Cubism was a 20th century avant-garde art movement, pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, that revolutionized European painting and sculpture, and inspired related movements in music and literature. The first branch of cubism, known as Analytic Cubism, was both radical and influential as a short but highly significant art movement between 1907 and 1911 in France. In its second phase, Synthetic Cubism, the movement spread and remained vital until around 1919, when the Surrealist movement gained popularity.
English art historian Douglas Cooper describes three phases of Cubism in his seminal book, The Cubist Epoch. According to Cooper there was "Early Cubism", (from 1906 to 1908) when the movement was initially developed in the studios of Picasso and Braque, the second phase being called "High Cubism", (from 1909 to 1914) during which time Juan Gris emerged as an important exponent, and finally Cooper referred to "Late Cubism" (from 1914 to 1921) as the last phase of Cubism as a radical avant-garde movement.
In cubist artworks, objects are broken up, analyzed, and re-assembled in an abstracted form-instead of depicting objects from one viewpoint, the artist depicts the subject from a multitude of viewpoints to represent the subject in a greater context. Often the surfaces intersect at seemingly random angles, removing a coherent sense of depth. The background and object planes interpenetrate one another to create the shallow ambiguous space, one of cubism's distinct characteristics.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the European cultural elite were discovering African, Micronesian and Native American art for the first time. Artists such as Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso were intrigued and inspired by the stark power and simplicity of styles of those foreign cultures. Around 1906, Picasso met Matisse through Gertrude Stein, at a time when both artists had recently acquired an interest in primitivism, Iberian sculpture, African art and African tribal masks. They became friendly rivals and competed with each other throughout their careers, perhaps leading to Picasso entering a new period in his work by 1907, marked by the influence of Greek, Iberian and African art. Picasso's paintings of 1907 have been characterized as Protocubism, as notably seen in Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, the antecedent of Cubism.
According to the English art historian, collector, and author of The Cubist Epoch, Douglas Cooper, remarking on Paul Gauguin and Paul Cezanne "both of those artists were particularly influential to the formation of Cubism and especially important to the paintings of Picasso during 1906 and 1907". Cooper goes on to say however Les Demoiselles is often erroneously referred to as the first cubist painting. He explains,
The Demoiselles is generally referred to as the first Cubist picture. This is an exaggeration, for although it was a major first step towards Cubism it is not yet Cubist. The disruptive, expressionist element in it is even contrary to the spirit of Cubism, which looked at the world in a detached, realistic spirit. Nevertheless, the Demoiselles is the logical picture to take as the starting point for Cubism, because it marks the birth of a new pictorial idiom, because in it Picasso violently overturned established conventions and because all that followed grew out of it. Some believe that the roots of cubism are to be found in the two distinct tendencies of Cezanne's later work: firstly to break the painted surface into small multifaceted areas of paint, thereby emphasizing the plural viewpoint given by binocular vision, and secondly his interest in the simplification of natural forms into cylinders, spheres, and cones.
However the cubists explored this concept further than Cezanne, they represented all the surfaces of depicted objects in a single picture plane, as if the objects had all their faces visible at the same time. This new kind of depiction revolutionized the way in which objects could be visualized in painting and art.
The invention of Cubism was a joint effort between Picasso and Braque, then residents of Montmartre, Paris. These artists were the movement's main innovators. A later active participant was the Spaniard Juan Gris. After meeting in 1907 Braque and Picasso in particular began working on the development of Cubism. Picasso was initially the force and influence that persuaded Braque by 1908 to move away from Fauvism. The two artists began working closely together in late 1908-early 1909 until the outbreak of World War I in 1914. The movement spread quickly throughout Paris and Europe.
French art critic Louis Vauxcelles first used the term "cubism", or "bizarre cubiques", in 1908 after seeing a picture by Braque. He described it as "full of little cubes", after which the term quickly gained wide use although the two creators did not initially adopt it. Art historian Ernst Gombrich described cubism as "the most radical attempt to stamp out ambiguity and to enforce one reading of the picture-that of a man-made construction, a coloured canvas."
Cubism was taken up by many artists in Montparnasse and promoted by art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, becoming popular so quickly that by 1911 critics were referring to a "cubist school" of artists. However, many of the artists who thought of themselves as cubists went in directions quite different from Braque and Picasso. The Puteaux Group or Section d'Or was a significant offshoot of the Cubist movement, it included Guillaume Apollinaire, Robert Delaunay, Marcel Duchamp, his brothers Raymond Duchamp-Villon and Jacques Villon, and Fernand Leger, and Francis Picabia. Other important artists associated with cubism include: Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger, Marie Laurencin, Max Weber, Diego Rivera, Marie Vorobieff, Louis Marcoussis, Jeanne Rij-Rousseau, Roger de La Fresnaye, Henri Le Fauconnier, Alexander Archipenko, Frantisek Kupka, Amedee Ozenfant, Jean Marchand, Leopold Survage, Patrick Henry Bruce among others. Section d'Or is basically just another name for many of the artists associated with cubism and orphism. Purism was an artistic offshoot of Cubism that developed after World War I. Leading proponents of Purism include Le Corbusier, Amedee Ozenfant, and Fernand Leger.
Cubism and modern European art was introduced into the United States at the now legendary 1913 Armory Show in New York City, which then traveled to Chicago. In the Armory show Jacques Villon exhibited seven important and large drypoints, his brother Marcel Duchamp shocked the American public with his painting Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (1912) and Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso, Fernand Leger, Raymond Duchamp-Villon, Roger de La Fresnaye, Marie Laurencin, Albert Gleizes, and other cubist painters contributed examples of their cubist works. Braque and Picasso themselves went through several distinct phases before 1920, and some of these works had been seen in New York prior to the Armory Show, at Alfred Stieglitz's "291" gallery. Czech artists who realized the epochal significance of cubism of Picasso and Braque attempted to extract its components for their own work in all branches of artistic creativity-especially painting and architecture. This developed into Czech Cubism which was an avant-garde art movement of Czech proponents of cubism active mostly in Prague from 1910 to 1914.