The term Orphism or Orphic Cubism (derived from the mythical singer and lyre/violin player Orpheus, French orphique 'mysterious') refers to an art movement that developed from Cubism, in which mainly circular formations in bright colours were created on the basis of the colour theory of the chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul, described in his book Law of Simultaneous Contrasts in Colours, published in 1839. The term was coined by Guillaume Apollinaire in 1912 after colour-intensive works by Robert Delaunay. In the Cubist paintings of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, a more monochrome colour scheme prevailed at that time.
The term Orphism was coined for Robert Delaunay's paintings in 1912 by the writer Guillaume Apollinaire, who in the same year gave an introduction to the Delaunay exhibition at Herwarth Walden's Der Sturm gallery. Apollinaire saw in Orphism an overcoming of Cubism and praised the painting of Delaunay, František Kupka and other young painters of late German Expressionism as a "poetic and musical" language. The aim of Orphism was to oppose pure music with pure painting, which was to be dissolved from the representational into a rhythmic harmony of colour. The means of design are the dynamic forces of colour, thus colour and its spatial effect is an essential element of composition. Light not only evokes colour, but is colour itself.
The simultaneous contrast, the simultaneous presentation of warm and cold, complementary and neighbouring colours in the spectrum are an essential stylistic device of Orphism. They are intended to create the impression of movement in the eye of the beholder through their optical effects.
Robert Delaunay, who called his style Cubisme écartelé (Dissected Cubism), developed in 1912, was the most important representative of this art movement. Delaunay saw, and explained this in extensive art historical writings, in colour his actual pictorial material, from which pure painting was to emerge, which could "dispense with objects" and "be completely abstract." While Chevreul understood his theory as a guide for artists, Delaunay, who read the book during his military service as a regimental librarian in Laon, developed his artistic concept from Chevreul's theory, which for him was the expression of a world view and was accepted by him as binding. The idea of pure colour painting was for him the necessary conception of a universe, and the associated idea of reality, "which can only be adequately recognised through optical perception and shows itself as the simultaneous movement of colours in light."