Purism was a movement formed around 1918 which proposed a kind of painting in which objects are represented as powerful basic forms stripped of detail

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  • Amédée Ozenfant, 'Glasses and Bottles' circa 1922-6
    Amédée Ozenfant
    Glasses and Bottles circa 1922-6
    Oil on canvas
    support: 727 x 603 mm
    frame: 905 x 784 x 60 mm
    Purchased 1962© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2002
  • Fernand Léger, 'Mechanical Elements' 1926
    Fernand Léger
    Mechanical Elements 1926
    Watercolour, pencil and pen and ink on paper
    support: 242 x 303 mm
    frame: 435 x 490 x 20 mm
    Presented by Gustav and Elly Kahnweiler 1974, accessioned 1994© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2002
  • Le Corbusier (Charles-Edouard Jeanneret), 'Bull III' 1953
    Le Corbusier (Charles-Edouard Jeanneret)
    Bull III 1953
    Oil on canvas
    support: 1619 x 1137 mm
    Purchased 1954© FLC/ADAGP, Paris & DACS, London 2002

The movement was founded by Edouard Jeanneret (better known as the modern architect Le Corbusier) and Amédée Ozenfant. They set out the theory of purism in their book Après le Cubisme (After Cubism) published in 1918. They criticised the fragmentation of the object in cubism and the way in which cubism had become, in their view, decorative by that time. Instead they proposed a kind of painting in which objects were represented as powerful basic forms stripped of detail. Fernand Léger was another key artist associated with purism.

A crucial element of purism was its embrace of technology and the machine and it aimed to give mechanical and industrial subject matter a timeless, classical quality. References to ancient Greek architecture can be seen in the fluting (like a Greek column) on the bottles in Ozenfant’s still life compositions.

Purism reached a climax in 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. This was hung with work by the three principals and also included the cubists, Juan Gris and Jacques Lipchitz. After this the key relationship between Ozenfant and Le Corbusier broke up.