SOUVENIRS - LE CUBISME Albert Gleizes
'Souvenirs: le Cubisme, 1908-1914', Cahiers Albert Gleizes, Association des Amis d'Albert Gleizes, Lyon, 1957. Reprinted, Association des Amis d'Albert Gleizes, Ampuis, 1997.
Gleizes' Souvenirs were written during the war. They are divided into a number of chapters each of which is quite substantial but incomplete. They therefore cover most of his life. The text which is translated here was extracted and published by the Association des Amis d'Albert Gleizes, founded shortly after his death. This little volume has been useful in the historiography of Cubism as a main source for the controversy in the 1911 Salons.
NOTE TO 1957 EDITION: The dots indicate passages that have been suppressed. For the most part they are to do with family memories.
It was in 1909 that I began fully to understand the nature of my artistic discontent. Up until then, from the time when the Créteil group broke up, my troubles in this respect had been only on the surface. Impressionism no longer satisfied and would never satisfy me again, of that I was quite sure. But what to replace it with? I was utterly unable to know. What I glimpsed intuitively was that the secret could be found in 'drawing'. So 1908 and 1909 were years in which I sacrificed the pleasure of painting to the austere and almost exclusive regime of drawing. I drew passionately, no matter what, no matter where. And no matter how. Sketches, more developed studies, compositions large and small, using pencil, charcoal, brush. But, as André Lhote would say, these drawings remained at the level of direct studies. My eye and my hand came together to seize the flexibility of lines and the play of values. But lines and values remained superficial, anecdotic, without inner meaning, and soon I was feeling, as I traced them out and gave them their place in the scheme of things, only a mediocre satisfaction without a future.
This regime of drawing which I had imposed on myself certainly had the effect of distancing me from the Impressionist technique. I was no longer working in analysis and in the fine modulation of tones demanded by Impressionism. I looked for a simplification of colour that would complement my desire to simplify the forms. I ended up realising, with greater or lesser success, paintings that were more consciously willed, that were made out of oppositions and sacrifices. Tonality gave way to colour and the line enfolded the drawing better but, despite everything, I still felt the extent to which it remained dependent on the Impressionism with which I had begun. I did not want to go off on a false trail; and I was quite unable to deceive myself.
Dissatisfied with myself, paying no attention to what was going on around me because of certain suspicions that were really unjustified, it was chance that assumed the task of giving to the helm the twist that was needed to point me in the right direction. Chance? Was that really what it was? Of all my friends in the Abbaye, Alexandre Mercereau was the one who had most appealed to me. His character, his honesty and his generosity had won me over and I was devoted to him with the deepest of friendships. Among the Créteil writers it was he who possessed the best aesthetic sense. He knew all the important painters of the new generation since he had organised several exhibitions of modern painting abroad. So it was through him that I came to know some of the young artists of my generation, among them Le Fauconnier and Jean Metzinger.
I had seen Le Fauconnier during the hashish evening in the Delta. (1) But we had not got into conversation. Later, quite a long time afterwards, I met him again in the more reassuring atmosphere of the soirées organised by Alexandre Mercereau. And a mutual sympathy quickly led to a real friendship. Le Fauconnier took care of his appearance, and it was striking. He was quite a tall, thinnish fellow, a little stooped, with tawny hair and a reddish complexion wrapped up in broadly cut and almost flowing tweed suits. Lively and intelligent eyes sparkled behind large, high magnification spectacles in the tumultuous waves of a glowing red beard. His words were touched with a light northern accent - he came from the Artois - and they were at once profound and mischievous. He had a surprising way of walking as he advanced with great strides, slightly bowed, and pitching more or less from side to side. His head was arrayed in a way calculated to emphasise his personality: he wore a sort of traveller's cap, half bonnet, half balaclava, with ear muffs, after the manner of those strange pieces of head gear favoured by Cézanne and Van Gogh. In 1908, Le Fauconnier could have been numbered among the fauves. I remember some fine canvasses, still lifes, figures, brightly coloured, bold in manner, which were not very far removed from certain works by Matisse and which could be seen exhibited in the Salle des Concerts Rouges. They were the direct works - doubtless more a product of arrangement than of composition - of a young, talented painter who was just beginning, having broken completely with the false official teaching which a Jean Paul Laurens - to whom, like so many others, he had gone naively - was handing out for good or ill at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts.
In 1909, Le Fauconnier, also troubled by doubts of an aesthetic order, was clearly seeking to internalise the plastic values of his earliest paintings. It was then that we met up, on my side feeling very distinctly that through him I could finally manage to resolve my own little internal drama. A picture of Le Fauconnier's which made a deep impression on me was the portrait of the poet, Pierre Jean Jouve, shown at the Salon d'Automne in 1909. I took from it straightaway a lesson. Drawing, which had seemed to me to hold the key to my longings but which I could not master, was revealed to me in Jouve's portrait, in its true nature. This portrait was not an exact likeness of the model, but a totally different interpretation which, far from removing the appearance, made it stand out more clearly through the heavy emphasis laid on certain of the characteristics, and a rigorous elimination of all unnecessary details. The colour no longer owed anything to Impressionism, it was no longer shimmering, it was no longer the whole, it supported by simple harmonies of a brown tinged with violet, the structure of the drawing.
