- Arts and Design
Cubism: The Art of Pablo Picasso
Who was Pablo Picasso?
Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso—known as Pablo Picasso—was born in Málaga, Spain on October 25, 1881. A ceramist, painter, printmaker, sculptor, and stage designer, Picasso was known for co-inventing the style of art known as collage, inventing constructed sculpture, and co-founding the Cubist movement.
Picasso's life will be discussed in another article. This article is concerned with the very important Cubist art movement with which Picasso was associated.
Rare Portrait of Pablo Picasso
What is Proto-Cubism?
In the period between 1904 and 1910, many artists were experimenting—using new colors, developing new styles, trying new methods of applying paint to canvas, looking for new subjects for their creations. By 1906, 24-year-old Pablo Picasso was already an established artist, earning money from the sales of his paintings. He developed an interest in African art and incorporated elements of it in his paintings and sculptures.
Picasso, as well as Georges Braque and several others, threw away perspective in their work. They added shapes to their paintings—cylinders and cubes—and they used a limited color palette. These works, especially those painted between 1907 and 1909, became known as Proto- or Early-Cubism.
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon / The Young Ladies of Avignon
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon / The Young Ladies of Avignon (1907) and Guernica (1937) are Pablo Picasso's most well-known paintings. I have seen both paintings in museums in New York City.
Picasso began working on Les Demoiselles d'Avignon in secret in 1906. He wouldn't tell any of his colleagues what his current project was. He produced a few hundred sketches and rough drafts before he began painting the final version of the work in Paris, France in the summer of 1907.
The painting was very controversial. Many of Picasso's fellow artists and other people in the art world greatly disliked the painting. They didn't like the geometrical shapes, the flat two-dimensional aspect, and the fact that the two women on the right appeared to be wearing African tribal masks.
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon was a radical departure from the work which proceeded it, especially the Impressionist paintings of the late 19th century. It was later called one of the first paintings in the modern art genre.
Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon depicts five prostitutes from a brothel on Avinyó Street in Barcelona, Spain.
Pablo Picasso's Proto-Cubist / African Period PaintingsClick thumbnail to view full-size
When did Cubism begin?
Art historians are unclear as to when the avant-garde art movement (style of painting) known as Cubism began. Proto-Cubism is generally considered to be the period from 1904 to 1910, yet several experts in the art history field have stated that Cubism began between 1907 and 1911. I personally don't think this overlapping of dates matters very much.
Pablo Picasso's Cubist PaintingsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Horta de Ebro, Spain | Houses on the Hill (1909)
Pablo Picasso spent the summer of 1909 in the village of Horta de Ebro, Spain. The countryside was austere, and did not lend itself to traditional landscape painting. Influenced by what he observed, Picasso painted Houses on the Hill, his first completely Cubist painting, in 1909.
Analytic Cubism (1909-1912)
The creation of the style of painting known as Analytic Cubism is credited to both Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. The artists analyzed what they saw, took the objects apart visually, and created their paintings using neutral colors, primarily browns, tans. and greys.
When I was studying Fine Arts in college, I heard a great explanation for helping one understand the concept of Analytic Cubism: Think of how a wine bottle looks—it has a cylindrical shape, and it has a bottom, and a cork at the top. All three components of the wine bottle exist at the same time, so...include all three components in your painting.
Examples of Analytic CubismClick thumbnail to view full-size
Synthetic Cubism (1912-1921)
Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque developed the art form know as Synthetic Cubism. They pasted torn pieces of newspapers, sheet music, wallpaper, and other interesting bits of paper onto their paintings, thus creating the first fine art collages.
Picasso's Three Musicians (1921) showcased at the beginning of this article is an example of what I like to call "synthetic Synthetic Cubism." The painting look like a collage, like a combination of oil paint and torn pieces of paper, but it is not. This work, one of my favorites of Picasso's creations, is a painting. It is not a collage.