15. Cubism and Futurism

Pioneered in the years before the First World War by the painters Picasso, Braque and Gris, Cubism became a dominant school in European art between the wars and after, to which other movements - Geometric or Painterly Abstraction, Dada and Surrealism, and new forms of Neo-classicism, such as that of Maillol - were partly related and partly opposed.

A host of other artists adopted the Cubist mode, often on their way to more personal styles: Mondrian developed toward total Abstraction, Derain moved from Fauvism toward classic traditionalism, Franz Marc searched for spirituality animated by modernity.

The style developed through a mixture of influences, particularly the faceted brushwork of Cézanne and the angular distortions of African art, and sought to escape what seemed to be the merely visual concerns of Impressionism's optical recordings and Post-Impressionism's surface patterning. It sought to reintroduce a conceptual content into painting, not via the grand subjects of academic 'history painting', but through developing a kind of intellectual realism, reflecting what the mind knows of the structure of objects, rather than what the eye alone perceives. Such was one rationale, anyway, for simultaneous presentation of different viewpoints, or the 'tipping up' of, for example, the elliptical rim of a jug, to present a plan of its circular structure.

Cubism developed in several directions. On one hand its analytical breaking down of form could become, with Gleizes, Metzinger, Lhote and other theorizers and educators, a respected 'manner' in which to produce modern, angular pictures. At the same time it was developed into the sparser, more design-oriented Purism of Léger and others. Yet again, in the more collage-based 'synthetic' modes toward which the first generation Cubists moved, it could point to a radical Constructivist aesthetic which would eventually produce artists such as Anthony Caro.

Futurist artists like Boccioni, Balla, Carrà in Italy, and Goncharova and Larionov in Russia, fragmented and splintered their forms in a way similar to the Cubists. Their aims were to express movement and particularly the accelerated locomotion of modern technological life. They were politically as well as pictorially revolutionary, and often closer in spirit to Dada than to Cubism, which, while artistically avant-garde, could also be perceived as rational, detached, and platonic. It was a Neo-Futurist work, Nude Descending a Staircase, which launched the career of Marcel Duchamp, a name synonymous with Dada and conceptualist subversion.