Cubism -- highly influential visual arts style of the 20th century that was created principally by the painters Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in Paris between 1907 and 1914. The Cubist style emphasized the flat, two-dimensional surface of the picture plane, rejecting the traditional techniques of perspective, foreshortening, modeling, and chiaroscuro and refuting time-honoured theories of art as the imitation of nature. Cubist painters were not bound to copying form, texture, colour, and space; instead, they presented a new reality in paintings that depicted radically fragmented objects, whose several sides were seen simultaneously.
Cubism derived its name from remarks that were made by the painter Henri Matisse and the critic Louis Vauxcelles, who derisively described Braque's 1908 work "Houses at L'Estaque" as composed of cubes. In Braque's work, the volumes of the houses, the cylindrical forms of the trees, and the tan-and-green colour scheme are reminiscent of Paul Cézanne's landscapes, which deeply inspired the Cubists in their first stage of development, until 1909. It was, however, "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon," a work painted by Picasso in 1907, that forecast the new style; in this work, the forms of five female nudes became fractured, angular shapes. As in Cézanne's art, perspective was rendered by means of colour, the warm reddish browns advancing and the cool blues receding.
The period from 1910 to 1912 often is referred to as that of Analytical Cubism. Paintings executed during this period showed the breaking down, or analysis, of form. Right-angle and straight-line construction were favoured, though occasionally some areas of the painting appeared sculptural, as in Picasso's "Girl with a Mandolin" (1910). Colour schemes were simplified, tending to be nearly monochromatic (hues of tan, brown, gray, cream, green, or blue preferred) in order not to distract the viewer from the artist's primary interest--the structure of form itself. The monochromatic colour scheme was suited to the presentation of complex, multiple views of the object, which was now reduced to overlapping opaque and transparent planes. These planes appear to ascend the surface of the canvas rather than to recede in depth. Forms are generally compact and dense in the centre of the Analytical Cubist painting, growing larger as they diffuse toward the edges of the canvas, as in Picasso's "Portrait of Ambroise Vollard" (1909-10; Pushkin Fine Arts Museum, Moscow). Paintings frequently combine representational motifs with letters, the latter emphasizing the painter's concern with abstraction; favourite motifs are musical instruments, bottles, pitchers, glasses, newspapers, still lifes, and the human face and figure.
Interest in this subject matter continued after 1912, during the phase generally identified with Synthetic Cubism. Works of this phase emphasize the combination, or synthesis, of forms in the picture. Colour assumes a strong role in the work; shapes, while remaining fragmented and flat, are larger and more decorative. Smooth and rough surfaces may be contrasted with one another; and frequently foreign materials, such as newspapers or tobacco wrappers, are pasted on the canvas in combination with painted areas. This technique, known as collage, further emphasizes the differences in texture and, at the same time, poses the question of what is reality and what is illusion in nature and in painting.
While Picasso and Braque are credited with creating the new visual language, it was adopted and further developed by many painters, such as Fernand Léger, Robert and Sonia Delaunay, Juan Gris, Roger de la Fresnaye, Marcel Duchamp, Albert Gleizes, and Jean Metzinger. Though primarily associated with painting, Cubism also exerted a profound influence on 20th-century sculpture and architecture. Chief among Cubist sculptors are Alexander Archipenko, Raymond Duchamp-Villon, and Jacques Lipchitz. The adoption of the Cubist aesthetic by the architect Le Corbusier is reflected in the shapes of the houses he designed during the 1920s.