Category Archives: Types of Cubism

Discover main types, phases or periods of cubism/cubist art by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque: African or Paul Cezanne, Analytical or Analytic, and Synthetic

Pablo Picasso’s African Period (Paul Cezanne Cubism)

African period was a short period that preceded extremely monochrome and fragmented analytical cubism plus, obviously, bright and colorful synthetic stage, and lasted around 1907-1908.

It can be sometimes called “Cezanne Cubism” because at that time Picasso was greatly influenced by Cezanne’s method of simplifying the image, not forgetting the fact that in the basis of any, even very complicated shape, lies a simple geometry – a sphere, a cylinder, a cone.

But even more often this period is called the “African”, “Black” or “Negro”, as at that point Picasso discovered the archaic art of Africa and felt the need to change his own creative method under its influence.

Pablo Picasso - Frienship (1908) (African Period) (Paul Cezanne Cubism)
         Pablo Picasso – Friendship (1908)

Picasso’s Acquaintance with African Art

He became acquainted with the African art at the ethnographic exhibition at the Museum of the Trocadero (Paris) in the spring of 1907. It was a real discovery for him – such simple, even primitive forms of ancient sculpture as idols, statuettes and masks carried a huge artistic charge. They conveyed an image or vision of reality with much more power than modern European art, embodied the mighty forces of nature, from which primitive man was not distancing himself.

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In ancient times – a rough simplicity and extraordinary power, in our time – a pictorial beauty and a scenic swarming in detail. Ancient people exempted a form from any detail, that’s why that form was able to convey the essence of the subject and the magic of an image hidden in that form much more effectively. Picasso placed art above all else in his life, that’s why his ideology coincided with a powerful concept of those images.

Picasso - three figures under a tree (African Period)
    Three figures under a tree by Pablo Picasso                                          (1907-1908)

Ancient wooden idols, rough stone statuettes, and archaic masks served not as decorations of life but carried the symbols of obscure and dreadful forces of nature which controlled the life on earth, full of danger. The art was a magical mean of a spell of forces that were hostile to a human.

It played a much more important role than now. In the course of history, it has become just a makeweight to life that only puts a beautiful gloss on our human existence. Pablo Picasso, who always took his occupation as the most important in the world, realized how to breathe the spirit of the primitive force in it.

We can say that the great cubist followed the path that was suggested by savages or barbarians. During the African period, Picasso was applying the methods of the ancient artists by consistently simplifying the shape of the depicted objects, making them more monumental and expressive, turning the characters into some sort of wooden idols, distorting their faces and turning them into masks.

Picasso Pablo - Dance of the Veils (African Period)
         Picasso Pablo – Dance of the Veils

He uses rough hatching that simulates notches on wooden African sculptures. He dims down the color, integrates space and characters. Such a syncretic view of reality was peculiar to the ancient consciousness.

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On the Picasso’s canvases, it looks as if the characters and the background – a curtain or trees, mountains in the back, or even the air space itself – all is tangible, all “made” from a single “material”, the background looks as tangible as the figure.

Everything consists of single blocks or “cubes”, as derisively described by contemporaries because a primitive man did not separate or distance themselves from nature. The surface of his paintings started to be perceived as a sculptural bas-relief, the image looks like a three-dimensional, as if carved from a single piece of wood or cut down from the whole rock.

The First African Period Artwork by Picasso

The first work by Picasso, in which “African influence” can be clearly seen, is considered to be the painting called “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” created in 1907. Pablo was looking for a new shaping, and something that he achieved in this artwork, he thought to be extremely radical even himself. He was working on this picture for more than six months, repeatedly reshaping the composition and altering the images of women.

In this artwork, he broke off with any kind of conventionality, refused from all the prettiness with which a female body was typically portrayed. He was endlessly repainting the characters by distorting and simplifying their form and finally transformed the faces of the two characters (especially those on the right) in real African ritual masks.

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907) (Picasso African Period)
                Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907)

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As you can see, this work of art possesses all the necessary characteristics to be doubtlessly related to the African period (or Paul Cezanne cubism). By the way, the deformation of figures and schematic representation of faces was considered as the act of misogyny by some critics.

No wonder, that the first reaction of the artistic community was a rejection. But Picasso realized that he discovered a new method which he was consistently developing and experimenting with it during the following two years. He aims to create the illusion of three-dimensional space, populated by deformed creatures, at a two-dimensional plane of the canvas.

