Crystal Cubism

Crystal Cubism (French: Cubisme cristal or Cubisme de cristal) is a distilled form of Cubism consistent with a shift, between 1915 and 1916, towards a strong emphasis on flat surface activity and large overlapping geometric planes. The primacy of the underlying geometric structure, rooted in the abstract, controls practically all of the elements of the artwork.

This range of styles of painting and sculpture, especially significant between 1917 and 1920 (also referred to as the Crystal Period, classical Cubism, pure Cubism, advanced Cubism, late Cubism, synthetic Cubism, or the second phase of Cubism), was practiced in varying degrees by a multitude of artists; particularly those under contract with the art dealer and collector Léonce Rosenberg—Henri Laurens, Jean Metzinger, Juan Gris and Jacques Lipchitz most noticeably of all. The tightening of the compositions, the clarity and sense of order reflected in these works, led to its being referred to by the French poet and art critic Maurice Raynal as ‘crystal’ Cubism. Considerations manifested by Cubists prior to the outset of World War I—such as the fourth dimension, dynamism of modern life, the occult, and Henri Bergson’s concept of duration—had now been vacated, replaced by a purely formal frame of reference that proceeded from a cohesive stance toward art and life.

As post-war reconstruction began, so too did a series of exhibitions at Léonce Rosenberg’s Galerie de L’Effort Moderne: order and the allegiance to the aesthetically pure remained the prevailing tendency. The collective phenomenon of Cubism once again—now in its advanced revisionist form—became part of a widely discussed development in French culture. Crystal Cubism was the culmination of a continuous narrowing of scope in the name of a return to order; based upon the observation of the artists relation to nature, rather than on the nature of reality itself.

Crystal Cubism, and its associative rappel à l’ordre, has been linked with an inclination—by those who served the armed forces and by those who remained in the civilian sector—to escape the realities of the Great War, both during and directly following the conflict. The purifying of Cubism from 1914 through the mid-1920s, with its cohesive unity and voluntary constraints, has been linked to a much broader ideological transformation towards conservatism in both French society and French culture. In terms of the separation of culture and life, the Crystal Cubist period emerges as the most important in the history of Modernism.


Beginnings: Cézanne
Cubism, from its inception, stems from the dissatisfaction with the idea of form that had been in practiced since the Renaissance. This dissatisfaction had already been seen in the works of the Romanticist Eugene Delacroix, in the Realism of Gustave Courbet, in passing through the Symbolists, Les Nabis, the Impressionists and the Neo-Impressionists. Paul Cézanne was instrumental, as his work marked a shift from a more representational art form to one that was increasingly abstract, with a strong emphasis on the simplification of geometric structure. In a letter addressed to Émile Bernard dated 15 April 1904, Cézanne writes: “Interpret nature in terms of the cylinder, the sphere, the cone; put everything in perspective, so that each side of an object, of a plane, recedes toward a central point.”

Cézanne was preoccupied by the means of rendering volume and space, surface variations (or modulations) with overlapped shifting planes. Increasingly in his later works, Cézanne achieves a greater freedom. His work became bolder, more arbitrary, more dynamic and increasingly nonrepresentational. As his color planes acquired greater formal independence, defined objects and structures began to lose their identity.

The first phase
Artists at the forefront of the Parisian art scene at the outset of the 20th century would not fail to notice the tendencies toward abstraction inherent in the work of Cézanne, and ventured still further. A reevaluation in their own work in relation to that of Cézanne had begun following a series of retrospective exhibitions of Cézanne’s paintings held at the Salon d’Automne of 1904, the Salon d’Automne of 1905 and 1906, followed by two commemorative retrospectives after his death in 1907. By 1907, representational form gave way to a new complexity; subject matter progressively became dominated by a network of interconnected geometric planes, the distinction between foreground and background no longer sharply delineated, and the depth of field limited.

From the 1911 Salon des Indépendants, an exhibition which officially introduced “Cubism” to the public as an organized group movement, and extending through 1913, the fine arts had evolved well beyond the teachings of Cézanne. Where before, the foundational pillars of academicism had been shaken, now they had been toppled. “It was a total regeneration”, writes Gleizes, “indicating the emergence of a wholly new cast of mind. Every season it appeared renewed, growing like a living body. Its enemies could, eventually, have forgiven it if only it had passed away, like a fashion; but they became even more violent when they realized that it was destined to live a life that would be longer than that of those painters who had been the first to assume the responsibility for it”. The evolution towards rectilinearity and simplified forms continued through 1909 with greater emphasis on clear geometric principles; visible in the works of Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes, Henri Le Fauconnier and Robert Delaunay.

