It’s 1907, and Picasso is feverishly working in Bateau Lavoire, Montmartre. A large canvas of the prostitutes from a hometown brothel is driving him mad. What began as a brothel scene, morphed into something so radical that it changed art in one stroke. The figures, contorted, draped in very little, aggressively stare out at us. Two appear to be wearing tribal African masks, the latest craze. Bodies are angular, no soft curves as still expressed by Matisse’s Blue Nude that year. The figures are painted flatly onto the surface, overlapping shapes form the breasts and hips of these terrifying women. Suddenly, art was not about representation but conceptualisation.
George Braque, astounded by this incredible work, began to collaborate. Showing their work in the galleries of Montmartre, it was as ‘Gallery’ Cubists’, that the two became adept at taking still life compositions and breaking rules: forms fragmented into geometric shapes, brush strokes became visible and patterns were formed, helping to flatten perspective and reduce reality.
Their influence was almost instantaneous. Five Avant-Garde artists: Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger, Fernand Leger, Henri Le Fauconnier and Robert Delaunay were inspired by what they were seeing, but their interpretations went further. Known as ‘Salon’ cubists because they were showing their work in public exhibitions rather than in the private galleries, their palette began with the same monochrome subtlety, but the subjects became more varied: nudes, cityscapes, domestic interiors as in these examples by Metzinger, Le Fauconnier and Delaunay demonstrate:
Excitingly, Gleizes’ Harvest Threshing (1912) combined the features of Gallery cubism with linear structure to create space and movement.
Fernand Leger began to bring colour to the table in his works, using bold colours in non faceted planes to great effect.
As a consequence of such radicalism, other art forms such as the Italian Futurists, and the British Vorticists came into being, changing art in a way that had never been seen before and which sent us into the modern era.