Other Picasso’s African Period Paintings

Major works, which are usually referred to the “African” period, were made in the second half of 1907, when he was creating some kind of “supplements” to the Les Demoiselles d’Avignon – numerous characters with faces similar to African masks, for example, “Three figures under a tree” (winter 1907-1908) or “Nude with drapery” (summer 1907).

In 1908, in Rue-des-Bois, he painted such typical works as “A Driade” (Nude in the forest), “Trois femmes” (Three Women), “Friendship”. In 1909 he spent the summer at Horta de Ebro, where the examples of “pure”, “high” or “Analytical” cubism appear. But as we already know, these works are usually referred to the next period of his work.


Types of Cubism: What is Synthetic Cubism by Picasso & Braque

Synthetic cubism begins approximately in the spring of 1912 with a color change of monochrome refined cubist compositions of the previous two years of the analytical type, phase, stage or period, and about one year of Picasso’s African Period, otherwise known as Cezanne cubism.

In April 1912, Picasso gets back from a small journey and brings his new work named “Souvenir from Havre” with him. That painting differed from his other works and Braque instantly noticed it by saying that it was a real change of “weapons”.

Pablo Picasso - Souvenir du Havre (1912) (synthetic cubism)
   Pablo Picasso – Souvenir du Havre (1912)

Return of Color and the Use of Objects in Synthetic Cubism

The reason for saying that was the first time appearance of color in cubism, which since that time, becomes much more cheerful and concrete. Not only the color but also the texture of the materials were added to the old abstract compositions.

Braque inserts a jug, a mug and a perfectly realistic image of the nail in his semi-abstract cubist composition. From that point, they began to actively enliven their works with new recognizable details, distinctive signs which were quite definitely implying and suggesting the viewer the real objects.

The founders of cubism didn’t want to make their paintings abstract, that’s why these concrete and recognizable objects appear in their canvases more and more – a piece of a curtain hints at the window, a key, sticking out from the chest, alludes to a chest of drawers.

Other “talking” parts included a slice of lemon, a tube, a bottle, a glass. Soon the letters and the whole words appear on the canvas – the name of wine, magazine, tavern, the name of the beloved. Finally, Picasso pastes into a picture a real postage stamp. It’s pretty obvious that synthetic cubism was highly influenced by the collage art technique.

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Through the use of large color surfaces, cut out of the paper, the color returned to the paintings in the form of colored patches, which greatly differed from the color created purely by pictorial means and the touch of the brush.

The color was long held in reserve during all the period of analytical cubism, which was characterized by its deficiency. But now the color had to come back – not to display the lighting or the relief surface of the object, but for the pleasure of feeling the color itself.

The Card Player by Picasso (Synthetic Cubism)
         The Card Player by Picasso (1913-1914)

In the big Picasso’s painting “The Card-Player”, written in the winter of 1913-1914, old methods of analytical cubism revived because the breakdown of the surface started to be performed by large, color-filled areas, each of which was given a special spatial significance in relation to adjacent one.

All of them were securely mounted into a complete three-dimensional composition. The arabesque of decorative motifs borrowed from the wallpaper was painted with imitations of wood and marble. Soon Braque’s and Picasso’s canvases transformed into some sort of decorative collages.

Examples of Most Famous Synthetic Cubism Paintings

In 1912, Picasso creates the work called “Still-Life with Chair Caning”. He inserts an oilcloth with a pattern that simulates bars of the chair in the oval composition of the painting, the oval itself being bordered by a thick twine – it’s a “frame” of the picture. The prototype of all ready-made experiments of the 20th century was created.

In the same year, during their joint visit to Sorgue (France), Braque invents a so-called paper collage – the three-dimensional picture, spatial composition, original and peculiar sculptures out of paper. Picasso immediately responds to this invention with great enthusiasm and also creates a huge amount of paper compositions.

Still-Life With Chair Caning by Picasso (1912) (synthetic-cubism)
                   Still-Life With Chair Caning by Picasso (1912)

His series called “Guitars” is the most popular one. He uses a newspaper, music sheets,  wallpaper, fabric, cardboard. Besides that, he works on the textured surface pattern by adding to the paint sand and sawdust. By trying to achieve a complete image, he uses charcoal, a pencil, an oil, wax, wood and other ready-made foreign objects such as teaspoons in a single composition.

