Cubism and Related Movements

Cubism became the major style of the early 20th century in waves. There was not one definitive moment that can be selected when the art world turns to geometrics as their dominant forms, but a few. In the US, Frank Lloyd Wright begins building in his distinctive Prairie Style in the early 1900s in Chicago’s Oak Park suburb. These buildings had a horizontal emphasis, low-pitched roofs, low boundary walls, and combined a Cubist aesthetic with the influence of Japanese architecture. Wright typically cantilevered the horizontal roofs to create a number of long, horizontal porches, and combined these with a number of windows and large, open interior rooms. In Cantilever Construction, there is a horizontal architectural element, projected in space, has vertical support at one end only; equilibrium is maintained by a support and counterbalancing weight inside the building. His supporting features, like the fireplaces that often open to both the living and dining rooms, form the roof supports. Wright also often designed all of the furniture for these homes, as well as light features, stained glass windows, and dining sets.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Robie House, Chicago, 1909 (photos By Dan Smith (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (, via Wikimedia Commons and By Photocopy of Plate #115, Frank Lloyd Wright, Ausgefuherte Baute, Berlin: Ernst Wasmuth A-G, 1911 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Wright’s later architecture would become a synthesis of the Prairie Style and the International Style, with  parts of the house or building are integrated with the landscape, fulfilling Wright’s purpose of “organic” architecture. This is exemplified by the Edgar J. Kaufmann House, better known as Fallingwater, in Bear Run, PA. This house uses locally quarried stone, and cantilevers of reinforced concrete, with curtain walls of windows, to blend in with the landscape around it. Wright even built the structure so that the stream runs through the lower portion of the house.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater, Bear Run, Pennsylvania, 1936 (photos By Esther Westerveld from Haarlemmermeer, Nederland – Fallingwater (Frank Lloyd Wright) – Mill Run PA, CC BY 2.0, and By Jeffrey Neal at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Cubism was a revolution in the artist’s approach to space, where the shapes are broken down into their essential geometric forms and linear perspective is often rejected, creating images that abstract the natural forms and do not allow for much spatial recession.There were some precursors to the main development of the style by both Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Both of these artists, who would work together to develop the main tenets of the Cubist style, were heavily influenced by Paul Cézanne, and began to experiment with neutral colors and blocky forms. Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein shows these experimentations with form and color, using planar shifts that would become more obvious in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, his tour-de-force image of prostitutes in a brothel that is the most radical move yet towards Cubism. In this image, Picasso rejects the more naturalistic imagery of some of his sketches, and removes the sailor and medical student from the scene, for an image of 5 women who are increasingly distorted. He even borrows African masks for 2 of their faces, and ancient Iberian sculptures (which he had acquired from his friend Apollinaire who had “acquired” them from the Louvre) for the woman on the far left. This was done to show the influence of ancient and Non-Western art on the avant garde artists of the period, but the ferocity of the piece also reflects Picasso’s fears of contracting syphilis again. The crouching pose of the figure in the right foreground makes more sense in the sketch with the medical student examining her, as would have been the reality for prostitutes in this period.

Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, 1906 and Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907 (photos and’Avignon.jpg)

Braque also breaks down his forms into geometrics in the period when he was painting in Provence, especially around L’Estaque. Works like Houses at L’Estaque from 1908 show the influence of Cézanne on this style, with the forms taking on the blocky outlines of his Mont Sainte Victoire series.Braque, like Picasso, is also using primarily neutral colors in these works, removing bright color.houses-at-estaque-1908

Georges Braque, Houses at L’Estaque, 1908 (photo

From 1908-1912, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque began working in a style now termed Analytic Cubism. The two artists worked closely together, often on the same canvas, and subject matter and expressive possibilities are subordinated to geometric exploration. Colors were typically muted earth tones, and often, the artists added letters or parts of words to their compositions. The artists worked from multiple viewpoints, influenced by Cézanne, to analyze the geometric elements of what they were painting, and used the muted colors to focus attention on the subject. Often, they also slipped something humorous into the work, such as the trompe l’oeil nail holding up the painter’s palette in Braque’s Violin and Palette. Picasso also began to experiment in this phase with Cubist sculpture, breaking down the forms of his Head of a Woman into a series of geometric planes.

Georges Braque, Violin and Palette, 1909–10 and Pablo Picasso, Head of a Woman, 1909 (photos and

Collage was a logical outgrowth of Analytic Cubism and the beginning of the shift to Synthetic Cubism. Collage involves pasting lightweight materials or objects onto a flat surface. These often followed many of the same rules as the paintings, only more color may be added into the work, as with Picasso’s Guitar and Wine Glass. Many of the collages done by Picasso also include the letters “jou,” which could be a reference to the French verb “jouer,” to play; or to “joue,” a toy; or “journal,” the French word for newspaper. An interpretation of this can be that Picasso is playing with form, art, and materials. His Still Life with Chair Caning plays with forms with the still life, including “JOU,” that appears to be on top of a table at a cafe.