The picture produced in me a long period of reflection and I am greatly in its debt. My further relations with Le Fauconnier proved to be very profitable. I left the desert and came back into the world. Our conversations, marked by our common love for painting, confirmed me in my researches and gave them a sense of direction. In addition to the masters of the Renaissance, my own contemporaries - other than the Impressionists - seemed to me to be teachers and counsellors who could open the ways to which, intuitively, I aspired. The Impressionists had helped me for several years to let off steam but I could not continue any longer working with the sensibility alone; I urgently needed to find other foundations that would be more solid and, consequently, able to bear the weight of the efforts that would be repeated throughout my life. The exchanges of opinions among young artists of the same age, with the same formation, who already had behind them a certain weight of experience, could only be fruitful for all of us. For my own part, I was soon able to appreciate it.
Studying old masters is difficult. It cannot be done on the basis of appearances. Copies, whether faithful or free, can only have a very slight interest, that of an exercise for the eye and for the hand. They do not speak directly to the understanding. They do not uncover the different stages of artistic creation. For a student, it is not the final result that matters, but the different steps that follow one another in order, in a way that is consistent [constante], enabling him to conduct the nebulous sketch, the initial idea, right up to the resolution of the problem, which is the finished work. This knowledge of structures had been possessed by the masters of other times, those of the Renaissance who, at that moment in our lives as young painters, seemed to us the most accomplished. In the studios of our own time, whether those of the Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts, or those of the Academies running along beside them, teaching was limited to vague recipes and tricks which could only produce more or less skilful presentations of more or less complicated or pretentious subjects. We had an ambition which subterfuges of this kind could not satisfy. Our efforts and the thoughts they provoked in each of us could benefit from each others' criticism and praise. The secrets of the masters would perhaps be revealed through the fact that we agreed in submitting the subject - the 'anecdote' as we called it in those days - to the laws of plastic construction, to such an extent that we were ready to sacrifice the first, the subject, to emphasise the simplified structures that resulted from the application of the laws. My friendly relations with Le Fauconnier helped me a great deal to clear away all the Impressionist undergrowth with which I was surrounded. His paintings were not without an effect on my own.
1909 was, then, a year that I could mark with a white stone. It brought the final end of everything that still tied me, despite myself, to Impressionism. My drawing became something deliberate, willed, as I obliged myself to use line only as an element belonging to a totality which was the picture, independent of whatever it might represent. Lines and volumes, densities and weights, balancing of the parts between themselves, those were our concerns and our aspirations. Whence, as a visible consequence of our attitude, the geometrical, stripped down appearance of our pictures, to which the dull colour - reduced to various modulations of grey barely enlivened with light inflexions of terre vert and yellow ochre - added an austerity that was disconcerting to those around us, used as they were to the amiable fireworks of the Impressionists.
I was now working much more in the studio than from nature. On the basis of direct studies I tried to derive something with more of a bone structure, more composed, in a word, more plastic. I was more drawn towards reflecting, meditating upon, studying the formal capacities that could be found in a subject taken from life. I understood that what up until then I had taken for an end was only an invitation to a work of manifesting on a plane that was of a quite different order, that of painting, an action stimulated by laws of its own and stimulating in turn its own kind of pleasure. I drew simplified plans of landscapes and of people in which, it is easy to see, there is a confusion between two different attitudes - the one in which the subject serves as the starting point for the painted work, the other in which, straightaway, the pictorial object imposes its habits of being and dictates the changes that must be made in a subject that has become at the least accessory. It is clear that, though we may have felt the need for a radical reversal of the positions of the subject in relation to the object, we were not yet in a position to achieve it, and we could only sketch it out in an empirical manner. We were still dominated by the subject and it was through the subject that we tried to arrive at something that could not be defined but was still more solid. It was that 'something' which the masters of the past, those of the Italian Renaissance, had known and which lay behind the constructions whose final resolution in wonderfully organised presentations was so moving that even in our own time we could still find in them a material for contemplation.
After painting a series of pictures, some of which are still in existence today, I was still dissatisfied and yet better prepared for experiments that would go deeper. It was in 1910 that, for the first time, I showed in the Salon des Indépendants and completely abandoned the salon of the Nationale, where there was nothing more for me to do. I sent to the Cours-la-Reine a full figure, a full sized portrait of the poet René Arcos, as well as two landscapes of the area round Paris, simple collections of masses in restrained colours. From that moment onwards, I can see it clearly now, my researches passed from the surface to the interior of the plastic problem. So 1910 brought another white stone to my life, as it would mark a stage which, if it was not conclusive, would at least be very positive. Above all in the second half of that year, when I painted the canvasses which would appear in the Salon des Indépendants of 1911.
I had met Jean Metzinger and Robert Delaunay in 1910, at Alexandre Mercereau's. But I wasn't yet connected with them. I only had the vaguest knowledge of their work. I had hardly seen the pictures they showed together at the Salon des Indépendants in that same year in which, all the same, I had myself taken part. Most importantly, I had read an account which had struck me, written by Jean Metzinger for the young literary review, Pan, run by two young poets, [Marcel Rieu] and Jean Clary. It was at the Indépendants of 1910 that Metzinger showed a portrait of Guillaume Apollinaire which he (2) later claimed was the first Cubist portrait.
