Braque Untitled Pochoir



Between 1908 and 1910, often working closely together, Braque and Picasso perfected a joint style. Their harmony at this time was such that the question of primacy, who discovered what first, is controversial, and perhaps idle. It was Braque's Landscapes of L'Estaque that in 1908 provoked a critic to speak of "cubes", and the movement was subsequently called "Cubism".

Their early Cubist work, up to 1912, fell into two phases, subsequently known as "analytical" and "synthetic". In the analytic phase, 1909-10, the more solid massing of forms of their first Cubist paintings gave way to a technique in which the contours of form were dissolved, so that one form opened and fused with another, and with the void of space surrounding it.

The elements of form were taken apart and reorganized, not to sum up the essence of the subject comprehensively, but rather to re-create it as a picture.

The notion of a painting as a peinture-object, an object in its own right independent of its subject matter, was abroad by 1910.


In 1906-07, Picasso performed the first, and most radically violent, of those changes of course that characterize his career, in Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. Executed in 1907, it was not yet a fully resolved Cubist composition.

Like Fauve painting (though Picasso never had a Fauve period), it rejects naturalistic color, Renaissance perspective, consistent lighting - but it also rejects the sensuous pleasure of the Fauves, and their flat, bright colors.

There is certainly depth, the forms jut out from the picture; here and there it seems to incorporate views of the subject seen from different angles.

The heads are treated in three different ways: the two central ones are closely related to two primitive Iberian sculptures that Picasso owned, while the head on the left (reworked) reflects the style of Ivory Coast tribal masks, and the two on the right, violently re-handled in the last phase of painting, relate to sculptures from the Congo.

Picasso Untitled Pouchoir


The realization of the power of African and Oceanic art had struck both Derain and Matisse in 1905-06; it was not, however, the expressive, emotional potential of "primitive" styles that was decisive for Picasso, so much as their freedom from illusionism, their lack of inhibition in amalgamating different views and aspects into one image.

Georges Braque (1992-1963) had been introduced to Picasso by the controversial champion of the avant-garde, the flamboyant poet and critic Guillaume Apollinaire. Like everyone else, Braque was initially bewildered by the Demoiselles, but he felt compelled to come to terms with it.

In his Grand Nu (Great Nude) of the following year, 1908, the "primitive" distortion was very strong; both object and space were arbitrarily modeled. But more evident in this work is the Cubists' debt to Cezanne: especially momentous was his technique of modeling in terms of interlocking and overlapping planes, his subjects being sometimes not only arbitrarily lit, but seen from slightly different angles: his patchwork of blocks of translucent color, deployed across the whole surface, produced an effect of depth and volume without destroying the flatness, the integrity of the painting.


The discovery of African sculpture led to several radical modern movements one of which is Cubism. When Picasso painted his canvas the Demoiselles d'Avidnon he took the design of angles and sickle-shaped curves from African art and transplanted it to the heads at the right of the picture.

He did not make this extraordinary and, in ways, ugly picture to "express" any particular feeling about his subject. Rather, he felt that the African way of looking at a figure revealed some new facet of its structure. In other words, Picasso had returned to Cezanne's method of viewing a scene in flat, interconnected planes, and then duplicating those planes upon the flat canvas.

Soon, artists like Picasso and Braque began to paint almost entirely unrecognizable designs of these flat planes, sliding together, sometimes obscuring one another and sometimes so transparent that one shape appeared beneath another. This phase, Analytical Cubism, was a more radical departure than had ever been attempted. Painters no longer tried to give a semblance of reality, but worked with pure "abstract" patterns.

One group which shot off from the main avenue of Cubism and tried to turn that cold technique to a more expressive end was the Italian Futurist group. They wished to show the rocketing speed of modern life and the shearing passage of figures through space.

