Cubism is such a vastly written about subject there comes a time when I need to stop reading and start writing before I run out of time again. In previous assignment feedbacks, my tutor has suggested I break out the WHA reading notes into additional and separate blog posts about the main themes of each chapter, so while I was reading I was also compiling longer format notes for that with regards to Cubism & Fauvism especially since it forms one of the annotation tasks in upcoming Assignment 5. Since then I’ve also been reading about it in other books and websites to try and understand it. Here I’ll try and summarise some of that so that I can get it out of my head before my more focused annotation task. I loved the clip above from animation department of Paris’s Gobelins L’École de L’Image from their animated short featuring a fictitious bar brawl between Fauvists & Cubists, specifically Matisse & Picasso in Cubist and Fauvist-inspired hues and forms. see on youtube here.
- Matisse lead the short-lived Fauvism movement before developing it into his own mature personal style. Derain/Vlaminck/Braque and others.
- Picasso and Braque developed Cubism together but there was a whole bunch of other Cubists who, with the help of Poet/Critic Apollinaire helped make it fashionable.
- Everyone loved Cezanne in their own way.
Picasso (Extended Notes from WHA)
Picasso was a child prodigy. By 1900 he’d already mastered academic paintings. Blue & rose period 1903 – 1906 full of wistful poetry (P782 WHA)
In the early 20th century there was a culture of Primitivism, ‘myth of the primitive’, engendered by Gauguin (see section four) and works from Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). Especially ‘interpretation of dreams ‘, published in 1900, which involved theories of the subconscious, including sexual urge & understanding instinctual side of human nature with emphasis on emotion and sensations being more important than rational thought. This had a profound effect on artists & intellectual thought of the time in fact, it transformed 20th century attitudes & values. Add to that a French colonial scandal in 1904 that rocked the newspapers, bringing Africa into focus & sparking anti colonial public outrage. French officers were hunting black people for amusement like lions, and set with gunpowder like human firecrackers, and generally being degraded and murdered.
The Paris salon work at the time was very refined, eg Monet’s waterlilies. In a direct rejection of this was Picasso. He was influenced by Cezanne, he commented that ‘around 1906 cezanne’s influence flooded everything ‘ (p771,WHA), Matisse & Iberian (pre-Roman Spanish) sculpture. He started his revolutionary work Les Demoiselles d’Avignon ,1907, a nearly flat painting of a complex of invented forms, (p771, WHA). This was a revolutionary break with Western illusionistic art. He abandoned the traditional single viewpoint & proportions & reordered human form into geometrical lozenges & triangles. New intellectual treatment of space/ form /unexpressed emotions /states of mind. Rejected coherences of representational art. It was named after a brothel in his home town, it was originally to have a sailor and a student with a skull but they were soon dropped.
Fauvre painters introduced Picasso to African art, whose influence can be seen in the right hand two figures. He said (reflecting in the 1930s), that African sculpture & masks were a creative revelation & a source of liberating energy (p771, WHA). He reflected on his first visit to a ethnographical museum in great detail almost 30 years later so it must have made a massive impact on him, despite playing it close to the vest at the time (didn’t want to be seen as too much the anarchist). He deemed African art to depend on knowing rather than seeing.
Picasso recognised the genius of self-taught Henri Rousseau (1844-1910), a naive artist, having some of Rousseau’s enormous canvases of imagined, mysterious & menacing exotic jungle landscapes in his studio. He also had many African, Iberian and Oceanic sculptures.
Notes from Cubism: a history and analysis 1907-1924 by John Golding:
Cubism Vs Fauvism
The formation of Cubism was in sharp contrast to that of Fauvism. Where the Fauves drew from a wide variety of sources, the development of Cubism, except for the joint influences of Cezanne and tribal sculpture, was remarkably self- contained. And whereas the Fauves borrowed restlessly from the art of their predecessors, the Cubists reverted to fundamental principles; they began, so to speak, from the bottom upwards. Feeling that traditional painting was exhausted, they took each of the elements that comprise the vocabulary of painting – form, space, colour, and technique – and substituted for the traditional use of every one of them a new interpretation of their own. In short Cubism was a completely new pictorial language, a completely new way of looking at the outside world, a clearly-defined aesthetic. As such it has shaped the course of almost all twentieth-century painting. (Golding, J, 1988).