At the Salon d'Automne of 1910, with Metzinger and Le Fauconnier, we showed some paintings and some drawings. Without any intention of demonstrating anything in favour of anything, the hanging committee put Metzinger in a corner of the periphery and, in a nearby room, Le Fauconnier and myself. Next door to us was Jean Marchand. Jean Metzinger had sent a canvas entitled Nu à la cheminée, Le Fauconnier two landscapes from Plouma'nach (3), myself a landscape from the area round Paris and a very geometrical drawing. In fact our canvasses did not really have much in common. The most daring was certainly that of Metzinger. Nonetheless, the connection there was between them did not escape the attention either of the hanging committee or of certain journalists, as can be seen in this cutting from La Presse which I still have in front of me, in which it is said: 'the geometrical follies of MM Le Fauconnier, Metzinger and Gleizes." (4)
It was around this time that we came to know Fernand Léger. He had shown in the 1910 Salon d'Automne two ink drawings of nudes copied from nature in which curves and straight lines opposed each other violently. For him as for ourselves what we showed at the Automne was only very imperfectly representative of the point we had reached in our evolution. There were paintings in our studios that had a quite different meaning. It was from this moment onwards, October 1910, that we discovered each other seriously, including Robert Delaunay, who had been struggling for some time with the Eiffel Tower. And that we understood what we had in common. The need to see each other, exchange ideas, act together began to be felt as an imperative. Visiting each other we saw to what extent our aspirations were similar. They could be summed up in a rejection of Impressionism to which all of us had, to a greater or lesser degree, paid hommage. Impressionism had marked us all directly or indirectly. What could be more normal? Around 1900 it had triumphed over all its enemies. Apart from those who held to the official art, there was no-one now who questioned its validity. What was seen in the salons and the most important of the galleries (Durand-Ruel and Rosenberg (5) were the proof) had to have an effect on the sensibility of the young painters. Its consequences - pointillism for example - had interested certain among us. So Metzinger worked for a while in the spirit of Divisionism. There are some very interesting paintings of his that belong to this period. Le Fauconnier, after a short period with J. Paul Laurens at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, experienced it under the influence of Matisse, whose youthful glory was beginning to shine. It was not long before Fernand Léger, who had been momentarily tempted to study architecture at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, decided on painting, and he too approached it through Impressionism.
I remember a Baignade in the Mediterranean, people half submerged in a blue sea, which proves to what extent he was influenced by Impressionism. Robert Delaunay experienced its effects during his period of apprenticeship with a scene painter; he never accepted, as we forced ourselves to do, the need to renounce light, and the delight of pure, transparent colours. I have said elsewhere what I myself owed to Impressionism.
Our rejection was not a matter of ingratitude. We did not regard Impressionism as having been a mistake. Our admiration for Claude Monet, Sisley, Pissarro remained in its entirety. It was just that painters who were twenty five years old and weary of the facile nature of the rapid sketch, thought painting should not be regarded as exclusively a matter of sensations. So long as they weren't misled as to its real value by what they had been taught in the schools, the lesson of the Masters, which those schools claimed to reveal, was there as a proof that other human faculties could be brought into play alongside sensation and contribute to the construction of works that would be better worked out and more definitive.
These Masters, however, had certain craft secrets which complemented their mental outlook. But no-one in the present time could rise to those heights, and no-one knew the secrets. To seeking out those lost values, the young painters we were at the time devoted themselves with passion and without thought of personal gain. Searching for those foundations, we paid little heed to anything that could please a public for whom art was nothing other than a form of amusement. Hence the stiff appearance of our drawings and the austere character of our colour. We wanted to learn for ourselves and to enter into contact only with those who, by chance, had felt this same void in themselves and were seeking to fill it with materials that would be true. The Masters who seemed to us most suited to draw the connection between ourselves and the Renaissance Masters were David and Ingres. Had Ingres not been haunted all his life by the one who seemed to him the most perfect model of all, by Raphael?
What conversations we had on the subject of these great forebears, how often we tried to work out the process by which their works had evolved! What plans and diagrams we elaborated to try to enter into them. The underlying schematic constructions can be seen in the canvasses we painted at that time. In 1910, Le Fauconnier had painted the Portrait du poète Paul Castiaux; at the end of the year, in his studio in the rue Visconti, we were able to follow all the stages of the elaboration of the famous Abondance, which was to appear in the 1911 Salon des Indépendants.
Le Fauconnier's studio, rue Visconti! What memories it evokes! How many times I climbed up that great, dark stairway, steep as a ladder, that went to his studio. We discussed painting and formed a thousand projects. On certain days or rather evenings Le Fauconnier 'received' his friends and those who took an interest in his labours. At these soirees you could meet Metzinger, Delaunay and his wife Sonia, Léger, Jean Marchand; the poets Paul Fort, Jules Romains, Castiaux, P-Jean Jouve, Arcos, Mercereau, G.Apollinaire, Roger Allard, A.Salmon; the Douanier Rousseau was there every time, his honesty equalled only by his kindness. I remember one evening in which, in a little group which included Jules Romains, we were talking about the human element in literature and the arts. Old man Rousseau, who had joined us and was listening carefully, offered an opinion that was somewhat surprising to our own ways of looking at things. 'A model of humanity', we were informed, 'is Rodin of the Mystères de Paris, which I am reading at the present time.' Romains jumped and, turning away, shrugged his shoulders. (6)
1910 was the year in which, in its last months, a more or less coherent group began to form from certain tendencies which were quite clearly present in our generation but had previously been scattered. Painters saw what they had in common, poets joined them, feelings of sympathy were established, a general atmosphere began to form which would soon produce an action whose effects were to be quickly felt in the surrounding world. Painters and writers would support each other, moved as they all were by a single faith.
The Exhibition of the Indépendants in 1911, Room 41
One could say it was at the Closerie (7) that, several months later, was worked out between us and several of our poet friends - Guillaume Apollinaire, André Salmon, Roger Allard - the plan of action for introducing a small alteration into the way in which the hanging in the Indépendants was organised which would, without our intending it, turn into a revolution.
