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From the middle of the 19th century, artistic inspiration broke with figurative art, ancient themes and classicism: the paintings of natural landscapes by Degas, Monet or Renoir inaugurated the “impressionist” current. Later, the influence of Paul Cézanne on painting at the beginning of the 20th century is decisive. All the artists claim to be him. Far from imitating it, they innovate more and more quickly, so that several currents follow one another in the space of a few years: fauvism, cubism ...
Before 1914: fauvism
Fauvism is considered to be the first artistic revolution of the twentieth century. This current appears at the beginning of the 20th century. He is represented by a group of painters grouped around Henri Matisse: André Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck and Albert Marquet. Its innovative character is based mainly on the desire to abandon visible reality in favor of a subjective evocation of subjects through the use of pure color.
At first, Matisse was influenced by Gauguin, Cézanne and Toulouse-Lautrec. His style was asserted around 1905. The drawing became concise and the perspective was abandoned, while the color emerged with violence and expressiveness. He made a vast canvas called La Joie de vivre, a painting in which he outlined the color with a thick line. During the war, Matisse is in Morocco where he tries new pictorial experiences close to cubism (Moroccans, 1916).
Cubism, from Braque to Picasso
Like the Fauve painters, the cubists no longer seek to represent reality with a concern for plausibility. They interpret it by a disruption of the forms that their emotions command. Cubist paintings are rigorously constructed, often with the help of mathematics. They therefore appear to be the result of intellectualization, unlike the works of Fauve painters which result from the impulsiveness of their author. The shapes are broken down and divided into angular geometric shapes, into cubes. The range of colors is reduced to a few relatively dull tones (blue, gray, brown or beige). The genres practiced are limited to portraits and natures
At the origin of this movement, we find the French Georges Braque and a Spanish painter living in Paris since 1904, Pablo Picasso. Guillaume Apollinaire presents and defends them as part of his art critic activities. He coined the term "cubism" in 1911. Picasso has had incredible talent since his teenage years, even in the academic register. After a "blue period" (1901-1904) and a "pink period" (1905-1906), he produced The Young Ladies of Avignon (1906-1907), a painting that acts as a manifesto. The primitive arts inspire him a purification and a schematization of forms. He quickly detached himself from it and turned to pure geometrization. Braque comes from Fauvism. Inspired by Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, he laid the foundations for analytical cubism (1910-1912). It is about dissecting the shapes to show the different aspects.
This will is inspired by scientific discoveries, such as that of the atom. Picasso and Braque produced the first cubist collages in 1912. They also launched a new phase, synthetic cubism (1912-1925). Plans, shapes and colors are synthesized, which unifies the space. More conceptual themes inspire the constructions. Picasso and Braque embark on a more instinctive painting. They influence Juan Gris, a Spanish painter from the Paris school.
The birth of abstraction
The painters of the early twentieth century pave the way for abstraction by moving more and more away from a realistic representation of the real world. While cubists increasingly conceptualize reality, abstract painters completely break away from it and offer works that are poles apart from figurative art. The first abstract watercolor is a work by the Frenchman Francis Picabia, Rubber (1909). Another painter of Russian origin is moving in the same direction, Wassily Kandinsky. Painting becomes a pure plastic exercise.
From 1911, Robert and Sonia Delaunay express their feelings and their thoughts through bright colors which often form interlaced discs or parts of discs. Sonia Delaunay illustrates in particular The Prose of the Trans-Siberian and the little Jehanne of France by Blaise Cendrars around 1913. Finally, two foreign painters living in Paris participate in this pictorial evolution: the Czech Frantisek-Kupka, notably with his Vertical planes (1912-1913), and the Dutchman: Piet Mondrian. Between 1931 and 1936, the association of artists Abstraction-Création devoted itself to the defense and promotion of abstract, non-figurative art.
- Cubism, an aesthetic revolution: Its birth and its influence, by Serge Fauchereau. Flammarion, 2012
- Cubism: 1907-1917. Editions Beaux-Arts, 2018.
- History of abstract painting, by Jean-Luc Daval. Hazn, 1998.