The other important style of the early 1900’s in Paris was Fauvism, which came first and was essentially lead by Matisse. Contemporary critics (Apollinaire for example) routinely compared the two, seeing a direct connection between them in that they are both moves towards abstraction, they both encourage artists to ‘to take greater liberties with visual appearances‘ (Golding, J, 1988), (in which Fauvism foreshadowed Cubism). Cubism and Fauvism approach the move towards abstraction entirely differently however. Cubism was expression through line and form, and Fauvism was expression through colour (sounds like the age old colour vs line argument popping up again in a new format).
For while Fauve painting at its most typical sprang from a free, spontaneous and often highly subjective response to the external world, and for this reason seemed occasionally to be far removed from conventional appearances, the Cubists, on the other hand, were led to still greater abstraction by the fact that their vision was conceptual and intellectual rather than physical and sensory. (Golding, J, 1988).
Interestingly, Braque was a Fauve before moving on to develop Cubism with Picasso.
Both, the Fauves (especially Matisse) and the Cubists admired Cezanne, and tribal art but they put these influences to different uses.
Between 1904 and 1906, the works of Matisse, Derain and Vlaminck all resembled each other to a certain extent and had clearly-defined characteristics in common – it was a synthesis of elements drawn from the art of the past fifty years: Impressionism, Divisionism, the decorative rhythms of Gauguin and the expressionism of Van Gogh, all contributed equally to its appearance. And since Fauvism evolved no really consistent technique of its own and was not governed by any very clearly-defined aesthetic, it was not a style that could have anything more than a very fleeting existence. It could well be interpreted as a sort of final paroxysm of post-Impressionist painting. (Golding, J, 1988)
The Bonheur de Viure, while it is generally considered to be one of the key-works of Fauvism, and while it incontestably represents a summary of Matisse’s work of the previous years, shows him in fact taking the decisive step towards the formation of his own, individual, mature style. Apart from a few isolated sketches of Derain’s done under the direct influence of the painting, there are really no Fauve works quite like it. The refined, undulating outlines, the subtle blending of colour, the whole feeling of carefully calculated formal precision and intellectual control, even the arcadian symbolism, all these factors are at variance with the immediacy, the sporadic, broken or violent contours and the deliberately loose, occasionally even dislocated appearance of Fauve paintings done by Vlaminck and Derain at Chatou and in London, the Collioure landscapes of Derain and Matisse, and Matisse’s portraits of his wife painted in 1905 – the sort of painting that originally earned the movement its name. (Golding, J, 1988)
Picasso & Braque
todo finish writing up notes from Golding 1988.
Notes from Art in theory 1900-2000, an anthology
The most useful reference book I found though was Art in theory 1900-2000, an anthology of changing ideas edited by Charles Harrison & Paul Wood. The assignment calls for several aspects that various chapters in this book will provide interesting research for. First up the annotations, Cubism (made between 1908-1914) & a Fauve artist. However, it poses a problem of secondary sources. The book is an anthology made so that all the hard to find texts are in one place for students, which allows me to read texts I would not otherwise have done but often it references a translation of an original French or German text, so actually I’m getting it third hand and translated. I see the point of trying to get some of the translated texts as primary souses. However in the interest of making the assignment deadline I’ll list them as secondary sources for now. There was lots of interesting background reading but the two I most found practically useful in understanding my chosen Cubist painting were
Braque ‘Thoughts on Painting‘ Harrison & Wood, 2003, p214/5 (which I’d already read in the WHA too) and Daniel Henry Kahnweiler The Rise of Cubism, Harrison and Wood, 2003) p211/2.
Daniel Henry Kahnweiler (1884-1976) The Rise of Cubism. This article first appeared in Zurich in 1916 after he’d had his collection taken and had retired to Switzerland. The translation presented in the book is from Robert Motherwell (Ed.) Documents of Modern Art, New York, 1949,p1,6-8,9-14. I found interesting Braques limiting of background spaces. Interesting explanation of the scheme of a Cubist painting and how the scene is built… see below. Kahnweiler was the leading contemporary art dealer for Cubism, and friends with Picasso & Braque. This allowed them not to worry about public exhibitions. Braque & Picasso started to paint in a new fashion completely independently in 1907, they got together in late 1907. Started with landscapes and still life’s boiled down to simple shapes and their position in space. 1908 saw them tackle more complex still life’s and more detailed representations of nudes. Braque introduced musical instruments. Also fruit bowls, bottles and glasses. In 1910 Braque painted a naturistic nail with shadow (trompe-l’oeil nail) trying to incorporate this real element into the unity of the painting was difficult so they started to limit the background space in their paintings. Cezanne had frequently used this trick of limiting the space. Then Braque introduced writing, another real element. Picasso had discovered open form, meaning they could do away with the illusionistic skin of objects as described by chiaroscuro.
