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Art History: Cubism

This post is part of a series called A Beginner's Guide to Art History.
Art History: Impressionism
Art History: Harlem Renaissance

Welcome back to our series on art history! From the dreamy paintings of the Impressionist era, we now venture onward to the early-20th-century art movement of Cubism. Let's see how history significantly affected the art of this time.

Man in a Hammock by Albert Gleizes
Man in a Hammock by Albert Gleizes

Cubism: The Movement

Cubism began during the early 1900s in Paris, France. At the time, artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque joined forces to explore this radical style of cube-inspired painting.

But the public wasn't quite ready to let go of the past.

While most artists were still following the flowy trends of the Impressionist movement, Picasso and Braque worked tirelessly to build a philosophy around Cubism. Their work was seen as bizarre and maddening, but it only reflected their intense passion for analyzing objects, shapes, and colors.

Woman with a Fan by Jean Metzinger
Woman with a Fan by Jean Metzinger

Luckily, they never gave in to the naysayers, because now we have more amazing art styles like Futurism, Dada, and Art Deco as a result.

Let's learn more about this movement by looking into the minds of the world's Cubists.

Early Cubism

One of the most recognized names in art is Pablo Picasso. A Spanish painter with a passion for exploring many mediums, Picasso was fascinated with geometry during the earlier years of Cubism.

Seated Nude by Pablo Picasso
Seated Nude by Pablo Picasso

He and fellow Cubist Georges Braque took apart objects and analyzed them in terms of volume, shape, and color. They played with flat visuals that looked glaringly different from their peers, and developed paper collage work which explored three-dimensional planes.

Girl with a Mandolin by Pablo Picasso
Girl with a Mandolin by Pablo Picasso

Their work was very similar too. They both created monotone paintings of different subjects like love, music, and still life. Historians saw Cubism as a way to stamp out ambiguity. It forced the viewer to internalize the subject matter by limiting the color palette.

La guitare by Georges Braque
La Guitare by Georges Braque

At the same time as Picasso and Braque's discoveries, other artists were emerging as well.

High Cubism

High Cubism came after 1909 when artists who mostly exhibited in non-academic salons in Paris explored a similar cube-inspired style. The group wanted to emphasize research into the expression of form in opposition to the realistic colors of the Neo-Impressionist movement.

LEscale by Andr Lhote
L'Escale by André Lhote

Artists at this time included André Lhote, Jean Metzinger, and Albert Gleizes. In contrast to earlier Cubists, these artists allowed the Impressionist era to influence their work. They painted vibrant geometric explorations of self-portraits and war-related themes.

Dancer in a caf by Jean Metzinger
Dancer in a café by Jean Metzinger

Soon the rules of art were pushed even further. The Section d'Or was a group of artists, sculptors, and critics associated with Cubism who believed that the movement was simply a continuation of the love for the golden ratio. They created abstract art with the purpose of skewing their subjects.

Paysage Cubiste by Albert Gleizes
Paysage Cubiste by Albert Gleizes

Late Cubism

Art became even more abstract after 1914. Artists now began to emphasize overlapping planes and flat surfaces. Crystal Cubism, as it became, was created by artists who desperately needed to escape the realities of the Great War.

Soldier at a Game of Chess by Jean Metzinger
Soldier at a Game of Chess by Jean Metzinger

Though many artists continued to push through with Cubism, it started to decline after 1925. As a result of a shift towards more conservative values, artists dropped the bold colors and shapes for more conservative French styles. Today, it remains a major influence on modern art history.

Three Musicians by Pablo Picasso
Three Musicians by Pablo Picasso


Minimalism is nothing new. Artists have been adoring the simplicity of geometric shapes since way before the invention of modern design software. Though controversial at first, the art world responded to Cubism with many diverse art styles for years to come. Its wide range of culture and influence is a true testament to the evolution of art. And I hope you continue to learn more about these amazing timelines on your own.

For more amazing tales of 20th century Cubism, dive into the links below for further reading. And join me next month when we discuss the Harlem Renaissance.

The following sources were also included in this article:

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