Cubism was, if not necessarily the most important, at least the most complete and radical artistic revolution since the Renaissance. New forms of society, changing patronage, varying geographic conditions, all these things have gone to produce over the past five hundred years a succession of different schools, different styles, different pictorial idioms. But none of these has so altered the principles, so shaken the foundations of Western painting as did Cubism. Indeed, from a visual point of view it is easier to bridge the three hundred and fifty years separating Impressionism from the High Renaissance than it is to bridge the fifty years that lie between Impressionism and Cubism. If social and historical factors can for a moment be forgotten, a portrait by Renoir will seem closer to a portrait by Raphael than it does to a Cubist portrait by Picasso.
Despite its revolutionary quality, and the sudden, explosive way in which it seemed, almost overnight, to come into being, Cubism owed, of course, much to the art of the preceding fifty years. While the Cubists reacted against the passion and expressionistic violence of Van Gogh and the impressionistic 'intimisme' and pretentious symbolism of the Nabis, they admired Seurat for his intellectual objectivity, his classical detachment and formal purity; several of the future Cubists began their artistic careers as Divisionists, that is to say as his successors. Gauguin, in an indirect fashion, was a powerful influence in the formation of Cubism, in so far as it was he, in the eyes of the young painters working in Paris in the early years of the twentieth century, who had been the true discoverer of the aesthetic worth of primitive art. A form of 'primitive' art, Negro sculpture, was, it will be seen, one of the main influences in the birth of Cubism in that it encouraged Picasso, both on an intellectual level and by its formal, abstract properties, to take stock afresh of traditional pictorial values. In a more general way primitive art -- and here one can extend the term to include the work of that great 'primitive' painter, the Douanier Rousseau -- supported the Cubists in their determination to shake themselves free of what Braque has called 'la fausse tradition', the conventions that had governed Western painting for the preceding five centuries. Only one nineteenth-century artist, however, played a positive, direct role in the formation of the style. This was Cézanne. His. importance cannot be too much stressed, and in a study of the development of Cubism one finds oneself returning to him again and again. It was Uzanne, more than any other painter, who provided a link between twentieth-century painting and traditional Western art.
Many of the contemporary historians and critics of Cubism agreed in seeing a direct connection between Cubism and Fauvism, the other important style born in Paris during the first decade of the century. This existed only in the most limited sense; a move towards greater abstraction, the tendency to take greater liberties with visual appearances, was the only very concrete way in which Fauvism foreshadowed Cubism. Even so, the abstract element in Cubism was the result of an entirely different approach from that of the Fauves. For while Fauve painting at its most typical sprang from a free, spontaneous and often highly subjective response to the external world, and for this reason seemed occasionally to be so far removed from conventional appearances, the Cubists, on the other hand, were led to still greater abstraction by the fact that their vision was conceptual and intellectual rather than physical and sensory. The Fauves, and particularly Matisse, admired Cézanne, and Braque may well have been led to an appreciation of him through their example; but the ends to which he put his study of Cézanne were, once again, totally different. In the same way Picasso's attitude to primitive art had little or nothing to do with that of Matisse, Derain or Vlaminck.
Indeed, viewed in retrospect, Fauvism seems to have belonged as much to the nineteenth century as to the twentieth. For in so far as Fauvism existed as a style or movement -- that is to say when, between 1904 and 1906, the works of Matisse, Derain and Vlaminck all resembled each other to a certain extent and had clearly-defined characteristics in common -- it was a synthesis of elements drawn from the art of the past fifty years: Impressionism, Divisionism, the decorative rhythms of Gauguin and the expressionism of Van Gogh, all contributed equally to its appearance. And since Fauvism evolved no really consistent technique of its own and was not governed by any very clearly-defined aesthetic, it was not a style that could have anything more than a very fleeting existence. It could well be interpreted as a sort of final paroxysm of postImpressionist painting. All this does not apply, of course, to much of Matisse, and certainly not to most of the Matisse of 1906 onwards. But the Joie de Vivre, while it is generally considered to be one of the key-works of Fauvism, and while it incontestably represents a summary of Matisse's work of the previous years, shows him in fact taking the decisive step towards the formation of his own, individual, mature style. Apart from a few isolated sketches of Derain's done under the direct influence of the painting, there are really no Fauve works quite like it. The refined, undulating outlines, the subtle blending of colour, the whole feeling of carefully calculated formal precision and intellectual control, even the arcadian symbolism, all these factors are at variance with the immediacy, the sporadic, broken or violent contours and the deliberately loose, occasionally even disorganized appearance of Fauve paintings done by Vlaminck and Derain at Chatou and in London, the Collioure landscapes of Derain and Matisse, and Matisse's portraits of his wife painted in 1905 -- the sort of painting that originally earned the movement its name.
The formation of Cubism was in sharp contrast to that of Fauvism. Where the Fauves drew from a wide variety of sources, the development of Cubism, except for the joint influences of Cézanne and Negro sculpture, was remarkably self-contained. And whereas the Fauves borrowed restlessly from the art of their predecessors, the Cubists reverted to fundamental principles; they began, so to speak, from the bottom upwards. Feeling that traditional painting was exhausted, they took each of the elements that comprise the vocabulary of painting -- form, space, colour, and technique -- and substituted for the traditional use of every one of them a new interpretation of their own. In short Cubism was a completely new pictorial language, a completely new way of looking at the outside world, a clearly-defined aesthetic. As such it has shaped the course of almost all twentieth-century painting.
The effects of Cubism are still with us. They can be seen in much of the art of to-day. In as much as Cubism has conditioned the development of architecture and the applied arts it has become part of our daily lives. For this reason it will, perhaps, be some time before it is possible to put Cubism in its proper historical perspective, to evaluate it with complete assurance. But to-day it is possible to define the characteristics of the style, to illustrate how, from one year to the other, even from one painting to the next, the painters evolved, step by step, the means of expressing their new pictorial concepts. What these concepts were, an examination of the paintings themselves will best serve to define; but it is of value, too, to reconstruct as far as possible the attitude of the painters to their own works, to tell what they said, thought and did, to see, in other words, what were the aesthetic principles that guided them. Finally, from an historical point of view it is of interest to record what their contemporaries thought of them, how Cubism was greeted by the public and critics of its day. These are the aims of this book.
Cubism, in its first stages, was the creation of two artists, Picasso and Braque, and the first chapter of the book begins in 1907 with their meeting. This chapter is devoted to an historical survey of the rise and spread of the movement. The second chapter is dedicated to an investigation of the early Cubism of Picasso and Braque: to a study of how a new concept of pictorial form and space came into being. In 1912 Picasso and Braque were joined in their creation of Cubism by a third artist, Juan Gris (Gris was a Cubist by 1911 but his real historical importance dates from the following year). 1912 was also the year in which the new Cubist techniques, collage and papier collé, were invented. The works of Gris and the use made of the new media by all three artists between 1912 and 1914 are the subject of the third chapter. The fourth and final chapter is an account of the dissemination of the style in France and comprises a stylistic survey of the development of individual artists such as Léger and Delaunay who were temporarily attracted to Cubism and developed individual variants of the style. The book ends with the outbreak of war in 1914, when the painters were physically separated by the war and the school, as such, was dissolved.