Pablo Picasso, Still Life with Chair Caning, 1912 and Guitar and Wine Glass, 1912 (photos and

Synthetic Cubism sees a return to bright colors and flat shapes arranged to form objects. Many of this works, like Picasso’s Bowl of Fruit, Violin, and Bottle, include aspects of both Analytic Cubism and collage. The brighter colors in this work also add to the sense of depth, as they form shadows and highlights within the work.Bowl of Fruit, Violin and Bottle 1914 by Pablo Picasso 1881-1973

Pablo Picasso, Bowl of Fruit, Violin, and Bottle, 1914 (photo

A later technique is assemblage, in which heavier objects are brought together to form a three-dimensional image. Both it and collage make use of “found objects” (objets trouvés). This fits in with the idea of Cubist sculpture as constructed space. Especially in the early works, Picasso is working with breaking down forms in a similar manner to his paintings, but the objects are still recognizable. Maquette for Guitar and Glass of Absinthe use his humor, as well as geometrics, to reduce the forms to their recognizable essentials. Bull’s Head from 1943 makes use of objects found in the trash to create a different form.

Pablo Picasso, Maquette for Guitar, 1912 and Glass of Absinthe, 1914 (photos and


Pablo Picasso, Bull’s Head, 1943 (photo

There were a number of movements that grew out of the initial experiments with Cubism. Many of these used Cubist ideas to explore the modernity of the city and the new constructed spaces around them. The work of Fernand Léger is an example of Purism, which is known for explicit use of geometric form and large areas of pure color, and cool and detached paint surfaces. The City uses multiple viewpoints and solid geometry that evokes the metallic textures of industry. Orphism, or Orphic Cubism, focused on pure abstraction and bright colors. The main proponents of this style were Robert Delaunay and Sonia Delaunay-Terk, who called the style simultanism. Robert Delaunay was very interested in the Eiffel Tower as a symbol of France, but also as a symbol of the new modern city. Delaunay-Terk is known for her elaborate fabric works that embraced many of the same principles as the work of her husband.


Fernand Léger, The City, 1919 (Photo By Gip3798 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Robert Delaunay, Le Champ de Mars. La Tour Rouge, 1911 and Sonia Delaunay-Terk, Blanket, 1911 (photos By Robert Delaunay –, Public Domain, and

The Italian movement Futurism was inspired by the energy of industry and the machine age, and argued for a complete break with the past. The Futurist Manifesto of 1909 written by Filippo Marinetti argued that Cubism did not go far enough in terms of showing movement and modernity. The Futurists, who were later associated with Italian Fascism, attempted to create works that celebrated modernization, movement, and the outbreak of World War I. Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space uses Cubist strategies to break the form of the figure down into geometrics, but adds obvious motion to the work. Gino Severini celebrated the mechanization of war in Armored Train in Action from 1915. This idea of speeding up Cubism with Futurism was mocked by Marcel Duchamp in his Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2.

Umberto Boccioni, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, 1913 and Gino Severini, Armored Train in Action, 1915 (photos By Wmpearl – Own work, Public Domain, and


Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2, 1912 (photo

The Russian artist Kazimir Malevich originally saw Futurism as the expression of the fast pace of city life, and used this in his early works. Malevich rejected this after the Russian Revolution for Suprematism, a movement which focused on the essential colors and forms in art. Malevich considered the black square to be the most essential of the forms, and the primary colors the most spiritual. Much of his work was characterized by simple shapes and colors painted on a white background, emphasizing the importance he placed on the feeling of color and shape in space as a means to access spirituality and essential human emotions.malevich-black-square

Kazimir Malevich, Black Square, 1915 (photo By Kazimir Malevich – Unknown, Public Domain,

De Stijl was founded in 1917 in Holland by Piet Mondrian, Theo van Doesburg, and a few other artists. Piet Mondrian interested in the idea of purity of geometric shapes and pure colors, taking cues from Kandinsky and Malevich about the ideas linking simple shapes and colors with spirituality. Both Mondrian and van Doesburg removed figures from the natural world from their works, creating non-naturalistic geometric abstractions. De Stijl also had a design and architecture focus, which was interested in what was termed the “equilibrium of opposites,” as shown in Gerrit Rietveld’s Schröder House built in Utrecht, Netherlands in 1923–24. Here, there is an adaptation of Wright’s spaces and open floor plan, with moveable walls and furniture designed by the builder, as well as an attempt to bring the outside into the interior space. But, the shapes and colors of the structure are thoroughly modern in form, recalling the paintings of Mondrian.

Piet Mondrian, Tableau I, 1921 and Theo van Doesburg, Composition VII (The Cow), c, 1918 (photo By Piet Mondrian – Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, Public Domain, and By Theo van Doesburg – : Home : Info, Public Domain,

Gerrit Rietveld,Schroder House, Utrecht, Netherlands, 1923–24 (Photos By Andreas 2309 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons and

These movements would have a profound impact on later movements, and marked, with the Expressionists, the full turn away from naturalism in Western art.


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