Guitar on a Chair by Juan Gris

“I prefer the emotion that corrects the rule.”

One of the most revolutionary movements of the twentieth century, Cubism was founded by George Braque, Albert Gleizes and Pablo Picasso in 1907. Soon many other artists applied this revolutionary new Cubist theory and adopted the style to develop their own techniques, while some of them, most notably Juan Gris, devoted their entire career to Cubism, refining and infusing cubist language with their distinctive manner.

Conceived and developed in France the earliest form of abstract art came to life through rejecting fixed perspective entirely. The modern age was too complex to confine and subject it to the obsolete rules artists have been following since the Renaissance. Why depict an object from a fixed viewpoint if there is so much more to it? Instead, cubists drastically rearranged the space representing real objects from ALL possible viewpoints simultaneously. To do so Cubists fractured objects into simple geometric shapes and then rearranged them breaking away from reality as far as they could.

See Umberto Boccioni’s Dynamism of a Soccer Player.

Cubism can be divided into two phases: Analytic – typically monochrome, shifting geometric image, actively filled in the center and radiating towards the edges of composition; and Synthetic – based on a synthesis of pictorial elements: painted surfaces and elements either borrowed from popular culture, or imitated in paint. Still lives with music instruments, newspapers, letters, glasses, bottles, chairs and tables were Cubists’ favorite subjects. Cubist compositions were revolutionary, but familiar objects still allowed the viewer to recognize  reality. When you are looking at Guitar on a Chair the first thing you identify is certainly the guitar. But where is the chair? Note a triangular element in the center of the painting – it is a fragment of a cane mesh that was a part of the chair. Juan Gris depicted only a fragmented sense of the still life and its surroundings – similar to what would have stayed in our memory if we got to see the scene in real life.

Few major artists in the early twentieth century were unaffected by Cubism, and even those who rejected it (for instance, Piet Mondrian or Gino Sverini) would not have developed their styles as they did without reflecting on Cubist theory and practice.

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