‘with the representation of solid objects this could be effected by a process of representation that has a certain resemblance to geometrical drawing. This is a matter of course since the aim of both is to render the three-dimensional object on a two-dimensional plane. In addition, the painter no longer has to limit himself to depicting the object as it would appear from one given viewpoint, but wherever necessary for fuller comprehension, can show it from several sides, and from above and below.’ Daniel Henry Kahnweiler (Harrison and Wood, 2003)
To represent an object in space:
- start from a clearly-defined background.
- Working towards the front, indicating each form’s position with a scheme.
- To avoid it being a mangle of planes and geometrical shapes introduce some ‘real details’.
The viewer then mentally combines the memory of those real details with the shapes and positions to ‘see’ the scene in their head.
‘in other words, there exist in the painting the scheme of forms and small real details as stimuli integrated into the unity of the work of art ;there exists, as well, but only in the mind of the spectator, the finished product of assimilation, the human head for instance. There is no possibility of a conflict here, and yet the object once ‘recognised’ in the painting is now ‘seen’ with a perspicacity of which no illusionistic art is capable’ Daniel Henry Kahnweiler (Harrison and Wood, 2003).
After reading that I went back to Braque’s own ‘Thoughts on Painting’. These were jotted down in the margins of his drawings and collected & published in Pierre Reverdy’s Journal Nord-Sud, Paris, December 1917. The translation presented in the book is from Edward Fry, op. cit., pp. 147-8. Interestingly, Breton attacks these in p462/3
Selected quotes I found the most interesting/pertenant to my understanding of Clarinet and Bottle of Rum on a Mantelpiece 1911:
- The subject is not the object; it is the new unity, the lyricism which stems entirely from the means employed.
- The aim is not to reconstitute an anecdotal fact but to constitute a pictorial fact.
- To be pure imitation, painting must make an abstraction of appearances
- The senses deform, the mind forms. Work to perfect the mind. There is no certainty except in what the mind conceives
- Trompe-l’oeil is due to an anecdotal accident that makes its effect through the simplicity of the facts.
Braque ‘Thoughts on Painting’ (Harrison and Wood, 2003)
Critic & Poet Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918), was chief cheerleader for Cubism, close friend with Picasso & highly influential in Parisian avant-garde circles in the first two decades of the 20th century.
His essay The Cubists appeared as part of his review of the Salon d’Automne in 1911, published in L’Intransigeant, 10 Oct 1911. The translated version in Harrison & Wood 2003 is taken from Leroy C, Breunig (ed.), Apollinaire on Art, London, 1972, p183. Distinguishing between the formal & monumental quantities of Cubist & Impressionist-Fauvist work this plugs directly into my annotation comparison.
He explains that cubism is a school of painters who ‘want to transform their art by returning to first principles with regard to line and inspiration’ he points out that many of them were previously from the Fauvist school who ‘returned to first principles with regard to colour and composition’ (Harrison & Wood, 2003) p186
He explains that the term Cubism comes from Picasso’s showing some paintings in 1908 with simply drawn houses which face the illusion of cubes to the public, he doesn’t mention it may have come from a derisive term applied to some of Braque’s early work.
He explains away the shock of seeing paintings with shadows & contrast in after getting so used to ‘the brilliant but practically formless daubs of the Impressionists’. ‘The monumental appearance of compositions that go beyond the frivolities of contemporary art’. ‘Cubism is the most noble undertaking in French art today.’.(Harrison & Wood, 2003) P186
His next two paper also include some interesting parts on defining different aspects of Cubism and the ‘plastic’ arts.
Author/Contemporary Critic Jacques Riviere (1886-1925) wrote extended critical discussion ‘Present Tendencies in Painting’, published in Revue d’Europe et d’Amerique, in March 1912. The translated extract in the book is taken from Fry, op. cit., pp. 75-80.
