Fanfan Zhang, Junyan Lu, Sihan Guo

Cubism is a movement and school in the history of modern Western art that began in France in 1908. Cubist artists pursued forms of division, resolution, and recombination to form separate images – with many combined fragments as the artist’s goal. Cubism was short-lived, lasting from 1907 to 1914, and the heyday of the Cubist art movement was only seven years, but it had an extremely broad impact. Cubism’s exploration of artistic form influenced artists throughout Europe in the first decade of the twentieth century and inspired a series of artistic reform movements, such as Futurism, Structuralism, and Expressionism, which reacted particularly strongly to Cubism. This was particularly evident in its contributions to modern arts and crafts, decorative arts, architectural arts, and other practical arts that focused on formal beauty. The main figures of Cubism are Picasso and Braque. Picasso’s painting The Maiden of Avignon (1907) is considered to be the first work containing cubist elements. The value of this work lies not in its visual beauty or ugliness, but in its subversive change in the way people viewed it, which impacted the entire tradition of viewing Western art and opened up unlimited possibilities of exploration for subsequent artists of the 20th century. (1) 1907-1909 Early Cubism: influenced by Cézanne, it sought a purely geometric form, abandoning the analysis of light and color and pursuing the form of the object. 2) 1909-1912 Analytical Cubism: artists dismantled the object, placing all aspects of the human or object on a single screen at the same time. (3) 1912-1914 Synthetic Cubism: Cubism entered into the creation of a synthesized style, in this phase Picasso found a more free world to render the power of his personal emotions, and Braque further exploited his expressive power of color and texture, and Gris used color and reason to explain the meaning of the composition. And it was during this period that Cubism developed an extremely important medium: collage.

Cubism is an innovation of artistic creation, mainly reflected in breaking all the old dogmatic aesthetic norms and studying the essence and internal structure of things with scientific and rational thinking. Firstly, the language form of Cubism is influenced by modern philosophy, science, and mechanical engineering. It inherits Cezanne’s analysis of body aesthetics, goes beyond the law of vision and the principles of classical painting, breaks the original concept of time and space, and observes and expresses objects from multiple viewpoints and angles. Secondly, Cubism attempts to destroy and decompose all object images and then subjectively reconstruct them. It shows the three-dimensional and four-dimensional space of the object on the plane and creates works rich in philosophy and analytical beauty. Thirdly, cubist works do not aim at describing and expressing objective things but show a tendency of geometrization in the arrangement of picture structure. In the beginning, these Cubist artists just “painted” words in their works. However, after 1912, they further put flat materials directly on the canvas, such as prints, fabrics, etc. In this process, the text makes the material different from the painting appear in the picture. Therefore, the words and language in it have gone beyond the language meaning of the general text, which has brought new characteristics to the art of painting. Cubist painting opposes imitation by first analyzing objects and then striving to capture them, not on their changing surfaces but in their continuous bodies, on all sides, even in sections, thereby creating a repetition on the picture that is often complex and peculiar, but very expressive. Cubism soon tried to introduce markers drawn from reality that could be offered to the viewer as illustrations: Braque’s masterpieces acquired textures of wood and marble through realistic depictions, made extensive use of printed type, and used real newspapers to make pastes. Juan Gris, with a variety of ingenious methods, conceived a deeper and more reformed true scientific theory of modern painting, and played a decisive role in the so-called synthetic Cubism.

Fernand Léger, Nature morte, ABC, 1927, oil on canvas, 65 x 92 cm, Musee National Fernand Leger, Biot, France Photo : RMN-GP / Gérard Blot © ADAGP, Paris, 2021.

When we see Fernand Léger’s Nature morte, ABC created in 1927, we first see the three giant letters ABC. Then we noticed the urban landscape represented by the color block behind the three letters. Fernand Léger created the 65 x 92 cm size Nature morte in the form of oil painting. The size of the painting is enormous, so the three letters give the audience a sense of impact. The composition is also exceptional. A is a truncated perspective, B is more static, and C is closed on geometry nested in the background. These letters occupy most of the painting. When I first saw the picture, I first noticed the letters. This made me curious about the artwork and paid attention to the background behind the letters. This painting gives me a very modern feeling. The color matching used by the author gives me a feeling of modern industrialization. In Nature morte, ABC, Léger alternates entity and emptiness. The visual differences between different color squares make the viewer’s attention attracted by his paintings.

