Summary of Collage
A common technique practiced by decorators, advertising agencies, and hobbyists alike, collage upended the fine-art world when Cubists Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso incorporated bits of newspaper and printed wallpaper into their paintings, subverting traditional definitions of what is important art. Combining painting, real-world objects, images, and ephemera into a single work, collage directly questions the tendency to separate fine art from everyday objects, the delineations between so-called high and low culture, and the status of the artist.
Adopted by subsequent artists, collage became a dominant technique in the Dada, Surrealist, Pop Art, and Neo-Dada movements, each using the technique to explore different subject matters. Because collage often incorporates mass-produced images, the practice is often inseparable from its historical and political context, making it a mode of powerful social commentary. Contemporary artists continue to explore the richness of collage in their efforts to question assumptions, biases, and pressing political crises.
Key Ideas & Accomplishments
- Whether purposefully or randomly composed, the juxtapositions between images and objects created by the collage technique have long intrigued artists. Because images can take on new meanings in new contexts, collage can subvert traditional meanings and at the same time multiply meanings, creating works that don't easily settle into single, fixed analyses.
- From the French meaning "to glue," collage describes the technique of composing an artwork by gluing a wide range of materials - including pieces of paper, fabric, newspaper clippings, and sometimes readymade objects - to a surface. Art historians make technical differentiations between collage techniques based on the materials an artist uses. Papiers collés are collages made only with bits of paper; decoupage, which means cutting, consists of cutting out colored paper or images and then gluing them to an object; photomontage uses photographs and images from mass-media sources, while assemblage is a three-dimensional accumulation of objects.
- Many avant-garde artists, from the earliest days of modernism to contemporary postmodernism, use collage to question the traditional role of the artist. By using found, often mass-produced, images and objects that the artists themselves don't make, collage undermines the traditional importance placed on the presence of the artist's hand in an original work of art. Additionally, often relying on chance to create compositions, many artists use collage to subvert the importance placed on the artist's creative genius in composing works.
- Georges Braque
- Pablo Picasso
- Juan Gris
- Francis Picabia
- Kurt Schwitters
- Hannah Höch
- John Heartfield
- George Grosz
- Hans Arp
- Man Ray
- Max Ernst
- Salvador Dalí
- Joseph Cornell
- Eileen Agar
- Robert Motherwell
- Conrad Marca-Relli
- Lee Krasner
- Richard Hamilton
- Eduardo Paolozzi
- Peter Blake
- Robert Rauschenberg
- Martha Rosler
- Nancy Spero
- Paula Rego
- Kara Walker
- Jake and Dinos Chapman
Overview of Collage
By the 12th century, both the Chinese and Japanese routinely glued brightly colored pieces of paper to various objects, sometimes applying a layer of lacquer to seal the surface for more permanent effect. The technique spread to medieval Europe, where additional materials, such as shells, gemstones, or gold foil, were incorporated into compositions. By the 18th century, decoupage, from the French "to cut out," had become a popular pastime among the European aristocracy, including Madame de Pompadour, Marie Antoinette, and Beau Brummell. An 18th-century letter described the trend: "We are here in the height of a new passion for cutting up colored engravings.... These cuttings are pasted on sheets of pasteboard then varnished. We make wall panels, screens, and fireboards of them."
The Important Artists and Works of Collage
In this work pioneering work of collage, Braque combines faux-wood wallpaper with a Cubist depiction of a fruit dish and glass. The intersecting planes of the drawing and the collage elements upend traditional notions of perspectival space but still suggest a table top and a door, perhaps even suggesting a café. For Braque, Cubism's emphasis on still life was primarily concerned with depicting space, as he said, "What greatly attracted me - and it was the main line of advance of Cubism - was how to give material expression to this new space of which I had an inkling. So I began to paint chiefly still lifes, because in nature there is a tactile, I would almost say a manual space.... It was that space that attracted me strongly, for that was the earliest Cubist painting - the quest for space." While the papier collé still explores how we perceive and feel space, the addition of the glued-on bits of wallpaper emphasize a shallower space that is more an exploration of shapes, their tactility, and how they relate to each other.
Braque created this example of papier collé, which uses bits of paper instead of found images, while staying in Provence, after discovering a roll of wood-grain wallpaper in a shop window. He began cutting and pasting the paper into his drawings and shared the discovery with his friend and collaborator Picasso, who soon adopted the technique. During this period of time, the two men were working so closely together that Braque described them as "like two mountaineers roped together." Braque's papier collé became foundational for the proliferation of the collage technique.
One of the first examples of Cubist collage, Still Life with Chair Caning depicts a multi-faceted view of a café table, chair, and various items - a knife, a napkin, part of a piece of fruit, and a wine glass. Instead of painting the chair, Picasso attached to the canvas surface a piece of oilcloth printed with a pattern of chair canning to suggest a chair, and used a length of rope to frame the canvas, suggesting a playful take on a table's customary carved edge. At the upper left, one sees the painted letters "Jou," both the French word for "game" and also an evocation of Le Journal, the daily newspaper that seems to be folded up on the table with a pipe resting atop it. While engaging in wordplay and visual punning, Picasso's collage makes viewers question their own perceptions of what constitutes an artwork as well as the relationship between art and ordinary objects.
Though he famously mastered subsequent styles, Picasso turned to collage throughout his career, as seen in his Maquette for the cover of the journal Minotaure (1933). Considered one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Picasso's collages and collage constructions had a noted impact on subsequent art, not only in the mixing of high and low culture but also in its questioning of what constitutes art in the first place.