Metzinger, Le Fauconnier, Delaunay, Léger and myself had decided to contribute to the next Salon des Indépendants. But how would we be hung? Most likely we would be scattered to the four corners of the salon and the effect produced on the public by a coherent movement would be lost. That could not be allowed to happen. We had to be shown as a group, everyone agreed. To achieve this, we needed to get into a position of influence. That was difficult. The committee was made up of old masters such as Signac, Luce and [....] who could not be moved because they had been present when the Society of Independents had been founded, and younger artists such as Lebasque, Deltombe, who felt at home there and had no reason to want to change their way of doing things. They would never agree with our view of the matter which, moreover, they would never understand. The Committee would be happy, as it was every year, to have a list of people responsible for the hanging published which, like every year, would be passed more or less unanimously by the General Assembly. That is what we did not want. So we decided on a forceful 'last minute thrust' ['manoeuvre de dernière heure'] that might succeed in battering its way through the Committee's routine.
We had our own personal interest in this idea of showing as a group but the principle of grouping by tendencies could only be for the good of all the young painters and restore to the salon that combative atmosphere it had had in its beginnings. The scattering and disorder of previous years, in spite of one or two rare well-organised rooms, had turned it into a sort of meaningless flea market. We needed, then, to excite widespread support at the Assembly of members of the society which met to elect the hanging commission for the exhibition of 1911.
We had a list of candidates printed which indeed included ourselves but which had been put together carefully and with fairness. The list included André Lhote, de Segonzac, La Fresnaye, Berthold Mahn, Jean Marchand and other painters who, whether we knew them personally or not, seemed to be able to represent, if not a tendency, at least something of value. Then we thought that some posters displayed during the meeting and showing clearly our demands, with the names of the candidates we proposed, could make a big impact. The wording of these posters was decided in agreement with our literary friends: 'Young painters, you have been betrayed. Article 13 has been broken [dénoncé]. Vote for the hanging committee with the following names and the salon will be organised in your interests.' We painted 5 or 6 posters on big sheets of paper.
On the evening of the meeting, in a huge room on the Bld Raspail, in front of a numerous public, the commission gave its report and the President announced that the vote for the next hanging committee was about to begin. The committee proposed a list, but the nature of the voting papers handed out at the door had put the same committee on the alert. They felt the storm that was approaching and tried to avert it. I can still see Lebasque striding about the platform like a fine devil. The stormy atmosphere reached its climax when the posters were displayed. They had a big effect on many of the members and the opposition had to accept an election with the new lists. They gave up even before the inevitable end which they felt was coming. The voters didn't hesitate to make the most of the situation, as the officers in charge of the urns had lost all control. Never was plural voting held in greater esteem. People voted, went away, came back and voted again. Packets of votes were thrown into the urns. The organisers didn't try to stop anything. When the operation was over, the counting began. Anyone could be designated to do the job. We were chosen and hardly had we started to run through the votes than the bureau, led by Signac, left and went to bed. We stayed there until two o'clock in the morning, we were exhausted, but the battle had been won. Our list had triumphed with a majority which - was far greater than the number of the voters. Metzinger, as Maximilien Luce was to remind him at the General Assembly the following year, was chosen by five hundred votes out of three hundred and fifty voters.
And all the candidates on our list passed with majorities of that sort. And no-one complained. The Committee took it in a good spirit and did not hold it against us. To the extent that when the Hanging Commission met again, Le Fauconnier was unanimously elected as chairman.
So we could get down to business. We divided the exhibitors in two, those who were headed by Signac and Luce, the other made up of artists of the new generation. On one side of the central room the rooms would be given to the older members; on the other, the young painters organised the rooms that had been given to them. For our part, we took Room 41. In the following rooms, André Lhote, Segonzac, La Fresnaye etc would take their place. It was at this moment that we got to know each other.
In the Room 41 we were grouped together - Le Fauconnier, Léger, Delaunay, Metzinger and myself, joined, at the insistence of Guillaume Apollinaire, who was following this organisation with the greatest interest, by Marie Laurencin ...
Le Fauconnier showed his great Abondance. Léger his nudes in a landscape in which volumes were treated following the method of differently shaded areas [zones dégradées] used in architecture or in mechanical models. Delaunay Le Tour Eiffel and La Ville. Metzinger [.....] (8), Marie Laurencin some canvasses with people in them. Myself - two landscapes and two canvasses with people: La Femme au phlox and Homme nu sortant du bain. (9)
That, very precisely, was how Room 41 in the 1911 Indépendants was made up. In the neighbouring room were to be found, if my memory is right, Lhote, Segonzac, Moreau,
During the few days it took for the hanging commission to do its work, there was nothing that could have enabled us to foresee the effect our pictures were about to produce on the public at large. The painters and critics who walked around the canvasses were clearly very interested, whether they were for or against. But no-one could have thought there was material there for a scandal. And we the first, who certainly never would have wanted it. At that time people still practised a certain discretion about their way of presenting themselves to the world, and the fact of showing paintings that had been conceived in a spirit a little different from that of those who surrounded us did not imply any intention to stir up the crowd So we were greatly surprised when, at the preview, the explosion took place.