Herbin Untitled Pouchoir.jpg

GEORGES BRAQUE - 1882-1963

Braque was a French painter and one of the greatest and most influential artists of the 20th century. After experimenting briefly with Fauvism he met Picasso and incorporated the innovations of Picasso's Demoiselles d'Avignon into his Grand Nu (Great Nude, 1907-08, Paris, Private coll.).

In 1908 he exhibited landscapes of L'Estaque which reflected the influence of the shallow spatial effects and denser formal structure of Cezanne's late works, going further, however, in their abstractions from nature.

These works, the first to be dubbed "Cubist", are often still considered to be the earliest products of Cubism. Over the next few years Braque collaborated closely with Picasso in exploring this novel anti-naturalistic style.

Particular contributions made by Braque to the evolution of Cubism were his concern to visualize forms as interpenetrating with their surrounding space and the first use of stenciled lettering in his "The Portuguese" (1911, Basel, Hunst Museum), a device that served both to provide the spectator with a clue for identifying subject matter and to stress the intrinsic flatness of the picture-plane.


Braque created in 1912 the papier-colle technique whereby "collage", invented by Picasso some months earlier, is restricted to the incorporation of strips of paper into the composition.

Mobilized in 1914, Braque was discharged two years later after sustaining a severe head-wound. Thereafter he developed a highly personal variant of Cubism, less formal in structure, which featured broad handling of paint often mixed with sand and a distinctively restrained palette of subtly modulated blacks, greys and browns.

His career culminated with the Atelier series painted from 1948 onwards and of immense complexity and sophistication (Atelier II, 1949, Dusseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen).

JUAN GRIS - 1887-1927

Gris, a Spanish painter, studied in Madrid, and went to Paris in 1906, at first working in a decorative Art Nouveau style, but then coming under the influence of Picasso.

Although his contribution to Cubism dates only from 1911, it had a radical influence on the style's subsequent development. His pictures emphasized constructive rhythms and abstract components in opposition to the more intuitive methods of visual analysis of Braque and Picasso (Homage to Picasso, 1911-12, Chicago, Art Institute).

Gris himself encapsulated the difference of approach when he wrote: "I try to make concrete that which is abstract . . . Cezanne turns a bottle into a cylinder, but I make a bottle - a particular bottle - out of a cylinder."

By 1913 he had introduced color into his work and was experimenting with papier colle, both of which developments shaped the emergence of synthetic Cubism.

His later paintings have a classic poise and are more painterly in handling (Violin and Fruit Dish, 1924, London, Tate). Gris also made book illustrations and polychrome sculpture, but more important are his stage sets and costumes for the great ballet impresario, Diaghilev.

FERNAND LEGER - 1881-1955

Leger was a French painter who created one of the most distinctive styles of any 20th century artist. His first major work, Nudes in the Forest (1909-10, Otterlo, Kroller-Muller Museum), inspired by Cezanne and by early Cubism, asserted his life-long preoccupation with formal simplification and monumental structure.

Aware of Cubism and associated with the Section d'Or group, he evolved a more fragmented style, as in The Wedding (1911-12, Paris, Musee d'Art Moderne) and in 1913 arrived at the concentrated dynamism of his Contrasting Forms series (example, 1913, Paris, Musee d'Art Moderne), consisting of improvised abstractions expressing his enthusiasm for the polished metallic surfaces of machinery.

Three Women (1921, New York, MOMA) epitomizes his return, after the War, to an explicitly figurative tradition. His purpose was to celebrate modern urban and technological culture by means of heroic scale and popular imagery, as in his series of paintings of people at work and play (Builders, 1950, Biot, Musee Leger). Leger saw his figures as thick, columnar shapes rather like those in machines. He also designed theatre sets, films and decorative schemes, and taught at Yale University.


Juan Gris had observed his fellow-Spaniard Picasso's early Cubist ventures very closely, and had also made his own independent study of Cezanne.

Having begun to paint seriously only in 1911, he made a sensational debut at the Salon des Independants of 1912 with Homage to Picasso - a methodical rearrangement of Picasso's person executed with great assurance.