This abstract collage consists of blue and white torn squares in various sizes arranged on a grey background. Made of heavyweight paper, bits of the paper's fiber soften the edges of some of the squares, giving it more a hand-made feel while at the same time the loose grid of shapes feels more mechanical and mathematical. The artist Hans Richter described how Arp, after tearing up a drawing he'd been working on, "let the pieces flutter to the floor of his studio.... Sometime later he happened to notice these same scraps of paper as they lay on the floor, and was struck by the pattern they formed. It had all the expressive power that he had tried in vain to achieve.... Chance movements of his hand and of the fluttering scraps of paper had achieved what all his efforts had failed to achieve.... He accepted this challenge from chance as a decision of fate and carefully pasted the scraps down in the pattern which chance had determined."
Arp made this work in Zurich, the center of the emerging Dada movement. In the aftermath of World War I, Dadaists felt that traditional social systems and the emphasis on reason were responsible for the war and, as a result, they sought to free art from rational and intentional strategies and to create a new anti-art that was concrete and eschewed traditional notions of artistic genius. Closely working with his partner Sophie Taeuber, Arp said, "We painted, embroidered, and made collages. All these works were drawn from the simplest forms and were probably the first examples of concrete art. These works are realities pure and independent with no meaning or cerebral intention. We rejected all mimesis and description, giving free reign to the elementary and spontaneous." Arp's experiments with chance and collage were readily incorporated into other Dadaist techniques and later Surrealism and subsequently influenced a host of post-World War II artists who sought to subvert authorial intention and control.
Useful Resources on Collage
- 5k viewsGeorges Braque, Le Violon (1914)Sotheby's
- 1k viewsPicasso Posse: Reordering of RealityPhiladelphia Museum of Art
- 19k viewsRobert Motherwell: Early Collages (2013)Our PickPeggy Guggenheim Collection
- Trains, snakes, and guitars: The collages of Romare Bearden (1980)Our PickSFMOMA
- 7k viewsCubism: The Collaboration of Picasso & Braque (2014)Aspen Institute / Talk by Leonard Lauder
- 5k viewsGuggenheim Robert Motherwell Lecture - Tearing Off and Beginning Again (2014)Guggenheim Museum / Catherine Craft Lecture
- Sunday at the Met - Robert Rauschenberg: Combines (2006)Conversation with Robert Rauschenberg and Calvin Tomkins
- Picasso and Braque PIONEERING CUBISMOur PickBy William Rubin
- Robert Motherwell: Early CollagesBy Susan Davidson, Megan Fontanella, Brandon Taylor, et al.
- Cut and Paste: 400 Years of CollageOur PickBy Patrick Elliot, Freya Gowrley, and Yuval Elgar
- Kurt Schwitters: A Journey Through ArtBy Gwendolen Webster, Roger Cardinal, and Kurt Schwitters
- Robert Rauschenberg: CombinesBy Paul Schimmel and Robert Rauschenberg
- Cut With the Kitchen Knife: The Weimar Photomontages of Hannah HochBy Maud Lavin and Hannah Hoch
- Paolozzi and Wittgenstein: The Artist as PhilosopherEdited by Diego Mantoan, Luigi Perissinotto
- Manning on DecoupageBy Henry Manning
- Nancy Spero. Codex Artaud XXIII. 1972
- Henri Matisse The Cut-OutsOur PickMOMA
- Modern Storytellers: Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Faith RinggoldBy Stella Paul / Metropolitan Museum
- Romare BeardenNational Gallery of Art
- Hannah HöchBy Heidi Hirschl Orley / Museum of Modern Art
- Robert Rauschenberg: CombinesOur Pick11 October 2006 - 15 January 2007, Gallery 2, level 6 / Centre Pompidou
- The meanings in Robert Rauschenberg's MonogramPhaidon / December 6, 2016
- Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
- Merzzeichnung: Typology and TypographyBy Michael White / Tate Papers / Autumn 2010
- More Than 30 Acclaimed Collages By Legendary Black Artist Romare Bearden Reunited For First Time In Nearly 40 YearsBy Natasha Gural / Forbes / August 8, 2019
- Powerful Images, Built on ContradictionsBy Martha Schwendener / New York Times / July 27, 2012
- Exploring the Cutting-Edge History and Evolution of Collage ArtBy Kelly Richman-Abdou / Mymodernmet / July 14, 2017
- Robert Rauschenberg CombinesOur PickThe Metropolitan Museum of Art / 2005
- The Prevalence of Ritual: On Romare Bearden's ProjectionsOur PickBy Mary Schmidt Campbell / Paris Review / September 6, 2018
- Top 10 Collage Artists: Hannah Höch to Man RayBy Harriet Baker / Anothermag / January 14, 2014
- Henri Matisse: drawing with scissorsBy Hilary Spurling / The Guardian / March 29, 2014
- Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs review - 'how rich, how marvellous, how alive'By Adrian Searle / The Guardian / April 14, 2014
- Surreal Hyper-Detailed Photos - Jean Francois RauzierBy Alice Yoo / My Modern Met / January 14, 2010
- The women who invented collage - long before Picasso and co.Our PickBy Claudia Massie / Spectator / July 6, 2019
- A Painter's Cut-and-Paste PrequelBy Holland Cotter / New York Times / October 3, 2013
- Read all about it: Newspapers as art in exhibitBy Stanley Meisler / Los Angeles Times / October 16, 2012
- Hannah Höch: art's original punkBy Brian Knight / The Guardian / January 9, 2014
- The Photomontages of Hannah HöchOur PickMOMA catalog
- John Stezaker: 'cutting a photograph can feel like cutting through flesh'By Sean O'Hagan / The Guardian / March 27, 2014
- Welcome To The Radical World Of Contemporary CollageBy Priscilla Frank / Huffington Post / October 8, 2015