History of Collage: From Cubism to Modern Day

Collage is an art form that has a rich and intriguing history. It spans across a century, evolving through various movements and cultural shifts. From its humble beginnings in Cubism to its vibrant expressions in the modern era. This art form has proven to be a versatile and dynamic medium for artistic expression. In this blog post, we delve into the historical evolution of collage. Through this blog will trace collages roots, exploring core artists who used collage and follow its transformative journey in history.


When exploring the history of collage, you must first trace it back to it’s origins. The inception of collage can be traced back to the early 20th century, with the emergence of Cubism. Pioneered by artists like Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, Cubism sought to break away from traditional artistic conventions. They did this by deconstructing and reassembling visual elements. This deconstruction laid the foundation for the first collages. This is where fragmented pieces of reality were combined to create a new, multifaceted perspective.

Images sourced from Google. Shared for educational purposes.

Pablo Picassos’ Influence

Pablo Picasso, a pioneering artist of the 20th century, played a significant role. It is already know that Picasso was an innovative artist, particularly during the Cubist movement. His experiments with collage techniques was the formation of collage being recognised globally. Picasso’s collage works were revolutionary, breaking away from traditional artistic norms.

Picasso’s exploration of Cubism laid the groundwork for his foray into collage. Cubism sought to represent subjects from multiple viewpoints simultaneously, breaking down forms into geometric shapes and fragments. This deconstruction of reality greatly influenced Picasso’s approach to both painting and collage.

Picasso’s collages often involved the use of found materials and everyday objects. He would incorporate items such as newspapers, sheet music, wallpaper, and fabric into his compositions. This use of non-traditional materials added an element of reality to his art. It blured the lines between artistic representation and the physical world.

Picasso is credited with coining the term “papiers collés,” which translates to “glued papers” in French. This technique involved adhering various materials to a surface, creating a textured and layered effect. Picasso used glue to attach pieces of paper. Often juxtaposing printed elements with painted areas to achieve a dynamic visual impact.

Picasso’s collage works covered a range of themes, from still life compositions to portraiture. He often incorporated fragments of text, adding an additional layer of meaning to his pieces. The use of recognisable elements from everyday life added a sense of familiarity to his work. It invited viewers to engage with the collage on both intellectual and emotional levels.

Picasso’s collage art reflected his innovative thinking and willingness to push artistic boundaries. By incorporating unconventional materials and techniques, he challenged the traditional notions of art and expanded the possibilities of creative expression.

Picasso collaborated closely with Georges Braque, another influential Cubist artist, during the early 20th century. The two artists shared ideas and techniques, contributing to the development of Cubist collage. Their collaborative efforts resulted in a dynamic exchange of artistic innovation. This further propelled the evolution of collage as an art form.

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As the world grappled with the aftermath of World War I, the history of collage grew. The Dada movement emerged as a form of artistic rebellion. Dadaists embraced the chaotic and absurd, using collage as a powerful tool to convey their anti-establishment sentiments. Artists such as Hannah Höch and Kurt Schwitters employed collage techniques to critique societal norms and challenge conventional notions of art.

Hannah Höchs’ Influence

Hannah Höch played a crucial role in breaking gender barriers in the male-dominated art world of the early 20th century. As a female artist, she faced societal expectations and prejudices. Yet she persisted in pursuing her artistic vision, making her mark in the Dada movement.

Hannah Höch was an active participant in the Dada movement, which emerged in the aftermath of World War I. Dadaists rejected traditional artistic conventions and sought to create works that reflected the chaos and absurdity of the post-war world. Höch’s collages were not only groundbreaking in their technique but also served as powerful tools for political and social commentary.

Höch’s use of collage was particularly notable for its socio-political critique. She skillfully appropriated and rearranged images from mass media, fashion magazines, and other sources to challenge prevailing gender roles, stereotypes, and societal norms. Her works often confronted issues of gender identity, the commodification of women, and the shifting roles of women in a rapidly changing society.

Höch is credited with popularising the photomontage technique, a form of collage that involves combining and reassembling photographic images. Her skillful manipulation of photographs allowed her to create seamless and thought-provoking compositions that conveyed layered narratives. This technique became a hallmark of her work and contributed to the visual language of the Dada movement.

Höch’s approach to art was characterised by experimentation and a rejection of conventional artistic boundaries. She embraced the use of found materials and everyday objects in her collages, blurring the lines between high and low art. This innovative spirit aligned with the Dadaist ethos, and her work inspired subsequent generations of artists to explore new possibilities in artistic expression.

Höch’s approach to art was characterized by experimentation and a rejection of conventional artistic boundaries. She embraced the use of found materials and everyday objects in her collages, blurring the lines between high and low art. This innovative spirit aligned with the Dadaist ethos, and her work inspired subsequent generations of artists to explore new possibilities in artistic expression.


The surrealists, led by Salvador Dalí and Max Ernst, took collage into the realm of the subconscious. Surrealist collages became portals into dreamlike landscapes, where disparate elements were juxtaposed to evoke a sense of mystery and introspection. The technique of fusing unrelated imagery opened new doors for artistic expression and paved the way for a more personal and emotional approach to collage.

Max Ernts’ Influence

Max Ernst was indeed one of the 20th century’s most pioneering artists, known for his significant contributions to the Surrealist movement. Born in Germany in 1891, Ernst’s innovative use of collage, among other techniques, set him apart as a trailblazer in the art world.

