Orphism is regarded as a sub-genre or offshoot of Cubism. In fact, sometimes the term is called Orphic Cubism. The movement is often viewed as a bridge between Cubism and Abstract Art. Artists painting in the Orphism style focused on creating abstract works with bright colors and, of course, definitive elements of Cubism. Painters were concerned with the presentation of colors rather than the depiction of a clearly defined subject.
Orphic artists borrowed concepts from writers like the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire. He associated these artists with the Greek myth of Orpheus and its artistic inspiration. Apollinaire postured that the artist was free to create new forms as well as new color harmonies. In fact, Apollinaire coined the term Orphism in 1912 when discussing works of “pure painting” such as those painted by artists like Frantisek Kupka who was a pioneer of the artistic movement. Because the movements were closely related, Orphism was also greatly influenced by Cubism and works painted by Picasso.
Robert Delaunay and Sonia Delaunay, husband and wife artists, were most closely associated with the Orphism movement. In fact, the movement itself was short-lived, but the Delaunays often painted in the style at various periods throughout their careers. Their works often reflected varying levels of abstraction and bold colors. Robert Delaunay’s Eiffel Town series are associated with Orphism and known for their contrasting bright colors. His tower representations grew more abstract as he continued to paint them.
Another important influence on the Orphism movement was the chemist Eugene Chevreul. His work in dye chemistry and contrasting color theories inspired artists like the Delaunays to find new ways to work with color. Chevreul asserted that when complimentary colors are presented together, each becomes more vivid and intense than if the colors were presented alone. He also noted that darker colors will appear even darker when juxtaposed with lighter colors. This relationship of color combinations had considerable impact on the movement.
By WWI the movement appeared to run its course. While the Delaunays continued in this vein in their way, even they did not want to be bound by the label whose definition has sometimes been deemed vague. Some of the best-known works of Orphism include Simultaneous Windows on the City by Hamburger Kunsthalle, The Cathedral by Frantisek Kupka, Simultaneous Contrasts: Sun and Moon by Robert Delaunay, and La Prose du Transsibérien et de la petite Jehanne de France by Sonia Delaunay.