Sat, Nov 30, 2019 - Page 14 News List

Bilingual Arts: Cubism: Of cubes and cones

Photo 1: Georges Braque. Houses at L’Estaque. 1908. Oil on canvas. 73 cm × 59.5 cm. Collection of Museum of Fine Arts Bern, Germany.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In 1907, Georges Braque (1882-1963) visited Pablo Picasso’s (1881-1973) studio to see his new work Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, which was notorious at the time (see Bilingual Arts on Oct. 26 for photo). The two artists immediately built up a rapport and worked closely together until 1914, experimenting with new artistic styles.

The inconsistent perspective, disjointed body shapes, and the reference to traditional African masks in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon preluded Cubism. The works of Paul Cezanne (1839-1906), shown at retrospective exhibitions in 1903 and 1907, further indicated a set of visual methodologies, leading to the birth of Cubism. As Picasso put it, Cezanne was “the father of us all.”

Cezanne’s lesson to “treat nature in terms of the cylinder, the sphere, and the cone” was taken by the Cubists as a formula for reinterpreting what they saw in daily life. Subject matter included objects, landscapes, people and musical instruments, which the Cubists turned into geometric shapes and other variations on the theme, resulting in ambiguous and abstract appearances.

Cezanne’s influence can be seen more clearly in early Cubism. Comparing Braque’s Houses at L’Estaque (1908, photo 1) and Cezanne’s Houses in Provence: The Riaux Valley near L’Estaque (photo 2), we can see that Cezanne’s houses on the hill are depicted with simple cubes and shadows, just enough to communicate the sense of volume. In contrast, the hill and houses in Braque’s hands are minimalist and more cubic, like flattened cartons filling up the picture. The tree on the left was depicted with Cezannian cylinders.

The intial reception of Braque’s Houses at L’Estaque was negative: art critic Louis Vauxcelles called Braque a daring man who despises form, “reducing everything, places and figures and houses, to geometric schemas, to cubes.” This was where Cubism got its name from.

Cezanne is said to be the bridge connecting the 19th century’s Impressionism and the 20th century’s new line of artistic inquiry. Mill on the River (c. 1906, photo 3) demonstrates typical impressionist short, thick strokes of paint to create a highly blended finish. A similar technique can be seen in the greens in Braque’s The Castle in La Roche Guyon (1909, photo 4), yet the uneven and jumbled houses on the hill demonstrate the repetitiveness and variation of cubes, hinting at the more sophisticated Cubist compositions to come.

(Lin Lee-kai, Taipei Times)








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