Cubism was partly influenced by the late work of artist Paul Cézanne in which he can be seen to be painting things from slightly different points of view. Pablo Picasso was also inspired by African tribal masks which are highly stylised, or non-naturalistic, but nevertheless present a vivid human image. ‘A head’, said Picasso, ‘is a matter of eyes, nose, mouth, which can be distributed in any way you like’.
Cubism was one of the most influential styles of the twentieth century. It is generally agreed to have begun around 1907 with Picasso’s celebrated painting Demoiselles D’Avignon which included elements of cubist style. The name ‘cubism’ seems to have derived from a comment made by the critic Louis Vauxcelles who, on seeing some of Georges Braque’s paintings exhibited in Paris in 1908, described them as reducing everything to ‘geometric outlines, to cubes’.
By breaking objects and figures down into distinct areas, the artists aimed to show different viewpoints at the same time and within the same space and so suggest their three-dimensional form. In doing so they also emphasized the two-dimensional flatness of the canvas instead of creating the illusion of depth. This marked a revolutionary break with the European tradition of creating the illusion of real space from a fixed viewpoint using devices such as linear perspective, which had dominated representation from the Renaissance onwards.
“The fact that for a long time Cubism has not been understood and that even today there are people who cannot see anything in it means nothing. I do not read English, an English book is a blank book to me. This does not mean that the English language does not exist. Why should I blame anyone but myself if I cannot understand what I know nothing about?” – Pablo Picasso.