I arrived at the Cours-la-Reine at around four o'clock in the afternoon - the exhibition had opened at two o'clock. It was a wonderful Parisian spring day, sunny and warm. I went through the first set of rooms, where relatively few people were gathered. But the further I advanced, the thicker the crowds grew and eventually I met my friends who had arrived earlier than I had done and they told me what was going on. Everyone was crushed into our room, people were shouting or laughing, expressing indignation, protesting, getting up to all sorts of antics, they were pushing each other out of the way to get in, those who approved and defended our position and those who condemned it argued with each other. We couldn't make anything out of it at all. The whole afternoon it went on. Room 41 was always full. We installed ourselves in the exhibition café and quietly waited to see how things would turn out. The Intransigeant appeared at 5 o'clock with the account by Guillaume Apollinaire. He emphasised the importance of what we were doing and defended us with passion. In the papers which appeared in the morning, the more timorous elements such as Louis Vauxcelles in Gil Blas attacked us with a violence that was quite extraordinary; younger critics who kept the art columns in Comoedia, Excelsior, Action, L'Oeuvre etc were more reserved, some of them even welcomed us with sympathy; in Paris-Journal, André Salmon, as a poet and free spirit, wrote an account of us that was full of intelligence and sympathy. We were, to sum up, violently torn to pieces by the old guard of the critics while the young criticism, that of our own generation, was in principle won over. And that was the most important thing.
It was from that preview in 1911 that the name 'Cubism' can be dated. People have tried to give it a godfather and to say that it goes back two or three years earlier but these attempts seem to me to be vain simply because during those years neither Braque nor Picasso were ever called Cubists. What, by contrast, can be established is that from 1911 onwards the term became commonplace and, initially confined as it was to the painters of Room 41, it was afterwards attributed to those who seemed, nearly or at a distance, to approach them, in appearance if not in spirit. Apollinaire himself was initially reticent about this label and it was not until later, after this opening at the Indépendants, during an exhibition which we held at Brussels, that he accepted definitively on his own and our behalf, the name 'Cubist' by which all sorts of people had designated us in irony. In 1911 the word Cubism was born in the same way as the word 'Impressionism' in 1872. The painters had nothing to do with it! Alas! it would not always be so, and the 'isms' would soon multiply through the deliberate intentions of artists more concerned with drawing attention to themselves than with realising works worthy of being taken seriously.
Overnight we had become famous. Unknown, or more or less unknown, the previous evening, our names were spread by many-mouthed fame, not only throughout Paris but to the regions and to foreign lands as well. And not only our names but also our profiles. Satisfying the general curiosity about us became one of the tasks assigned to the information press. Painting which, until then, had been the concern of only a small handful of amateurs, passed into the public domain and everyone wanted to be informed, to be let into the secret of those paintings which, it seemed, represented nothing, and whose meaning had to be deciphered like a puzzle. For - and this is the truth of the matter - most of those who looked at these paintings could not find what they were accustomed to see the moment they looked at any picture: the anecdotal subject. As strange as it might seem when one recalls these canvasses whose subjects are perfectly easily discernible, some of our friends, doubtless little orientated towards plastic values, claimed they could see nothing. Behind assertions of this kind there were undoubtedly plenty of preconceived ideas; some weeks after this memorable day, the Doyens and Georges Duhamel (10) came to see me in my studio in Courbevoie. "Where are the canvasses you showed at the Indépendants?" they asked. 'Why, here they are." "No, it isn't possible, we can see the subjects in these ones perfectly well but nothing could be seen in those in the Salon." "All the same, these were certainly the pictures. So you can see yourself that it doesn't take much effort to see these paintings' figurative support; it just takes a little getting used to. But as this support is here only as an accessory it is hidden under other values that are more specifically important." That is what Georges Duhamel - who demands of a painting nothing more than that it should move his sensibility through a new way of presenting a subject - never wanted to admit; that is what makes him uncompromising and often aggressive towards us.
The subject - whether treated sentimentally or adapted to the formula of a gimmick that might be more or less amusing - the originality of a Henner, a Ziem, a Didier-Pouget, even of a Wlaminck (11) - was subordinated to true, essential qualities that correspond to the plastic demands of painting; that certainly was the basis for the state of mind of this first stage in a radical change in the position of the painter, the stage that has, legitimately, the right to the name 'Cubism'. This stage in fact remains respectful of the classical 'three dimensions', emphasising 'volume'. Consequently, it remains within the framework of 'perspective', which suggests on a flat surface an illusion of depth. These are the values which we wanted forcefully to express and to place above those purely emotional concerns with which the mentality of painters of that time was satisfied, leading to a real atrophying of the form which other times had, by contrast, been able to develop and to exalt.
Since that time, many painters have been attached to Cubism by writers, and many painters have attached themselves of their own accord. They had known those of Room 41, and that seemed sufficient proof of the validity of their claim. But it is still historically true that in 1912 the only authentic Cubists were Jean Metzinger, Le Fauconnier, Léger, Delaunay and myself. With regard to our aspirations and our works at that time we did not compromise, we made no concessions. No-one in our own circle was under any illusions. There were the Cubists, and there were painters who were friends of the Cubists who would be influenced by them almost immediately in an external manner without ever joining them in their internal discipline. I will come back to these very important points in the course of the events which followed. But anyone who needs convincing of this only needs to turn to what was being written from that time on by irreproachable witnesses such as, not just Guillaume Apollinaire and André Salmon, but all the critics and journalists in the newspapers and reviews of 1912.
Each year the Belgian Independent painters would invite some foreign painters to join them. After the Indépendants we were called on to participate in their next exhibition. We were grouped together in a room of our own and Guillaume Apollinaire was asked if he would come to Brussels to give a talk on us. This was the occasion on which Guillaume evoked the name of 'Cubists' which had been bestowed on us without our having asked for it; he accepted once and for all that the word 'Cubism' corresponded to the novel appearance of the painting which had just appeared.