In this urban landscape painted by Fernando leger, letters and signs reflect the comprehensive language of modern communication tools. As the first three letters in the alphabet, ABC can be interpreted as a condensed view of the new language. The three letters ABC are concise and powerful. Combined with the city image behind them, the letters also show the new language generated by the traffic speed and life rhythm of the city. ABC is also a reference to the name of a concert hall frequented by artists in Paris. In addition, ABC can be interpreted as the dedication of Blaise Cendrars. He was a Swiss novelist and poet. He once highly praised advertisements in a magazine with ABC in its name. Leger shared this fascination with advertising. In this painting, these three enlarged letters are like billboards. ABC is not only a summary of the language we use, but also a piecemeal summary of our lives. The author skillfully uses these three letters to give this work a completely different meaning. ABC symbolizes the fragmentary perception of modern life and the renewal of still life by introducing isolated and often deprived letters.

Rather than the traditional form of Cubism, Léger paid attention to Nature morte, ABC potential to objectify art and simplify it into formal plastic elements. He explored color, form, and composition in a new and non-perceptual way. Furthermore, he turned Cubism aesthetics into a force of democratization. The three letters ABC are created by using the juxtaposition of color and line, three-dimensional and plane. The language has surpassed the meaning of the ordinary text and brought a strong visual effect to this painting.Léger simplified the visual language in painting and used three highly malleable ABC letters. In addition to giving us visual impact, the meanings contained in these three letters are also very diverse, leaving unlimited reveries to the audience. He pushed the boundary of Cubism into abstraction in order to best describe modern life. On the basis of Cubism, Leger expanded the potential of abstract art and laid the foundation for many important art movements.

Georges Braque, Fruit Dish and Glass, 1912, Charcoal and cut-and-pasted printed wallpaper with gouache on white laid paper; subsequently mounted on paperboard, 24 3/4 × 18 in. (62.9 × 45.7 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art

When we see Georges Braque’s Fruit Dish and Glass created in 1912 and he used charcoal and cut-and-pasted printed wallpaper with gouache on white laid paper and its size is 24 ¾ by 18 in. Then I learned that Braque was the first to incorporate letters into his paintings, mixing paint with sand and using collage and that his painting style was simple, rigorous, and unified, I realized that Braque was the first to incorporate letters into his paintings. The painting was made when he found a roll of fake wallpaper displayed in a store window while wandering in a nearby city. He waited until Picasso left Paris before adding fragments of mechanically printed, fake wood grain paper to a series of charcoal drawings. These fragments from the real world add significance to the virtual world of the pictures: they can be interpreted as the front drawers of a table, the floor, or the walls of a bar. This collage marks a turning point in Cubism.

Interpreting the painting in detail, we can see that straight strips of faux wood grain wallpaper have been applied to the left and right sides, and then vertical parallel black lines have been drawn. The words BAR and ALE are written on the top right and bottom left of the painting, indicating that the setting of the painting is in a tavern. In the upper center of the painting is a large funnel-shaped cup containing grapes and other fruits. The two black lines below the cup are the cup pillars, and the bottom of the cup surrounds the left pillar, resembling a half-bread circle. This bagel-like circle may also be a plate containing fruit in a reverse white shape that overlaps with the fruit in the cup. To the right of the cup, it could be a candlestick, or a small goblet, a small vase, or something like that. There is a knob on the wood grain at the bottom of the picture, and if it is not a symbol of the dining-room door, it is a drawer under the dining table. The painting “BAR” and “ALE” tell the reader very simply and clearly the setting in which the painting was created. It is not like realism, where all the relevant elements are painted in this painting. Although it is just two simple words, it is enough to express what the creator wants to say.

