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Purism Collage

Started: 1918

Ended: 1925

"Art is the demonstration that the ordinary is extraordinary."

Amédée Ozenfant

Summary of Purism

A decade after Cubism rocked the art world with its deconstruction of subject matter into simple geometric shapes and interlocking planes, Edouard Jeanneret (known as the modern architect Le Corbusier) and Amédée Ozenfant tweaked its lexicon for use in French painting and architecture. They coined this fresh variant Purism, which at its most basic function, proposed a new kind of art in which objects were represented as powerful forms devoid of any extraneous detail. They published this stripped down theory in their 1918 book Après le Cubisme (After Cubism). As the movement formally developed in the period following World War I, it is also viewed as part of Interwar Classicism, a movement that emphasized classical principles as a "return to order" of social and cultural forces.

Key Ideas

Purism reduced subject matter to the relationships of its geometric angles and shapes, further emphasized through color toward a unified effect. These "pure" forms were composed of their intrinsic qualities and absent of any representational meaning. This infiltrated all aspects of the arts including painting, design, and architecture.
Along with the burgeoning advent of technology and the machine age, Purist artists aimed to infuse mechanical and industrial subject matter with a timeless quality. This influenced work in which shapes were lent references to ancient, classical forms absent of decoration or additional ornamentation.
The still life painting became a popular form of articulating Purist philosophies. In this genre, artists would take objet types, or reproducible everyday objects from their own environments, and reduce them to aesthetically pleasing, shapes and forms that emphasized the simple beauty of the modern world.
Short lived, Purism climaxed at Le Corbusier's Pavillon de l'Esprit Nouveau (Pavilion of the New Spirit), built in 1925 for the International Exposition of Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris (the exhibition was very large, and ironically, it was the birth of Art Deco movement). A perfect time capsule of the movement, the exhibition presented Le Corbusier, Ozenfant, Fernand Léger, alongside Cubists Juan Gris and Jacques Lipchitz, after which Ozenfant and Le Corbusier ended their partnership.
Purism rejected the over-embellishment that was signature to the society's bourgeois notion of beauty at the time. The movement, and in particular Le Corbusier's advocacy for the simplification and modulation of form, would go on to influence generations of artists and architects interested in mass production and classical order in art, building, design, and even the construction of city plans.
Purism Image


In 1915 Amédée Ozenfant, who became the leading theorist and pioneer of Purism, founded the magazine L'Elan with Guillaume Apollinaire and Max Jacobs. While editing the magazine in the following year, he began formulating the concepts of Purism in articles including his 1916 essay "Notes sur le cubism,"(Notes on Cubism). He critiqued Cubism in a number of works, as art historian Kenneth Silver wrote, "The ways and means of Cubism are meant to look out of date: instead of indeterminacy, simultaneity, the mutability of time and space, the Purists will substitute something stable and durable."

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