By doing it, he connects the things that were incompatible in painting before. This period of cubism was called synthetic not by accident. By creating their own miniature collages, cubist artists as if “synthesize” artistic reality from the symbols of the present reality.

The Guitar By Pablo Picasso (synthetic cubism)
             The Guitar By Pablo Picasso (1913)

       Techniques of Synthetic Cubism

While the preference was given to the most simple things, sometimes cubist artists were using some extremely unexpected materials in their works. The magic lies in giving the value to any object which is usually neglected. However, a transition from the analytical to the synthetic cubism was not so sudden and abrupt.

Already in 1912, in the “glued papers” that were created in Sorgue, a clearly preferred use of large flat surfaces can be seen, but paintings of that period also include objects that are treated analytically.

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Over the next year, there was created a great number of works, in which both styles peacefully coexist side by side. At the same time, a sensual pleasure delivered by a tangible surface of the texture started to be valued higher.

The use of sand stuck on the canvas as if invites us to touch the rough, brightly colored surfaces and enjoy the very fact of their existence, not taking into account some of their deeper and representative meaning. Moreover, thanks to a special method of the refraction of light, rough surfaces form wonderful priming for paint, which is being slightly applied by a brush.

A cubist painting from Picasso's Guitar period (synthetic cubism)
A cubist painting from Picasso’s Guitar     period

There is a significant difference between the analytical and synthetic stages of cubism from a pictorial space point of view. The analytical cubism retains some sort of depth – painted surface functions like a window through which we still perceive the remains of the familiar perspective of Renaissance space.

This space, although fragmented and recomposed, lies behind the plane of the picture and does not have the visible limits. Potentially, there may be some things that are invisible to our eyes. In synthetic cubism, it’s the other way around – the space of the picture is in front of the plane.

Space is not created with the help of such illusionistic techniques as modeling or perspective image but by the actual use of several layers of glued materials. The integrity of space is not being disrupted without the perspective.

For example, in the work “Le Courrier” by Georges  Braque (1914), overlaying the shadows in some parts stresses the thickness of the materials, their separation from each other. As you can see, in synthetic cubism, the first time since Masaccio, we deal with a completely new space model which is a real landmark in the history of painting.

Le Courrier by Georges Braque (1913-1914) (Synthetic Cubism)
          Le Courrier by Georges Braque (1913-1914)

Soon Picasso and Braque realized that new pictorial space can be saved without the use of glued materials – by writing on the canvas in the same manner as they did collages. However, the outbreak of World War II put an end to cooperation between the two artists and interrupted the further development of synthetic cubism, which reached its peak in the next decade.

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Definition of Analytic Cubism by Picasso & Braque (1909-1912)

Analytical cubism – a short period in the work of the legendary painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist Pablo Picasso that changed the direction of the development of the whole 20th-century world art and lasted only 2-2.5 years.

The best examples of the style were created in 1910 and 1911, although some works were written in 1909, at the end of the so-called Cezanne or African period, and even later, in 1912, at the beginning of the colorful and concrete synthetic cubism period. Picasso believed that art is capable of more than just showing the things that our eye sees. He thought that there must be a way to show the world as it is “in reality”.

The Reservoir by Picasso (1909) (analytical cubism)
             The Reservoir by Picasso (1909)

Main Characteristics of Analytical Cubism

We should not paint something that we see, but something that we know, try to show things and phenomena that are not visible but exist. Not the things themselves but their Platonic ideas so to say. But how can we do that? First of all, we need to get rid of color, the “coloring” of the world.

The fact that the world is colorful is just an optical illusion. One of the most distinguishing features of the paintings painted during the period of analytical cubism – monochrome. “Color weakens!” – stated Picasso, while watching Matisse’s experiments in painting and focusing mostly on the form and the size of subjects.

The second thing that we need to refuse from is accentuality, severalty of objects, their differences in texture and material. Careful depiction of dust, hairs, silks, and velvet by painters of the past is no longer relevant. All these differences only seem but the reality is one and the same.

The “substance of the world”, from which all these things are “made”, is also the same. In the picture “Girl with a Mandolin”, you will not distinguish the “material” out of which a girl or a mandolin is “made”. Moreover, the table in “The Architect’s Table” is made from the same substance.