Pre-war: analysis and synthesis
The Cubist method leading to 1912 has been considered ‘analytical’, entailing the decomposition of the subject matter (the study of things), while subsequently ‘synthetic’, built on geometric construction (free of such primary study). The terms Analytic Cubism and Synthetic Cubism originated through this distinction. By 1913 Cubism had transformed itself considerably in the range of spatial effects. At the 1913 Salon des Indépendants Jean Metzinger exhibited his monumental L’Oiseau bleu; Robert Delaunay L’équipe du Cardiff F.C.; Fernand Léger Le modèle nu dans l’atelier; Juan Gris L’Homme au Café; and Albert Gleizes Les Joueurs de football. At the 1913 Salon d’Automne, a salon in which the predominating tendency was Cubism, Metzinger exhibited En Canot; Gleizes Les Bâteaux de Pêche; and Roger de La Fresnaye La Conquête de l’Air. In these works, more so than before, can be seen the importance of the geometric plane in the overall composition.

Historically, the first phase of Cubism is identified as much by the inventions of Picasso and Braque (amongst the so-called Gallery Cubists) as it is with the common interests towards geometrical structure of Metzinger, Gleizes, Delaunay and Le Fauconnier (the Salon Cubists). As Cubism would evolve pictorially, so too would the crystallization of its theoretical framework advance beyond the guidelines set out in the Cubist manifesto Du “Cubisme”, written by Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger in 1912; though Du “Cubisme” would remain the clearest and most intelligible definition of Cubism.

War years: 1914-1918
At the outset of the First World War many artists were mobilized: Metzinger, Gleizes, Braque, Léger, de La Fresnaye, and Duchamp-Villon. Despite the brutal interruption, each found the time to continue making art, sustaining differing types of Cubism. Yet they discovered a ubiquitous link between the Cubist syntax (beyond pre-war attitudes) and that of the anonymity and novelty of mechanized warfare. Cubism evolved as much a result of an evasion of the inconceivable atrocities of war as of nationalistic pressures. Along with the evasion came the need to diverge further and further away from the depiction of things. As the rift between art and life grew, so too came the burgeoning need for a process of distillation.

This period of profound reflection contributed to the constitution of a new mindset; a prerequisite for fundamental change. The flat surface became the starting point for a revaluation of the fundamental principles of painting. Rather than relying on the purely intellectual, the focus now was on the immediate experience of the senses, based on the idea according to Gleizes, that form, ‘changing the directions of its movement, will change its dimensions’ [“La forme, modifiant ses directions, modifiait ses dimensions”], while revealing the “basic elements” of painting, the “true, solid rules – rules which could be generally applied”. It was Metzinger and Gris who, again according to Gleizes, “did more than anyone else to fix the basic elements… the first principles of the order that was being born”. “But Metzinger, clear-headed as a physicist, had already discovered those rudiments of construction without which nothing can be done.” Ultimately, it was Gleizes who would take the synthetic factor furthest of all.

The divers Cubist considerations manifested prior to World War I—such as the fourth dimension, dynamism of modern life, and Henri Bergson’s concept of duration—had now been replaced by a formal reference frame which constituted the second phase of Cubism, based upon an elementary set of principles that formed a cohesive Cubist aesthetic. This clarity and sense of order spread to almost all of the artists exhibiting at Léonce Rosenberg’s gallery—including Jean Metzinger, Juan Gris, Jacques Lipchitz, Henry Laurens, Auguste Herbin, Joseph Csaky, Gino Severini and Pablo Picasso—leading to the descriptive term ‘Crystal Cubism’, coined by Maurice Raynal, an early promoter of Cubism and continuous supporter during the war and post-war phase that followed. Raynal had been associated with Cubists since 1910 via the milieu of Le Bateau-Lavoir. Raynal, who would become one of the Cubists most authoritative and articulate proponents, endorsed a wide range of Cubist activity and for those who produced it, but his highest esteem was directed toward two artists: Jean Metzinger, whose artistry Raynal equated with Renoir and who was ‘perhaps the man who, in our epoch, knows best how to paint’. The other was Juan Gris, who was ‘certainly the fiercest of the purists in the group’.

