradually dissolved. Many artists, including Braque and Derain, were called up for military service. In 1915, Braque suffered a serious head injury, which he survived, but which led to a break in the friendship between him and Picasso.



Analytical Cubism

In Analytical Cubism, painting objects were divided into individual geometric figures. However, the focus was no longer on the cubes, as in early Cubism, but on small surfaces or planes that partially overlapped. Often these areas were delimited by black, white, or other colored lines. They were shown simultaneously from different perspectives. The planes were usually denser in the middle of the painting and scattered towards the edge.

cubist paintings

Juan Gris [Public domain]

In order to still be able to display the object, only a few colors were chosen that fit together. In the beginning, these were mainly paler shades. Only later did the cubists dare to experiment with colors. Analytical Cubism usually shows everyday objects and situations as designs.

A special feature of Analytical Cubism was Picasso’s material collages. He used sand, wood, or textiles for plastic effects. Some sources already count these works as synthetic cubism.



Synthetic Cubism

This direction of cubism only lasted for two years, roughly from 1912 to 1914. It is a further development of analytical Cubism. In contrast, the works of synthetic Cubism have hardly any pictorial depth. They also stand out for their bright, colorful hues, which replaced the muted tones of Analytical Cubism.

The big difference was that the artist now no longer disassembled an object into its individual components, but rather made quite different objects that did not belong together into one big whole. The approach had thus been reversed.

More and more, the works became mixed media artworks: Newsprint, sheets of music, playing cards, pieces of wallpaper, advertising banners, and cigarette boxes were stuck onto the pictures and painted. Something new had been invented: Collages.

picasso cubism

Juan Gris [CC0]



Further Development of Cubism: Orphism

Robert Delauney, whom you have already read about above, developed Analytic Cubism into another style around 1912, Orcish Cubism or simply Orphism. The name is derived from Guillaume Apollinaire, who, when describing it, was inspired by the name “Orpheus”, the singer from Greek mythology. Delauney himself was not enthusiastic about the name, as he himself would have described his style more as “divided cubism”.

In Orphism, a little more emphasis was placed on the light in the painting, the forms were mainly circular. An important stylistic device was that complementary and similar, warm and cold colors were combined. The paintings were very colorful. Some of the designs were abstract, so they did not show concrete objects.

cubism paint

Robert Delaunay [Public domain]


Cubism Artists and Cubism Paintings

To give you a better impression of this art form and its different styles, we present a few of the most famous works by its main representatives:


Pablo Picasso Cubism

“Portrait of Ambroise Vollard”

An example of analytical Cubism is Picasso’s “Portrait of Ambroise Vollard” from 1909, which shows a man alienated by Cubist elements in shades of brown and grey. There is an anecdote about this: allegedly many people did not recognize Ambroise Vollard in the painting and mocked the style.

The four-year-old son of a friend of Vollard is said to have recognized him at first sight. From this, you can deduce that Picasso, despite the alienation, masterfully managed to portray the characteristic features of this person.


“Portrait Fernande Olivier“

Another key work of Analytical Cubism is the “Portrait of Fernande Olivier”, painted in 1909. Picasso spent some time with his mistress in the mountains. The painting combines both: it shows the mountains from which Fernande Olivier’s face emerges. Here too, the colors grey and brown are predominant, with only a little green being used.



Between 1912 and 1914 Picasso dedicated himself to a series of works showing guitars. This resulted in not only paintings but also sculptures. Some art historians regard the series as a transition between the two forms of Cubism.


“Still Life with Chair Caning“

This picture represents the first collage of Picasso. On the oval canvas, there is a print of a cane chair weave glued on in the lower part, but at first glance, you cannot tell whether it is really glued or perhaps painted on. The oil paint with which Picasso painted the rest of the picture also lies over the edge of the printed oilcloth, so that traditional and modern, everyday elements are combined.


Georges Braques Cubism Art


“Violin and Jug”

In 1910 Braques painted the artwork “Violin and Jug”, which is an example of analytical Cubism. As the name suggests, it shows a violin and a jug, which appear completely fragmented by small areas. The light of the individual splinters comes from different directions, making the surface of the painting appear uneven. It is entirely in shades of brown and ochre.


“Fruit Dish and Glass”

This charcoal drawing from 1912 was covered by Braque with wallpaper showing a wood grain. He also drew letters in the work. It is a good example of synthetic cubism.


Juan Gris

“Portrait of Pablo Picasso”

In 1912 Juan Gris painted the portrait of Pablo Picasso. It is still in the style of Analytical Cubism: muted colors, especially blue, grey, and pink, and a Picasso consisting of geometric objects and holding a color palette in his hand.


Juan Gris [Public domain]

From 1913 Gris turned to synthetic cubist art. Well-known works from this time are “The Blind”, “Harlequin with Guitar” and “Fantômas“.


Franz Marc


Franz Marc, who was actually an expressionist, already mentioned earlier, painted a painting in cubist art style in 1913. It shows two foxes. The dominant color is red.


Franz Marc [Public domain]


Robert Delauney

To get an impression of Orphism, you should definitely have a look at the “Window” series by Robert Delauney. This series was created from 1909 onwards but was also taken up again by him later in his life.
In 1913 he painted the circular painting “Le Premier Disque”, in 1914 the “Drame politique”. Both pictures reflect the Orphism without any objections.

what is cubsim

Simultaneous Windows (2nd Motif, 1st Part), Robert Delaunay [Public domain]



Cubist Art Book Recommendations

If you are interested in cubism and its artists, we can recommend the following books:

CUBISM: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection
  • An innovative history of cubism
  • Highlights some of the most significant cubism artworks
  • Written by many of the fields premier historians
View on Amazon
CUBISM (Basic Art Series 2.0)
  • Highlighting and understanding the key artists in cubism
  • Includes approximately 100 color illustrations
  • A collection of the periods most important works
View on Amazon
A CUBISM READER: Documents and Criticism, 1906-1914
  • An insightful look into the cubism movement
  • Covers the historical genesis of cubsim
  • Includes the most famous artists and artworks
View on Amazon


Now you should have a good cubsim definition and overview of this period. The best way to really understand the different styles of cubism is to take a look at the cubist paintings. And the best way to understand the cubist paintings of this art movement is to have a little background knowledge about how these abstract paintings were created. Sometimes it’s good to know why an artist came up with a certain, novel idea. Then you can see his works from a completely new perspective – if necessary from several. We hope this article on cubist art has been of help to you!


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