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And the third thing is that any perspective fully disappears in analytical cubism. If the goal is to portray the concept of the subject itself, where exactly it is located, far or near, it is irrelevant. As a result, in cubist paintings we can see a very strange, fantastic, flickering monochrome image which creates the illusion of metaphysical space, bulging with its edges of the canvas plane.

A subject and the background surrounding it – are one and the same. The separate items in this unified structure of the reality do not have clearly defined borders. All sort of figurativeness disappears. We just see incomprehensible, icy, fragmented, homogeneous mass which has no texture, no internal differences. We can guess what is depicted only with the help of specific details, hints that Picasso called “attributes”.

The Accordionist by Picasso (1911) (analytical cubism)
        The Accordionist by Picasso (1911)

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Sometimes it may seem that a hand, a mustache, a key or a neck of the guitar is visible but they are “made” of one and the same conditional “substance”. Sometimes in the jumble of broken planes, you can manage to catch the shoulder line, a hint or the outline of the bottle. But these are only the signs and the symbols of those objects, not the objects themselves. Cubism thus set itself not a pictorial but a philosophical task. Obviously, it’s way easier to draw some particular thing than the very notion of this thing or, in the words of Picasso, “the knowing” of this thing.

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Try not to picture a room filled with objects, but the very “fullness”, that very “materiality”. Some art critics make hypotheses that one of the roots of cubism could be the interest of contemporary artists in the natural-scientific picture of the world, which was forming just at that period of time. It is known that Picasso and Braque were keenly interested in the theory of relativity. And here, in particular, could stem their search of methods which imagine the things that lie beneath the visible world.

Houses on the Hill Horta de Ebro by Picasso (1909) (analytical cubism)
           Houses on the Hill Horta de Ebro by Picasso (1909)

They wanted to find out, to “analyze” (hence – “Analytical Cubism”) the way the world is really “made” or organized, not the way it looks. They tried to “open” the external, previously veiled with the gloss of traditional realistic painting, a form of the subject, gut it, turn it inside out, show what’s inside.

And all these objects, landscapes, people in their paintings appear as an abstract “matter” taken to pieces. These pieces were also called “cubes” by some arrogant critics. As you can see, the artists are also looking for the fundamental principles of a human being. Perhaps this is the way cubism interprets the primeval chaos, hidden under the surface of habitual things.

    The Founders of Analytical Cubism

It is believed that the founder of the cubism art movement was not only Picasso but also his friend and colleague Georges Braque, who managed to estimate the value of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon – most essential Picasso’s cubist work. Since 1907, he joined Picasso’s artistic search and later became an equal partner in their creative union. It was a real co-creation – continuous meetings, discussions, sharing their findings and experience.

So it can be said that they began to create their artworks almost as one person. The early works of analytical cubism include landscapes, still made by Picasso in Horta de Ebro – Factory, the Reservoir, Houses on the hill (1909). Later in 1910, he painted several portraits of his art dealers – Wilhelm Uhde, merchant, businessman, entrepreneur Ambroise Vollard, and Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler.

Daniel Henry Kahnweiler by Picasso (1910) (analytical cubism)
   Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler by Picasso (1910)

The Most Famous Painting of This Period of Cubism

The portrait of Henry Kahnweiler is considered to be one of the best examples of this stage of cubism. A great desire to penetrate into the inner nature of the three-dimensional object, to comprehend the essence of space which it occupies, as well as that space, within limits of which it is situated, brought a closer analysis to life, making all the familiar surface contours of an object deprive of their usual opacity.

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An impenetrable screen of appearance was forced to undergo crystallization, which gave it more transparency. Each facet is set on the edge in order to allow us to assess the volumes lying beneath its surface. We don’t need to caress with our look, a smooth external rind – the shell of the phenomena. Instead, a transparent structure similar to a cell appears right before our eyes, in which both surface and depth are equally accessible to vision.

A portrait of Wilhelm Unde by Picasso (1910) (Analytical Cubism)
   A portrait of Wilhelm Unde by Picasso (1910)

Then Picasso creates the masterpieces of the cubism style, the samples of “high”, refined cubism – The Poet, Accordionist, Clarinet, Still Life with Bottle of Rum. Finally, in 1912, the last artworks of analytical cubism period appear – A Man with A Guitar, Ma Jolie (1911-1912). After this, the cubist compositions are becoming more colorful and decorative – a period of synthetic cubism starts.

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