There was now not very much time before contributions had to be sent to the Salon d'Automne. Léger had gone to spend the holiday with his family in Argentan. Le Fauconnier, after going to Italy, had stopped in Savoy where he painted landscapes he intended to show in the Automne. Metzinger and I had stayed near Paris - he was at Meudon and I was at Courbevoie. We saw a lot of each other and naturally tried out plenty of ideas starting of course with our ways of understanding painting. The result was a sort of grinding together [rodage] of differences that continued to exist despite the general principles on which we were all agreed and which had enabled the realisation of a momentary homogeneity and the presentation of the overall movement in Room 41. But each of us knew very well that we were only at the beginning of an adventure whose eventual resolution we could not possibly foresee. We knew that what we were doing at the present time was only a preparation for what we would be doing later - which would be far removed from it both in spirit and in technique.
So our differences in 1911 were not categorical oppositions. They were, rather, propositions which were worthy of reflection. Each of us owed it to the other to test them. The future development of our premisses would be the better for it. The grinding together which I want to speak about of Jean Metzinger's ideas with my own, at least with regard at that time to painting, resulted from the confrontation of our positions. This was the time when Metzinger was painting Le Goûter and some large, animated landscapes. I had painted La Chasse, La Femme à la cuisine. From my walks around Meudon I had brought back a large landscape, Paysage à Meudon. I was about to undertake an ambitious portrait, of Jacques Nayral. When we confront the works of these two painters, both known by the same label, we can easily understand the meaning that should be given to the word 'divergence'. Metzinger, as can clearly be seen in Le Goûter, proceeds through the interpenetration [emboîtement] of cubes. The construction of his painting turns on the orchestration of these geometrical volumes, which shift their position, develop, interweave following the movements in space of the painter himself. Already we can see, as a consequence of this movement introduced into an art which, we were told, had no relation to movement, a plurality of perspective points. These architectural combinations of cubes supported the image as it appears to the senses, that of a woman whose torso is naked, holding in her left hand a cup while with the other hand she lifts a spoon to her lips. It can be easily understood that Metzinger is trying to master chance, he insists that each of the parts of his work must enter into a logical relationship with all the others; each should, precisely, justify the other, the composition should be an organism as rigorous as possible and anything that looks accidental should be eliminated, or at least kept under control. None of that prevented either the expression of his temperament or the exercise of his imagination.
I admit frankly that this austere, scientific [savant] discipline did not appeal to my own state of mind. Although I had made some progress towards the predominance of the laws of construction over the accidental characteristics [épisode] of the subject, I still could not separate these two aspects of the painted work, and I remained firmly attached to the subject. This was my starting point in trying to arrive at the more purified plasticity that was the object of my aspirations. So I defended my position and tried to find persuasive arguments to oppose to those of Metzinger. But I was far from denying that his position was valid and I was quite willing to accept those shifts in perspective which seemed to me to be the whole point of, and to cast a remarkable light upon, the orchestration of the cubes, which was perfectly logical but obviously rather limited. This was how, between the two of us, what I have called a 'rubbing together' took place through which, some months later, we were able to engage in a collaboration that resulted in the first book to be written on Cubism.
I was on the verge of painting the Portrait of Jacques Nayral. He was to become my brother-in-law, and was one of the most sympathetic men I have ever met. A strange lad, a little surprising on first encounter - both disturbing because of his sharp use of irony and also attractive because of a generosity that left him as vulnerable as a child. The first time I met him was at President Bonjean's (12) house at Villepreux-les-Clayes, near Versailles, during a dinner which brought together the committee of that 'Villa Medicis Libre' (13) which, as I said before, had been founded by Alexandre Mercereau. From that time onwards, we saw each other often and became friends.
One day he asked me to do his portrait. I agreed with joy, all the more so because his head and his whole personality [personne] seemed to me to be perfect models for emphasising the plastic elements I was trying to develop. His face with clearly demarcated surfaces that made up a passionate interplay of facets, his hair in dark masses projecting lightly in waves over his temples, his solidly constructed body - straightaway suggested to me equivalences, echoes [rappels], interpenetrations, rhythmic correspondences with the surrounding elements, fields, trees, houses. So I suggested painting him in my garden, where I found easily to hand an environment that was highly suitable for my model.
I made a whole series of studies to prepare this portrait. (14) Drawings and washes in china ink. I analysed the architecture of the head in monumentally sized enlargements, two or three times the natural size, I made a certain number of drawings of the hands, I studied the organisation and the overall effect, volumes and the relations of the formal elements between themselves. Finally, I reduced the colour to a harmony of blacks and greys supported by some flashes of light red which set up a contrast, at once breaking with and supporting the interplay of harmonious colour relations. Nayral came regularly to the studio, I worked directly on him, naturally, but more often than not the work consisted in friendly conversation, in walks in the garden, during which I studied him, watching what was his natural way of walking and what were his usual gestures, above all arming my memory with essential characteristics, trying to isolate his true likeness from the accumulation of details and picturesque superfluities which always interfere with the permanent reality of a being. The portrait was executed without turning to the model, it was finished some weeks before the Automne and I decided to show it ... if the jury would be willing to accept it, as I was not yet a member.