In my opinion, when I thought of the word “BAR” without thinking, Braque’s “Fruit Plate and Glass”, cleverly cutting and collaging the fragments of his memory of taverns and drifting consciousness on this “work”, it is no longer a definition of painting in the traditional sense. It is serious in the sense of continuing the interaction of objects and space in Cubism and making a more concrete and realistic presentation. So unlike extreme realism, Braque’s drawings are made only in pencil with three-dimensional style fruit plates and glasses, without color or paint. The only color comes from a brown wallpaper that is glued on. The texture of the wallpaper happens to be that of wood as if the still life were placed on a wooden table. Braque makes all the “painted” still life fictional, but the only real thing is the wood grain, the glued wallpaper. Cubism is one of the most influential developments in the history of Western art, but its name was originally insulting and dismissive because it broke the rules of tradition. It made an indelible contribution to the development of cubism and modern art.

Still Life before an Open Window, Place Ravignan,1915,Juan Gris , Spanish, 1887 – 1927,Oil on canvas,45 5/8 × 35 inches (115.9 × 88.9 cm) 

When I saw Still Life before an Open Window, Place Ravignan, 1915, by Juan Gris, I saw many pictures of different colors and patterns splicing together. The colors of the pictures were dark blue and black. A little bit of green and a little bit of pink in the middle. When I did not have a deep look at the picture, I was most impressed by the picture of blue tree trunk in the upper part and the picture of pink in the middle, because the overall color of the painting is relatively dark, so these two light colors attract readers’ eyes. However, when I analyzed the picture carefully, I found that it was from the perspective of the person sitting inside the window looking out. From this painting, we can also see the twill pattern of the color block observed closely, guiding the viewer to open the window, as well as the unified woods and buildings in the blue block. From the picture, I can see newspapers, a book, wine glasses, glass bottles, fruit bowls, and a bottle of wine, and there is a table with wood grain under it. From this painting, we can also see the oblique pattern of color blocks in close view, leading the viewer to open Windows, as well as woods and buildings unified in blue blocks. So this painting is a polyhedral structure, and it shows the traditional law of representation from the vague concept of cubism.

At the same time, in addition to the surface of these objects that we can see at a glance, two letters Le Journal and Medoc stand out, and I wonder why these two words appear in an irregular picture and what they mean to the author, but I can’t help saying, The presence of these two words gives the whole picture a sense of finesse and mystery. So those readers are deeply attracted and impressed by these two words. In my opinion, the most interesting thing is that the newspaper of The English font Le Journal is composed of four-color blocks of green, black, pink, and purple, which gives people a very interesting color sense visually. Second, the Medoc font on the back of the book is very visible in the center of the image. In this work, Gris skillfully integrates the basic language of cubism, the geometric plane segmentation, the rhythmic arrangement of color blocks, the collage of newspapers and trademarks, all interwoven organically. I like the middle part of the picture very much. The use of words makes the whole picture look more real and detailed. Meanwhile, the wood grain texture of the table at the bottom is also very realistic.

In this still Life in a Window, you can understand two kinds of space, one is cubism, the other is Renaissance. In this groundbreaking work, Juan Gris combines indoor and outdoor scenes in one painting. The artist achieved a fusion of interior and exterior through interlinked graphic elements and subtle color adjustments, with an intense, otherworldly blue giving the work a dreamlike softness. Gris also uses paper cuts and collages. Chunk color is planar but can feel stereo overlap from it, each other interspersed together. Cubist painting opposes imitation by first analyzing objects and then striving to capture them, not on their changing surfaces but in their continuous bodies, on all sides, even in sections, thereby creating a repetition on the picture that is often complex and peculiar, but very expressive. Juan Gris tried to introduce some of the markers taken from reality that could be provided to the audience as illustrations into his paintings: wood, marble texture through realistically realistic depictions, some using printed type, and pastes made from real newspapers. Juan Gris, with a variety of ingenious methods, conceived a deeper and more reformed true scientific theory of modern painting and played a decisive role in the so-called synthetic Cubism.