Max Ernst was indeed one of the 20th century’s most pioneering artists, known for his significant contributions to the Surrealist movement. Born in Germany in 1891, Ernst’s innovative use of collage, among other techniques, set him apart as a trailblazer in the art world.

In addition to frottage, Ernst developed the grattage technique. This involved scraping wet paint off a canvas to reveal the textures underneath, creating intricate and layered compositions. By combining grattage with frottage, Ernst achieved a unique visual language that blurred the lines between reality and the fantastical, a hallmark of Surrealism.

Ernst’s use of collage in Surrealism was groundbreaking. He often incorporated found materials, such as illustrations from 19th-century scientific and popular publications, into his works. These disparate elements were then juxtaposed and rearranged to create dreamlike and fantastical imagery. His collages became windows into the subconscious, exploring the irrational and mysterious aspects of the human mind.

One of Ernst’s recurring motifs in his collages was the creation of fantastical creatures, particularly the bird-headed figure known as Loplop. Loplop became Ernst’s alter ego and a symbol of the artist’s ability to transcend conventional thinking. This imaginative approach to character creation and symbolism added a distinct dimension to Ernst’s collage works.

Ernst’s collage work extended beyond the purely surreal into the realm of political commentary. In works like “The Hundred Headless Woman,” he addressed the horrors of war and the dehumanization of individuals. The collage medium allowed Ernst to convey complex and layered narratives, blending elements of reality and fantasy to provoke thought and emotion.

Max Ernst’s pioneering techniques, including frottage and grattage, as well as his revolutionary approach to collage, had a profound impact on the Surrealist movement and modern art as a whole. His influence extended to future generations of artists who embraced unconventional methods and sought to explore the depths of the subconscious mind.

Pop Art

With the rise of Pop Art in the 1950s and 1960s, collage found itself at the intersection of popular culture and fine art. Artists like Richard Hamilton and Robert Rauschenberg incorporated mass media imagery into their collages, reflecting the consumer-driven nature of society. Collage became a mirror to the rapidly changing cultural landscape, blurring the lines between high and low art.

Robert Rauschenbergs’ Influence

Robert Rauschenberg, an American artist who rose to prominence in the mid-20th century, had a profound and lasting influence on the world of collage art. His innovative approach and groundbreaking techniques expanded the possibilities of the medium, leaving an indelible mark on contemporary art.

Rauschenberg’s approach to collage involved the incorporation of everyday objects into his artworks. He challenged the traditional boundaries between “high” and “low” art by integrating elements of popular culture and found objects, a practice that would become a hallmark of his work. This blurring of distinctions paved the way for future artists to experiment with diverse materials and question established artistic norms.

Rauschenberg coined the term “Combine” to describe a series of works that fused painting and sculpture, often incorporating collage elements. In these pieces, he incorporated found objects, newspaper clippings, and photographs onto the canvas, creating dynamic and textured compositions. The “Combines” represented a significant departure from traditional painting, signaling a shift toward a more multimedia and interdisciplinary approach.

Rauschenberg developed and popularised techniques involving the transfer of photographic images onto surfaces. By using solvent-based transfers, he could seamlessly integrate photographs into his collages. This method allowed for a merging of the mechanical and the handmade, further expanding the possibilities of collage as a medium.

In his “Erased de Kooning Drawing” (1953), Rauschenberg asked for and received a drawing from fellow artist Willem de Kooning, an influential figure in the abstract expressionist movement. Rauschenberg then meticulously erased the entire drawing. This act of erasure challenged conventional notions of authorship and artistic creation. While not a traditional collage in the visual sense, the conceptual impact of this piece influenced subsequent artists by expanding the definition of what could be considered an artwork.

Rauschenberg’s groundbreaking work had a significant impact on the emerging Pop Art movement. His willingness to incorporate images from popular culture, advertisements, and mass media into his collages resonated with artists like Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns. Rauschenberg’s influence can be seen in the Pop Art emphasis on everyday objects and the blurring of distinctions between fine art and popular culture.

Rauschenberg’s collaborative spirit was evident in his work with other artists, writers, and performers. His collaborative approach extended the possibilities of collage beyond the traditional artist’s studio, fostering a sense of collective creation. This collaborative ethos influenced subsequent generations of artists who sought interdisciplinary partnerships and explored new modes of artistic expression.

Rauschenberg’s legacy is enduring, and his influence on collage art can be seen in the work of contemporary artists who embrace multimedia approaches, found objects, and the integration of diverse materials. The freedom he demonstrated in combining various elements has encouraged artists to explore hybrid forms of expression that challenge the boundaries of artistic disciplines.

Contemporary Collage

In the contemporary art scene, collage has continued to evolve, embracing digital technologies and diverse materials. Artists such as Kara Walker and Wangechi Mutu explore social and political themes through their intricate collages, pushing the boundaries of the medium. The accessibility of digital tools has allowed for a democratisation of collage, enabling artists and enthusiasts alike to experiment with this expressive form.

The historical evolution of collage from its roots in Cubism to its contemporary expressions highlights its adaptability and enduring appeal. As a medium that thrives on fragmentation and reassembly, collage has consistently mirrored the ever-changing dynamics of society and culture. From the avant-garde movements of the early 20th century to the diverse expressions of the present day, collage remains a powerful and relevant form of artistic expression, constantly pushing the boundaries of creativity.

*All images are sourced from Google.

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