Salon d'Automne, 1911 - Room 8
What a memorable day that was, the preview of the Automne, 1911. In an artist's life, moments like that leave a memory that cannot be removed. This memory retains a precision in which the reality seems to be magnified. When I come to evoke this past, everything is all at once re-established in a present that I can see, hear and touch. Room 8. We had not organised it ourselves as we had done for Room 41 at the Indépendants some months previously. We were not part of the hanging commission. I suppose it must have been Duchamp-Villon and La Fresnaye who took charge of it. Duchamp-Villon whom we did not know and La Fresnaye whom we had met for the first time at the Indépendants. Whatever the case, this room looked well. It was more or less square, with a slice cut off one of the right angles. Two doors opened on the two sides of the angled wall. With one's back turned to the angle one had, on the wall to the right of the right angle, on the right, Fernand Léger's Essai pour trois portraits and, coming back to the right angle, André Lhote's Le Port de Bordeaux, two or three etchings by Jacques Villon including, if I am not mistaken, a Portrait d'acteur and a female nude by Luc-Albert Moreau. Immediately against the right angle and on the left hand side, a large painting by Marcel Duchamp, La Sonate; Le Goûter and a landscape by Jean Metzinger. Then, going to the left, paintings by La Fresnaye, my picture La Chasse, and some of Le Fauconnier's Savoie landscapes. Finally, on the angled wall, my portrait of Jacques Nayral and Dunoyer de Segonzac's Boxers.
The whole no longer presented the homogeneity of Room 41. The representatives of orthodox Cubism - Le Fauconnier, Léger, Metzinger and myself (15) - were there beside artists who had with them only a distant resemblance. Who did not start out from the same position and who would for a long time insist that they did not belong to Cubism. Who would, later on, be violently opposed to its inevitable consequences. In saying this, I want to emphasise the distinction that must be made between talent and state of mind. No-one could doubt that an André Lhote or a La Fresnaye are painters of very great talent. On the other hand, if they have the right to question our state of mind we too can hardly be denied permission to disagree with them about their state of mind - and this from the very earliest days. (16) On the other hand, some new, very talented, artists found themselves associated with this mixture of orthodoxy and dissidence, 'intended by those responsible for the hanging'. (17) They were Marcel Duchamp and Jacques Villon, whom we did not know and only got to know at the end of the exhibition; I will say in what circumstances.
Nonetheless, despite this lack of homogeneity, the whole had about it a fine air of provocation. From these paintings a storm of battle was rising. And it very quickly became a tempest. The crowd of those attending the preview quickly thickened in the square room, and it was a chaos which resembled that of the Indépendants. People were pressing against the doors to get in, shoving each other, fighting back once they were in, no-one wanted to leave again, everyone was quarrelling in front of the pictures, they were for or against, they showed which side they were on, made remarks out loud, shouted, protested, got angry, provoked replies, to unbridled insults were opposed equally immoderate expressions of admiration, it was a tumult of cries, shouts, bursts of laughter, of protests. Artists, painters, sculptors, musicians were there; writers, poets, critics; and all the chaos of the crowd which goes to these Parisian previews, where men of the world, sincere lovers of art, art dealers rub shoulders with the milkman or the landlady whose artist-client or tenant have given them an invitation. Nothing more curious than this ocean of people, thicker this year of 1911 than the preceding years because alerted by the news in the papers which announced that 'the Cubists', whose appearance six months previously had been a surprise, would be taking part. People grabbed at papers with special editions, reviews giving 'a complete account, room by room, of the exhibition' which the sellers were offering in front of the entrance doors on the Avenue d'Antin and of the rue Jean Goujon. Most of the papers abused us with a quite extraordinary degree of violence, the critics lost all restraint and the invectives rained down upon us. We were accused of the worst of intentions, of seeking to create a scandal, of not caring what the public thought, of wanting to get rich quick at the expense of the snobs, we were charged with all the sins of Israel, we were consigned to the outer darkness. The great complaint that was made against us was of being unreadable; people claimed they could 'see' nothing in our pictures. And not just the philistines but painters of value, half sincerely, half as a matter of calculation. Years after this astonishing day, once calm had already settled around these canvasses of Room 8 - which hardly anyone nowadays would think of questioning, though as far as their painters were concerned they were only a stage along the way to other regions yet more stripped of inessentials, more pure, which had become the objects of new controversies - I was very surprised to find under the in many ways sympathetic pen of Wlaminck, in his first book, Tournant Dangéreux, during a ferocious attack on Cubism, a description of my painting La Chasse, which, he said, was as closed to him as it had been at the beginning and in which all he had managed to distinguish was a 'hunting horn'.
This reproach of being unreadable was perhaps what earned us the greater part of our excommunication from the critics and the public. I have already said it was simply the consequence of a reversal in the relative importance of the two factors by which every work of art is conditioned - subject and object. The false idea [déviation] of form which is such a marked characteristic of our present age, had pushed the subject, the anecdote, the episode into the forefront. It was to this that artist and poet delivered themselves in a series of sentimental variations. The spectators' or listeners' emotion was born of this situation and from striking images. The spectator and the listener read and heard the story. Art was limited to a pleasing presentation, a luscious technique [facture alléchant], to those resources of talent that are able to enchant each and everyone with no matter what. But there was never anything there that could engage the intelligence. What interested our contemporaries in the masters of the Renaissance was the spectacle. They went to museums to look at images. But in other times, better cultivated, less susceptible to immediate appearances, endowed with more ability to penetrate the surface, with more curiosity, people knew that every work fashioned out of clay was given life by the spirit, in other words that every work was form and that this form could only be realised through the plasticity of the material used, whether it was colours, stone or even the sound qualities of words or musical variations. The anecdote was only an accident deliberately produced but always subordinate to the nature of the 'object' as much in the great images of religious iconography as in those, more modest, of our daily, personal or social, deeds or gestures. The explanation of the supposed faults in the drawing or strange deformations that have been remarked in the works of these periods can be found in the authority exercised by the 'object' over the 'subject'.
