The twentieth century owes it all to the post-impressionist painter Paul Cézanne. His work made it possible for artists in this transformative epoch to herald in a new order in a most unruly way, fracturing the old hegemony’s hold on what constitutes beauty in art.
Out of his work grew Cubism; one of the most radical and influential art movements in modern history. What made it even more revolutionary during its early years was that it was primarily analytical in its philosophy, as opposed to its more synthetic nature as the movement matured later on.
Founded by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, both of whom were keen admirers of Cézanne, Cubist works were the result of the analysis of an object or subject, its destruction into elemental parts and then its reassembly into a non-figurative way. It was all lines and fragments, sharp blocks of form and faded semblances of shape.
This formative and altogether shocking period of art is explored in a new exhibition at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Kilmainham, Dublin, focusing on the impact of Cubism on Irish artists in the twenties and thirties.
Though the show leans towards Irish artists who specialised, dabbled in and were inspired by cubism, including May Guinness, Jack Hanlon, Evie Hone, Mainie Jellett, Norah McGuinness and Mary Swanzy, it does extend its scope wider to provide welcome context about the movement’s wider impact.
English artists are also represented, such as Paul Egestorff and Elizabeth Rivers, while European cubism is exemplified by the likes of Braque and Picasso, Albert Gleizes, Juan Gris, Henri Hayden and André Lhote.
The highlight of the exhibition invariably is the Irish angle, which investigates how, in particular, Hone, Lhote and Jellett were prominent in embracing cubism, influencing and sowing the seeds for modern Irish abstract painting later on.
“Analysing Cubism provides an opportunity to revisit a period in the first half of the twentieth century when Irish artists studied and worked on the continent, learning, but also contributing to the development of European modernism,” explains Peter Murray, director of the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork, who first proposed the show.
“The exhibition is significant on many levels. Not only does it make a contribution to the growing appreciation of the modern movement in twentieth century Irish art, it also raises questions relevant to today’s art world, regarding the relationship of centre and periphery, and of the sometimes under acknowledged contribution made by young creative talents to the development of the art of their time.”
Analysing Cubism: Mainie Jellett, Evie Hone, Mary Swanzy and masters of European Modernism at the Irish Museum of Modern Art runs until May 19th 2013.
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