He explains that the Cubists are on the right track but haven’t quite got there yet. ‘They are precursors – clumsy, like all precursors – of a new art which is henceforth inevitable’.(Harrison & Wood, 2003) P190
He goes on to help them ‘by supplying them with the deep reasons for what they are doing’. P190
Essentially he explains that they are trying to depict ‘objects as they really are’ ie not how one might see them. So they have to do away with illusionistic devices such as foreshortening, perspective & lighting. Light & shadow play across and object as we move around it but the light on an object is just an instance, so to perceive the object as its plastic reality we must blend many perceptions of it. Equally, perspective is an object only from one point of view and is subject to the same issues.
He outlines the mistakes he feels the Cubists have made, that instead of showing enough faves of an object to suggest volume they show all its faces, they fill the empty space in the picture with walls and fortifications. And when they dismissed lighting & perspective they subordinate nothing in the picture
‘They thus condemn themselves never again to select anything from reality; and since there can be no subordination without selection, the elements in their pictures relapse into anarchy and form a mad cacophony which makes us laugh… ‘ (Harrison and Wood, 2003) p193.
From the introduction section of The idea of the modern world :
In the decade before the first World War, cubism, expressionism and futurism mark different facets of a European avant-garde’s reception of the modern into an established artistic tradition whose example was predominantly French. (Harrison and Wood, 2003) P127
It remains a central paradox of the new art that it sought its authenticity in a remote Nature, but that this repeated incantation to Nature was made under urban circumstances. (Harrison and Wood, 2003) P127.
With cubism the situation is different. Particularly in its ‘analytic’ phase, cubism is a hermetic art. The still live and the single portrait figure – characteristic Cubist subject matter – give few clues to the storm of modernity blowing outside the studio… By a strange inversion, it seems as if the modern picture, rather than depicting the machines and buildings which made up the modern world, had internalized its modernity. (Harrison and Wood, 2003) P130.
Interesting terms re cubism : (Harrison and Wood, 2003) p130
- New pictorial language
- The opacity through which the world is represented
- Technical innovation… Imbuing the form of the art with modernity.
- Autonomous decoration of a surface
- Penetration below surface appearance to the constants of ‘true’ reality
- Continued referentially
Notes on Modernism :
Tension between two ways of conceiving art theory, the Realist view (Barnes below) and the view in which the artist is unquestionable author and the theorist attempts to follow on and document after the practice. Theoretical criticism based on understanding historical process & understanding historical process which is formed by critical experience of Art.
Clement Greenberg’s name is virtually synonymous with Modernist criticism.
Artist don’t always do what they say they’ve done.
‘representations are always built out of pre-existing cultural resources, and hence have always to be explained as developments within an ongoing cultural tradition’ Barnes, Interests and the growth of knowledge, p19. (Harrison and Wood, 2003)
Notes on Fauvism:
Fauvism. (see Barr text p381-3).
Fauvism is a tradition of emotion & intuition in contrast to the intellectual of Cubism. Curvilinear rather than rectilinear. biomorphic or organic rather than geometrical. Decorative rather than structural. Spontaneous & mystical.
P69 Matisse, ‘Notes of a Painter’
Originally published as Notes d’un peintre in La Grande Revue, Paris, 25 December 1908. The translation in the book is from J. D. Flam, Matisse on Art, London and New York, 1973. Pp32-40.
Many of the points he made I found more easily applied to Cubism than his own art which us strange.
He explains that he sacrifices some of the decorative charm of his paintings to plough past fleeting sensation such as the Impressionists are drawn to depict. Like the Cubists later, he is looking to express a more full interpretation of a scene or object. ‘underlying this succession of moments which constitutes the superficial existence of beings and things, which is continually modifying and transforming them, one can search for a truer, more essential character, which the artist will seize so that he may give to reality a more lasting interpretation’. (Harrison and Wood, 2003) P71.