Our opacity was simply the result of our wanting to advance certain of these objective values which were never regarded - either by those circles that had some intellectual pretentions or by those that are wrongly called popular - as having any importance; and of the fact that the anecdotal subject was therefore playing a less important role in the act of painting. Hence the attitude of the spectator in front of our canvasses which led him to see them as nothing more than puzzles, conundrums, even charades. However, with the passage of time and the further development of these initial intentions, we can see that these pictures were still very respectful of habits and convenience, that they had not freed themselves from dependence on the subject, and that their authors were soon going to have to make a choice between 'the object', with all that that decision would imply, or the 'subject' manifesting itself once more under the troubled appearances of its final state of decay - individual subjectivism which no longer recognises any restraint.
(1) Probably the house on the rue du Delta where Gleizes lived for some time after the closure of the Abbaye. 7 rue de Delta was rented by Dr Paul Alexandre to provide cheap accommodation for artists. Alexandre, best known as a patron of Modigliani, believed in the usefulness of hashish for artistic inspiration. Le Fauconnier in 1917 painted a 'Smoker's dream', featuring an enormous hashish pipe. Back
(2) It is not clear if Gleizes is referring to Metzinger or to Apollinaire but Apollinaire makes this claim in Les Peintres Cubistes.Back
(3) Note by Gleizes: while the Salon was still open one of these landscapes, some rocks by the sea, was bought by the famous Russian collector Schukin for the price, important at the time, of 600 French francs, in gold.Back
(4) Note by Gleizes: The article by Roger Allard, Salon d'Automne, 1910 written in the young review produced in Lyon, L'Art Libre, directed by Joseph Billiet, should also be mentioned.Back
(5) Gleizes is probably referring to Alexandre Rosenberg, father of the twentieth century dealers Léonce and Paul Rosenberg. They inherited their father's gallery jointly in 1906 by which time it was specialising in Impressionist paintings. Léonce set up his own separate gallery, specialising in antiquarian art, in 1910.Back
(6) The hero of Eugene Sue's Les Mystères de Paris is called Rodolph. Robbins (Jean Metzinger: At the centre of Cubism, p.12) thinks the point of this anecdote is that Rousseau had confused Sue with the sculptor Rodin. I am inclined to think it is Gleizes who has misremembered the name 'Rodolph' and that the point of the story is that praising Eugene Sue in front of Jules Romains would be a bit like praising Marie Correlli in front of D.H.Lawrence. Back
(7) The Closerie des Lilas in Montparnasse, a meeting place for poets, especially those associated with Paul Fort's journal Vers et prose.Back
(8) Landscape, Nude, Woman's Head and Still Life, according to Robbins (Jean Metzinger, at the centre of Cubism, 1985).Back
(9) This work has been lost and does not appear in the Catalogue Raisonnée. A photograph, however, has been found in the archive of Alexandre Mercereau and is reproduced in Fabre: 'Albert Gleizes et l'Abbaye de Créteil', p.140..Back
(10) George Duhamel, the novelist, lived with Gleizes in the Abbaye de Créteil. Albert Doyen, composer and founder after the war of the Socialist inspired Fêtes du Peuple, was associated with the Abbaye without living there. Back
(11) Jean Jacques Henner (1829-1905), painter, known for portraits of women (most famously his 'Fabiola'), nudes and biblical scenes. His 'Woman on a black divan' could be the model for the woman in Henri Rousseau's great painting 'The Dream' (and Henner also painted a naked woman asleep in a landscape entitled 'The Dream'); Felix Ziem (1821-1911) specialised in scenes of Venice; William Didier-Pouget (1864 - 1959), specialised in landscape and garden scenes. These were all more or less 'academic' painters while Maurice Vlaminck (1876-1958) was a 'fauve'. In his Der Weg zum Kubismus D-H Kahnweiler, his dealer, assigned him a pioneering role in the history of Cubism. Back
(12) Georges Bonjean (1848-1918). Magistrate and penal reformer, founder of a colony for delinquent children. In calling him 'President Bonjean', Gleizes may be confusing him with his father Louis Bernard Bonjean, President of the Cour de Cassation (Supreme Court of Appeal), executed under the Paris Commune in 1871. Back
(13) The Villa Médicis Libre was founded under the patronage of the 'Fondation Georges Bonjean' in Villepreux, to the West of Paris to provide cheap accommodation for artists living in difficulties. André Lhote and Raoul Dufy stayed there in 1910. Back
(14) The Portrait de Jacques Nayral is currently in the collection of the Tate Modern. Back
(15) Delaunay had refused to participate in the Salon d'Automne as a matter of principle since 1907 when the jury refused to include his Manège de cochons. Back
(16) Note by Gleizes: The composition of this Room 8, then, resulted in a gathering together of painters of the same generation who had between themselves only relations of sympathy, not at all of spirit and of form. This later allowed the label 'Cubist' to be attached to painters who were rejected by those of Room 41 of the Indépendants to whom alone the term belonged - painters who themselves in their turn rejected the directions Cubism was to take, inevitably, following the impulse of the principles established at the beginning. These painters of Room 41 knew quite well what it was that distinguished them from their friends. This can be established by reading the article I wrote on the 1911 Salon d'Automne in the review, Les Bandeaux d'Or. Nothing then that isn't perfectly normal if, in our book Du "Cubisme", published in 1912, Metzinger and myself did not reproduce works by Lhote, La Fresnaye ... There was no reason to do so since these painters were not, nor ever had been, Cubists. On the other hand, if Delaunay and Le Fauconnier do not appear, it was for reasons independent of our will, passing quarrels, bad temper on the part of our comrades, who prevented us from reproducing their work. Note by PB: For more on the reasons why Le Fauconnier and Delaunay refused to be included see my Introduction. Back
(17) In italics and inverted commas in the original. Back