In 1915, while serving on the front line, Raynal suffered a minor shrapnel wound to the knee from exploding enemy artillery fire, though the injury did not necessitate his evacuation. Upon returning from the front line, Raynal served briefly as director for publications of Rosenberg’s l’Effort moderne. For Raynal, research into art was based on an eternal truth, rather than on the ideal, on reality, or on certitude. Certitude was nothing more than based on a relative belief, while truth was in agreement with fact. The only belief was in the veracity of philosophical and scientific truths.

“Direct reference to observed reality” is present, but the emphasis is placed on the “self-sufficiency” of the artwork as objects unto themselves. The priority on “orderly qualities” and the “autonomous purity” of compositions are a prime concern, writes art historian Christopher Green. Crystal Cubism also coincided with the emergence of a methodical framework of theoretical essays on the topic, by Albert Gleizes, Juan Gris, Fernand Léger, Gino Severini, Pierre Reverdy, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, and Maurice Raynal.

Even before Raynal coined the term Crystal Cubism, one critic by the name of Aloës Duarvel, writing in L’Elan, referred to Metzinger’s entry exhibited at Galerie Bernheim-Jeune as ‘jewellery’ (“joaillerie”). Another critic, Aurel, writing in L’Homme Enchaîné about the same December 1915 exhibition described Metzinger’s entry as “a very erudite divagation of horizon blue and old red of glory, in the name of which I forgive him” [une divagation fort érudite en bleu horizon et vieux rouge de gloire, au nom de quoi je lui pardonne].

During the year 1916, Sunday discussions at the studio of Lipchitz, included Metzinger, Gris, Picasso, Diego Rivera, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, Pierre Reverdy, André Salmon, Max Jacob, and Blaise Cendrars.

In a letter written in Paris by Metzinger to Albert Gleizes in Barcelona during the war, dated 4 July 1916, he writes:

After two years of study I have succeeded in establishing the basis of this new perspective I have talked about so much. It is not the materialist perspective of Gris, nor the romantic perspective of Picasso. It is rather a metaphysical perspective—I take full responsibility for the word. You can’t begin to imagine what I’ve found out since the beginning of the war, working outside painting but for painting. The geometry of the fourth space has no more secret for me. Previously I had only intuitions, now I have certainty. I have made a whole series of theorems on the laws of displacement [déplacement], of reversal [retournement] etc. I have read Schoute, Rieman (sic), Argand, Schlegel etc.

The actual result? A new harmony. Don’t take this word harmony in its ordinary [banal] everyday sense, take it in its original [primitif] sense. Everything is number. The mind [esprit] hates what cannot be measured: it must be reduced and made comprehensible.

That is the secret. There in nothing more to it [pas de reste à l’opération]. Painting, sculpture, music, architecture, lasting art is never anything more than a mathematical expression of the relations that exist between the internal and the external, the self [le moi] and the world. (Metzinger, 4 July 1916)
The ‘new perspective’ according to Daniel Robbins, “was a mathematical relationship between the ideas in his mind and the exterior world”. The ‘fourth space’ for Metzinger was the space of the mind.

In a second letter to Gleizes, dated 26 July 1916, Metzinger writes:

If painting was an end in itself it would enter into the category of the minor arts which appeal only to physical pleasure… No. Painting is a language—and it has its syntax and its laws. To shake up that framework a bit to give more strength or life to what you want to say, that isn’t just a right, it’s a duty; but you must never lose sight of the End. The End, however, isn’t the subject, nor the object, nor even the picture—the End, it is the idea. (Metzinger, 26 July 1916)

Continuing, Metzinger mentions the differences between himself and Juan Gris:

Someone from whom I feel ever more distant is Juan Gris. I admire him but I cannot understand why he wears himself out with decomposing objects. Myself, I am advancing towards synthetic unity and I don’t analyze any more. I take from things what seems to me to have meaning and be most suitable to express my thought. I want to be direct, like Voltaire. No more metaphors. Ah those stuffed tomatoes of all the St-Pol-Roux of painting.

Some of the ideas expressed in these letters to Gleizes were reproduced in an article written by the writer, poet, and critique Paul Dermée, published in the magazine SIC in 1919, but the existence of letters themselves remained unknown until the mid-1980s.

While Metzinger’s process of distillation is already noticeable during the latter half of 1915, and conspicuously extending into early 1916, this shift is signaled in the works of Gris and Lipchitz from the latter half of 1916, and particularly between 1917 and 1918. Metzinger’s radical geometrization of form as an underlying architectural basis for his 1915-16 compositions is already visible in his work circa 1912-13, in paintings such as Au Vélodrome (1912) and Le Fumeur (c.1913). Where before, the perception of depth had been greatly reduced, now, the depth of field was no greater than a bas-relief.