I wonder if it is to this point that Picasso refer when he said ‘in my opinion to search means nothing in painting. To find, is the thing.’ (Harrison and Wood, 2003) p215 ‘Picasso Speaks’ an interview in 1923 where he remains sceptical of attempts to intellectualise Cubism. ‘We all know that Art is not truth. Art is the lie that makes us realise truth at least the truth that is given us to understand…. If he [an artist] only shows in his work that he has searched and re-searched, for the way to put over lies he would never accomplish anything. ‘ (Harrison and Wood, 2003) p215/6
Back to Matisse, he says some things which can be applied easily to Cubism, for example when talking of sculpture in Luxembourg, ‘and yet movement thus understood corresponds to nothing in nature: when we capture it by surprise in a snapshot, the resulting image reminds us of nothing that we have seen. Movement seized while it is going on is meaningful to us only if we do not isolate the present sensation either from that which precedes it or that which follows it.’ (Harrison and Wood, 2003) p71/2
This reminded me of nude descending a staircase, which I’d seen in WHA.
What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject-matter. Matisse, (Harrison and Wood, 2003) P73.
In his article, he refutes some criticism from M. Peladan in the way the Fauves dress like ordinary people and that they don’t follow the ‘rules’ of painting. He lays out his opinion on the lack of universal rules and his opinion of Raphael, Titian, Manet and Renoir. He thinks artists should be of their time and not slavishly copy the greats.
Notes from – The fauves: the reign of colour By Jean – Louis Ferrier
As offspring of Newton and Cheverell, the fauves explored the spectrum ;for them, the colours were not only mere stimuli on the retina but could also express feelings. (Ferrier, 1995) P9
The first exhibition of Fauvism, and where they got their name was in the 1905 Salon d’Automne, they were all in room VII, 2 by Charles Camoin, 5 by Andre Derain, 4 by Henri Matisse, 5 by Henri Manguin, 5 by Albert Marquet and others by Maurice Vlaminck, Van Dongen, Frieze, Puy and Valtat. A mixture of subjects, nudes, landscapes, still life, and portraits. Additionally a huge jungle picture by Henri Rousseau. Added for contrast in the middle of all that colour they put a traditional marble bust and bronze Statue by Albert Marque.
Critic Louis Vauxcelles said of the spectacle “C’est Donatello chez les fauves” (it’s Donatello amid the wild beasts) and the name stuck. Everyone in the room was hated by the public and ridiculed by the critics. Only Andre Gide recognised it was ‘a by-product of theories’. The same public was only just coming to accept the ‘palette scrapings’ of Impressionism. This new art was an evolution too far for them.
The Fauvist movement was a natural progression of the two movements that succeeded impressionism, Neo-Impressionism & Syntheism (ie the works of Seurat, Van Gogh and Gauguin). Theories of Chevreul that inspired the former, colours placed next to each other appear more vivid on the viewer’s retina. Eg red/green, blue/orange and yellow/violet. These colour combinations can be seen throughout annotation 2. And the large areas of flat colour of the latter.
‘Vlaminck and Derain for example, aware of their similarities, used colour as “sticks of dynamite“‘ (Ferrier, 1995) P20
By 1908, the public was coming around to the fauves and with a slightly younger generation of critics, people were starting to understand it a little. Matisse and Marquet were even on the jury, which caused a new scandal when they rejected Braque’s new work. ‘Matisse, when asked by Vauxcelles which paintings had been refused, answered “Braque sent canvases covered with little cubes.“‘ (Ferrier, 1995) p23 Braque exhibited them in Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler’s little gallery instead. ‘The avant-garde had changed sides and cubism was born’. (Ferrier, 1995) P23
Born in Argenteuil, France in 1882, died in Paris 1963. He started as a house painter, taking courses at the Academie Humbert. He rented a studio in Antwerp with Friesz in 1906 doing Fauvism. 1908-1914 he was invented Cubism with Picasso. He went into the army for WWI, and got injured and discharged in 1917 with temporary blindness which meant he couldn’t paint again for a while. From 1943 he started making massive canvases and sculpture.
See also research put straight into the Assignment annotations and the assoicated painting reviews here and here.
Ferrier, J. (1995). The Fauves. Paris: Terrail.
Golding, J. (1988) Cubism :a history and analysis 1907-1924. Harvard University press
Harrison, C & Wood, P (Ed.). (2003) Art in theory 1900-2000, an anthology of changing ideas. Blackwell publishing
Honour, H & Fleming, J. (2009) A World History of Art. (7th Ed), London, Laurence King Publishing