Thursday, August 28, 2014

Precedents and Origin of Collage: Scrapbooking, Trompe l'oeil and Synthetic Cubism


Although scrapbooking was seen as a craft activity primarily for women, it is a clear precedent to collage, and was practiced well over century before Picasso and Braque "invented" collage.

An example of scrapbooking where fragments of cut paper are incorporated together on a page. Made by Anne Wagner in honor of her niece Felicia between 1795 and 1834 in Britain. 

American Trompe l'oeil Painting 

Although collage is typically seen as having been started and developed in Europe around the time of World War I, the late 19th century American trompe l'oeil painters have an interesting relationship to collage, in that the realistic depiction of arrangements of paper and other objects in shallow space seems to almost predict the look of collages and assemblages that came about in the twentieth century. Additionally, these paintings are interesting to compare to later art movements associated with collage (and painting) like Cubism and Surrealism (although these movements came out of very different circumstances and central ideas).

Because these painters were American, it is unlikely that their paintings influenced those movements, but the similarities are hard to ignore, and Jefferson Davis Chalfant's Which is Which? (see below) has been touted by some as an example of collage that precedes Picasso.

These painters may also be of particular interest because several of them are connected to Philadelphia: John Peto and William Harnett, two of the major artists of this group, lived in Philadelphia and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA). Excellent examples of their work can be found there, as well as at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Is Jefferson Davis Chalfant's Which is Which (c. 1890) the first collage? This trompe l'oeil (which literally means "deceive the eye") painter pasted a real stamp next to a painted stamp (and a painted newspaper scrap), incorporating a real object into a painting over 20 years before Picasso.

Some trompe l'oeil paintings, such William Harnett's Still life violin and music (1888) seem related to later collage-related movements of Cubism (see examples of still life collages featuring musical instruments below) and Surrealism (in that both feature paintings of "apparently arbitrary image association or ... grotesque or humorous juxtapositioning of imagery" (Wolfram, History of Collage)). (Also, both Cubism and Surrealism both occasionally used trompe l'oeil effects, although to very different ends than these American painters). 
Synthetic Cubism 

Pablo Picasso's Still Life with Chair Caning (1912)
The word collage, from the French word for "paste," originally comes from Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) and Georges Braque (French, 1882-1963), who are credited with co-inventing the form in Paris in 1912. Pablo Picasso's 1912 Still Life with Chair Caning (Nature-morte à la chaise cannée) is usually credited as the first collage in the context of visual fine arts. This work introduced a real world object, a piece of oil cloth with a chair cane pattern, into a painting, marking the beginning of "synthetic" cubism (as opposed to the earlier period of "analytic" cubism, where people or objects were abstracted often by being portrayed from multiple angles simultaneously). Braque, a close collaborator of Picasso who helped him co-found Cubism, soon created what is thought to be the first papier collé or paper collage (the French term literally means "pasted paper"), thereby helping to move collage beyond the realm of painting. Examples of collages by Juan Gris (Spanish, 1887-1927), who worked closely with Picasso and Braque to develop Cubism, are also included.

Note that while these collages feature fragmentation and a destruction of the picture plane that is often seen as mirroring the horrors of World War I (1914-1918), they are all examples of additive collage. Reductive collage techniques came later. 

Georges Braque's Fruit Dish and Glass (1912), thought to be the first paper collage. The wood grain wallpaper shows how differently trompe l'oeil effects were used in cubist collages compared to the work of earlier the American realist painters mentioned above
Pablo Picasso. Guitar, Sheet Music and Wine Glass (1912)
Pablo Picasso. Guitar (1913) 
Juan Gris. The Sunblind (1914)
Pablo Picasso. Bowl of Fruit, Violin and Bottle 1914) 
Pablo Picasso. Pipe, Glass, Bottle of Vieux Marc (1914)
Juan Gris. Lunch (1914)
Georges Braque. Still Life with Glass and Letters (1914)
Juan Gris. Coffee Grinder, Cup and Glass on Table (1915)
Georges Braque. Bottle and Musical Instruments (1918)

Notice the use of cheap, everyday, "non-art" materials, such as newspaper, cardboard, and wallpaper, in these collages. Using these materials subverts the expectation that art is made from archival, specialized materials like oil paint or bronze; it also calls into question the need for an artist to have extreme technical skill; and finally, it begins to blur the lines between high and low art, as well as art and life. These aspects of collage were picked up on and more strongly emphasized by the members of the Dada "anti-art" movement, which including Francis Picabia, Hannah Hoch, Hans Arp, Raoul Hausmann, and many others.

In addition to Dada, virtually every subsequent art movement or major artist began to use or at least dabble with collage or collage related ideas. Other early collages include those made by Futurists, Suprematists, and Surrealists, as well as somewhat later collages by Pop artists, Bauhaus, junk artists and beyond.