Metzinger’s evolution toward synthesis has its origins in the configuration of flat squares, trapezoidal and rectangular planes that overlap and interweave, a “new perspective” in accord with the “laws of displacement”. In the case of Le Fumeur Metzinger filled in these simple shapes with gradations of color, wallpaper-like patterns and rhythmic curves. So too in Au Vélodrome. But the underlying armature upon which all is built is palpable. Vacating these non-essential features would lead Metzinger on a path towards Soldier at a Game of Chess (1914–15), and a host of other works created after the artist’s demobilization as a medical orderly during the war, such as L’infirmière (The Nurse) location unknown, and Femme au miroir, private collection.

If the beauty of a painting solely depends on its pictorial qualities: only retaining certain elements, those that seem to suit our need for expression, then with these elements, building a new object, an object which we can adapt to the surface of the painting without subterfuge. If that object looks like something known, I take it increasingly for something of no use. For me it is enough for it to be “well done”, to have a perfect accord between the parts and the whole. (Jean Metzinger, quoted in Au temps des Cubistes, 1910-1920)

For Metzinger, the Crystal period was synonymous with a return to “a simple, robust art”. Crystal Cubism represented an opening up of possibilities. His belief was that technique should be simplified and that the “trickery” of chiaroscuro should abandoned, along with the “artifices of the palette”. He felt the need to do without the “multiplication of tints and detailing of forms without reason, by feeling”:

“Feeling! It is like the expression of the old-school tragedian in acting! I want clear ideas, frank colors. ‘No color, nothing but nuance’, Verlaine used to say; but Verlaine is dead, and Homer is not afraid to handle color”. (Metzinger)

Juan Gris’ late arrival on the Cubist scene (1912) saw him influenced by the leaders of the movement: Picasso, of the ‘Gallery Cubists’ and Metzinger of the ‘Salon Cubists’. His entry at the 1912 Salon des Indépendants, Hommage à Pablo Picasso, was also an homage to Metzinger’s Le goûter (Tea Time). Le goûter persuaded Gris of the importance of mathematics (numbers) in painting.

As art historian Peter Brooke points out, Gris started painting persistently in 1911 and first exhibited at the 1912 Salon des Indépendants (a painting entitled Hommage à Pablo Picasso). “He appears with two styles”, writes Brooke, “In one of them a grid structure appears that is clearly reminiscent of the Goûter and of Metzinger’s later work in 1912. In the other, the grid is still present but the lines are not stated and their continuity is broken”. Art historian Christopher Green writes that the “deformations of lines” allowed by mobile perspective in the head of Metzinger’s Tea-time and Gleizes’s Portrait of Jacques Nayral “have seemed tentative to historians of Cubism. In 1911, as the key area of likeness and unlikeness, they more than anything released the laughter.” Green continues, “This was the wider context of Gris’s decision at the Indépendants of 1912 to make his debut with a Homage to Pablo Picasso, which was a portrait, and to do so with a portrait that responded to Picasso’s portraits of 1910 through the intermediary of Metzinger’s Tea-time. While Metzinger’s distillation is noticeable during the latter half of 1915 and early 1916, this shift is signaled in the works of Gris and Lipchitz from the latter half of 1916, and particularly between 1917 and 1918.

Kahnweiler dated the shift in style of Juan Gris to the summer and autumn of 1916, following the pointilliste paintings of early 1916; in which Gris brought into practice Divisionist theory via the incorporation of colored dots into his Cubist pictures. This timescale corresponds with the period after which Gris signed a contract with Léonce Rosenberg, following a rally of support by Henri Laurens, Lipchitz and Metzinger.

“Here is the man who has meditated on everything modern”, writes Guillaume Apollinaire in his 1913 publication The Cubist Painters, Aesthetic Meditations, “here is the painter who paints to conceive only new structures, whose aim is to draw or paint nothing but materially pure forms”. Apollinaire compares the work of Gris with the “scientific cubism” of Picasso… “Juan Gris is content with purity, scientifically conceived. The conceptions of Juan Gris are always pure, and from this purity parallels are sure to spring”. And spring they did. In 1916, drawing from black and white postcards representing works by Corot, Velázquez and Cézanne, Gris created a series of classical (traditionalist) Cubist figure paintings, employing a purified range of pictorial and structural features. These works set the tone for his quest of an ideal unity for the next five years.