Developing with remarkable speed, by the end of the year he had established a distinctive style; while Braque and Picasso had seemed to move around their subject, to take views from different angles, and then as it were to reshuffle them into pictorial coherence, Gris set each facet of his model - each seen from a single, relatively consistent viewpoint - in a compartmented framework, rather like the leading of a stained-glass window.

He eagerly adopted the new techniques of synthetic Cubism, collage and papier colle, but unlike Picasso and Braque did not tone down his color. He soon increasingly abstracted form to fit his compositional needs, a method he described succinctly: "I begin by organizing my picture: then I define the object." "It is not picture X which manages to correspond with my subject, but subject X which manages to correspond to my picture."


Synthetic Cubism was in part a reaction against the abstract tendency of the analytical phase. In 1911 both artists had included in their compositions stenciled capital letters, fragments of words (often puns, sometimes obscene - Picasso's humor could never remain repressed for long.)

Picasso's collages were a development of Braque's experiments in the same year with papiers colles, pasted cut papers which acted both as formal elements of the composition and representationally, yet at the same time remained obdurately just objects.

Once the synthetic principle - building up, putting together, rather than breaking down, rearranging - had been formulated, the conceptual nature of both artists' work became ever more marked.

In autumn 1912 Picasso moved to Montparnasse, where he was no longer a neighbor of Braque. Braque's subsequent career, interrupted by active service in World War I, and a long convalescence from a wound, was more one of refinement than of innovation while Picasso, a neutral Spaniard, continued throughout the War and after to widen his scope.


Picasso and Braque stood aloof from the usual means of making their work known - the various annual exhibitions in Paris - but their ideas and practice were on display at the gallery of their exclusive dealer, Kahnweiler, and soon attracted attention.

Cubist works by enthusiastic followers began to appear just as Picasso and Braque were moving from analytical to synthetic Cubism - first at the Salon d'Automne in 1910, then in the Cubists' own room at the Salon des Independants in 1911, whence they were invited to Brussels in the same year.

Events were known in Germany and Italy almost as soon as they unfolded in Paris. Picasso and Braque were included by Roger Fry in his second Post-Impressionist exhibition in London in 1912, inducing rage and fury; the epoch-making Armory Show exhibited Cubism to a startled New York in 1913.

In 1912 the painters Gleizes and Metzinger published Cubism, which ran through 15 editions before the end of the year; Apollinaire in 1913 produced The Cubist Painters; A.J. Eddy's Cubism and Post-Impressionism appeared in America in 1914. Picasso had made Cubist sculpture as early as 1909, and others soon followed.

Leger Untitled Pouchoir


Deeply interested in the geometry of proportions and the mathematics of formal relationships, he was a leading contributor to the first exhibition of the Section d'Or (Golden Section) in 1912.

The Section d'Or artists were committed to Cubism but aware of its limitations: they wanted to reinstate color and movement, and to expand its range of subject matter.

They arrived at a resolved pictorial structure not by a reduction of the objects represented but by the application of the laws of musical harmony, of ratio and proportion.

Fernand Leger (1881-1955) remained a Cubist throughout his career, but from the outset his aims went beyond those of Picasso and Braque: he wanted his work to reflect, to appeal to and to enhance the lives of ordinary people, so his subject matter was more important to him, and more emotive.

His training as an architectural draftsman gave his designs a clarity and precision of outline which emerged as an essential characteristic of his style, consolidated during and after World War I.


Leger's earliest exhibited work in the Cubist idiom was Nudes in the Forest of 1909-10: the forms are chunky, contained by their outlines and not opening into one another, and there is more than a hint of traditional perspective; in marked contrast to Braque and Picasso, there is a strong sense of movement, almost of clash and tumult.

Already the form that obsessed Leger all his life, the cylinder (which earned him the title "tubist"), is dominant. He was then influenced, in the Section d'Or, to experiment with pure or nearly pure abstraction, notably in his series Contrasting Forms, 1913-14.