How Cubism knocked the corners off Irish art
Homage to Mainie Jellett by Paul Egestorff. photographs: ulster museum, patrick and antoinette murphy, artists' estates
The White Tower by Mary Swanzy. photographs: ulster museum, patrick and antoinette murphy, artists' estates
Seated Female Nude by Mainie Jellett. photographs: ulster museum, patrick and antoinette murphy, artists' estates
'Analysing Cubism' at Imma explores the movement's enduring impact on Irish artists
When Evie Hone and Mainie Jellett decided to study with the artist André Lhote in Paris in 1921, they were consciously taking a step away from the certainties of realism and into the unknown realm of Cubism.
Working with Lhote was the beginning of an artistic journey that led to their becoming long-term students of and collaborators with another French artist, Albert Gleizes.
Their enterprise represented the most concerted engagement on the part of Irish artists to date with the still radical movement, and kick-started the advent of Modernist painting in Ireland.
Analysing Cubism in The New Galleries at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (Imma) is the first concerted attempt to explore the varied, durable impact of Cubism on Irish art.
Organised with Cork's Crawford Gallery and the FE McWilliam Gallery and Studio in Banbridge, Co Down, it draws on many public and private collections to bring together works by the main protagonists from both Ireland and mainland Europe, and presents a richly textured overview of interlinked works encompassing several decades.
Cubism is one of the most famous movements in the history of modern European art. With a resonance that goes way beyond its actual historical substance, it came to stand for the Modernist impulse to challenge and provoke, to generally not leave well enough alone.
Even though it emerged among a plethora of radical movements, often in close relationship to them, it retains a singular, perhaps slightly austere mystique, and it still has a capacity to inspire incomprehension and annoyance.
Post-Impressionism, Expressionism, Fauvism, Italian Futurism, Constructivism, Kandinsky's drive toward abstraction, De Stijl in the Netherlands, and even Dada: all arose in an extraordinary couple of decades at the beginning of the 20th century.
Springboard to abstraction
Cubism is often linked to abstraction but, strictly speaking, while for many artists it served as a springboard towards abstraction, it remained firmly rooted in the real, outside world.
Its initial flowering is commonly divided into two phases. The first flickered to life around 1907 when Picasso painted his unprecedented, monumental composition Les Demoiselle d'Avignon. This gave rise to what is known as Analytical or Analytic Cubism (hence the title of IMMA's show).
When Braque first saw the painting, the historian John Golding wrote, he "was frankly horrified", but within months it is clear he had taken its ideas on board in his own work.
Les Demoiselle is not strictly speaking Cubist, but it contains most essentials of the movement in its startling appearance.
The second phase, Synthetic Cubism, followed and flourished until 1912. Different historians who are, after all, trying to describe an informal, open-ended series of events have drawn other interpretations of the movement's evolution.
Essentially, Braque drew directly on Cezanne's approach of breaking down a scene into "spheres, cylinders and cones", as he had famously expressed it himself, and, until 1912, he and Picasso worked closely together in forging a radical new means of depiction. During this time, Picasso remarked to Golding, their partnership was so close it was like a marriage.