“These themes of pictorial architecture and the “constants” of tradition were consolidated and integrated”, writes Green et al; “The inference was there to be drawn: to restore tradition was to restore not only an old subject-matter in new terms, but to find the unchanging principles of structure in painting. Cohesion in space (composition) and cohesion in time (Corot in Gris) were presented as a single, fundamental truth”. Gris himself stressed the relativity and ephemerality of “truth” in his paintings (as a function of him) as in the world itself (as a function of society, culture and time); always susceptible to change.

From 1915 to late 1916, Gris transited through three different styles of Cubism, writes Green: “starting with a solid extrapolation of the structures and materials of objects, moving into the placement of brilliant coloured dots drifting across flat signs for still-life objects, and culminating in a flattened ‘chiaroscoro’ realised in planar contrasts of a monochromatic palette”.

Gris’s works from late 1916 through 1917, more so than before, exhibit a simplification of geometric structure, a blurring of the distinction between objects and setting, between subject matter and background. The oblique overlapping planar constructions, tending away from equilibrium, can best be seen in the artists Woman with Mandolin, after Corot (September 1916) and in its epilogue Portrait of Josette Gris (October 1916).

The clear-cut underlying geometric framework of these works seemingly control the finer elements of the compositions; the constituent components, including the small planes of the faces, become part of the unified whole. Though Gris certainly had planned the representation of his chosen subject matter, the abstract armature serves as the starting point. The geometric structure of Juan Gris’s Crystal period is already palpable in Still Life before an Open Window, Place Ravignan (June 1915). The overlapping elemental planar structure of the composition serves as a foundation to flatten the individual elements onto a unifying surface, foretelling the shape of things to come. In 1919 and particularly 1920, artists and critics began to write conspicuously about this ‘synthetic’ approach, and asserting its importance in the overall scheme of advanced Cubism.

In April 1919, following exhibitions by Laurens, Metzinger, Léger and Braque, Gris present nearly fifty works at Rosenberg’s Galerie de l’Effort moderne. This first solo exhibition by Gris coincided with his prominence among the Parisian avant-garde. Gris was presented to the public as one of the ‘purest’ and one of the most ‘classical’ of the leading Cubists.

Gris claimed to manipulate flat abstract planar surfaces first, and only in subsequent stages of his painting process would he ‘qualify’ them so that the subject-matter became readable. He worked ‘deductively’ on the global concept first, then consecrated on the perceptive details. Gris referred to this technique as ‘synthetic’, in contradistinction from the process of ‘analysis’ intrinsic to his earlier works.

Gris’s open window series of 1921-22 appears to be a response to Picasso’s open window’s of 1919, painted in St. Raphael. By May 1927, the date of his death, Gris had been considered the leader of the second phase of Cubism (the Crystal period).

While Metzinger and Gris were painting in advanced geometric form during the second phase of Cubism, Picasso worked on several projects simultaneously. Between 1915 and 1917, he began a series of paintings depicting highly geometric and minimalist Cubist objects, consisting of either a pipe, a guitar or a glass, with an occasional element of collage. “Hard-edged square-cut diamonds”, notes art historian John Richardson, “these gems do not always have upside or downside”. “We need a new name to designate them,” wrote Picasso to Gertrude Stein: Maurice Raynal suggested “Crystal Cubism”. These “little gems” may have been produced by Picasso in response to critics who had claimed his defection from the movement, through his experimentation with classicism within the so-called return to order.

Csaky, Laurens and Lipchitz
Joseph Csaky enlisted as a volunteer in the French army in 1914, fighting alongside French soldiers during World War I, and remained for the duration. Returning to Paris in 1918, Csaky began a series of Cubist sculptures derived in part from a machine-like aesthetic; streamlined with geometric and mechanical affinities. By this time Csaky’s artistic vocabulary had evolved considerably from his pre-war Cubism: it was distinctly mature, showing a new, refined sculptural quality. Few works of early modern sculpture are comparable to the work Csaky produced in the years directly succeeding World War I. These were nonrepresentational freely-standing objects, i.e., abstract three-dimensional constructions combining organic and geometric elements. “Csaky derived from nature forms which were in concordance with his passion for architecture, simple, pure, and psychologically convincing.” (Maurice Raynal, 1929)

The scholar Edith Balas writes of Csaky’s sculpture following the war years:

“Csáky, more than anyone else working in sculpture, took Pierre Reverdy’s theoretical writings on art and cubist doctrine to heart. “Cubism is an eminently plastic art; but an art of creation, not of reproduction and interpretation.” The artist was to take no more than “elements” from the external world, and intuitively arrive at the “idea” of objects made up of what for him constant in value. Objects were not to be analyzed; neither were the experiences they evoked. They were to be re-created in the mind, and thereby purified. By some unexplained miracle the “pure” forms of the mind, an entirely autonomous vocabulary, of (usual geometric) forms, would make contact with the external world.” (Balas, 1998, p. 27)

These 1919 works (e.g., Cones and Spheres, Abstract Sculpture, Balas, pp. 30–41) are made of juxtaposing sequences of rhythmic geometric forms, where light and shadow, mass and the void, play a key role. Though almost entirely abstract, they allude, occasionally, to the structure of the human body or modern machines, but the semblance functions only as “elements” (Reverdy) and are deprived of descriptive narrative. Csaky’s polychrome reliefs of the early 1920s display an affinity with Purism—an extreme form of the Cubism aesthetic developing at the time—in their rigorous economy of architectonic symbols and the use of crystalline geometric structures.

Csaky’s Deux figures, 1920, Kröller-Müller Museum, employs broad planar surfaces accented by descriptive linear elements comparable to Georges Valmier’s work of the following year (Figure 1921). Csaky’s influences were drawn more from the art of ancient Egypt rather than from French Neoclassicism.

With this intense flurry of activity, Csaky was taken on by Léonce Rosenberg, and exhibited regularly at the Galerie l’Effort Moderne. By 1920 Rosenberg was the sponsor, dealer and publisher of Piet Mondrian, Léger, Lipchitz and Csaky. He had just published Le Néo-Plasticisme—a collection of writings by Mondrian—and Theo van Doesburg’s Classique-Baroque-Moderne. Csaky’s showed a series of works at Rosenberg’s gallery in December 1920.

For the following three years, Rosenberg purchased Csaky’s entire artistic production. In 1921 Rosenberg organized an exhibit titled Les maîtres du Cubisme, a group show that featured works by Csaky, Gleizes, Metzinger, Mondrian, Gris, Léger, Picasso, Laurens, Braque, Herbin, Severini, Valmier, Ozenfant and Survage.

Csaky’s works of the early 1920s reflect a distinct form of Crystal Cubism, and were produced in a wide variety of materials, including marble, onyx and rock crystal. They reflect a collective spirit of the time, “a puritanical denial of sensuousness that reduced the cubist vocabulary to rectangles, verticals, horizontals,” writes Balas, “a Spartan alliance of discipline and strength” to which Csaky adhered in his Tower Figures. “In their aesthetic order, lucidity, classical precision, emotional neutrality, and remoteness from visible reality, they should be considered stylistically and historically as belonging to the De Stijl movement.” (Balas, 1998)

Jacques Lipchitz recounted a meeting during the First World War with the poet and writer close to the Abbaye de Créteil, Jules Romains:

I remember in 1915 when I was deeply involved in cubist sculpture but was still in many ways not certain of what I was doing, I had a visit from the writer Jules Romains, and he asked me what I was trying to do. I answered, “I would like to make an art as pure as a crystal.” And he answered in a slightly mocking way, “What do you know about crystals?” At first I was upset by this remark and his attitude, but then, as I began to think about it, I realized that I knew nothing about crystals except that they were a form of inorganic life and that this was not what I wanted to make.

Both Lipchitz and Henri Laurens—late adherents to Cubist sculpture, following Alexander Archipenko, Joseph Csaky, Umberto Boccioni, Otto Gutfreund and Picasso—began production in late 1914, and 1915 (respectively), taking Cubist paintings of 1913-14 as a starting point. Both Lipchitz and Laurens retained highly figurative and legible components in their works leading up to 1915-16, after which naturalist and descriptive elements were muted, dominated by a synthetic style of Cubism under the influence of Picasso and Gris.

Between 1916 and 1918 Lipchitz and Laurens developed a breed of advanced wartime Cubism (primarily in sculpture) that represented a process of purification. With observed reality no longer the basis for the depiction of subject, model or motif, Lipchitz and Laurens created works that excluded any starting point, based predominantly on the imagination, and continued to do so during the transition from war to peace.

In December 1918 Laurens, a close friend of both Picasso and Braque, inaugurated the series of Cubist exhibitions at L’Effort Moderne (Lipchitz showed in 1920), by which time his works had wholly approached the Cubist retour à l’ordre. Rather than descriptive, these works were rooted in geometric abstraction; a species of architectural, polychromed multimedia Cubist constructions.

Source from Wikipedia