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The Epic ­

From immobile form to mobile form



Translator's Preface


The present essay was published in a German version in 1928, under the title Kubismus, in the same series of Bauhausbücher as Kandinsky's Point and Line to Plane, Klee's Pedagogical Notebooks and Malevich's The Non-Objective World. The French version was published, as L'Epopée (The Epic), in the journal Le Rouge et le Noir in 1929. A first version was however written, in response to an invitation from the Bauhaus, in 1925.

The 1920s is the period when, it is generally agreed, Cubism finally came to an end as an immediate, living force in the history of modern art. Thereafter, it is a question of its 'influence' on other, very different, movements. Christopher Green's book, Cubism and Its Enemies gives a comprehensive account of the debates that surrounded the demise of Cubism - a 'conservative' opposition from the older schools, both academic and 'independent', and the emergence of new 'avant-gardes': Dada, which ridiculed the seriousness of Cubism (with Gleizes as a favourite target); Surrealism, which marked an altogether different approach towards painting; and the new schools of non-representational art, which had some claim to being in a line of succession from Cubism, but which still broke radically with the particular methods of construction which it had developed.

Paradoxically, however, this was also the period in which a superficial adaptation of Cubism had triumphed in the decorative arts in the style known as 'art deco'. Gleizes quotes a newspaper article of 1928 which says that, while Cubism had been a nonsense in the field of 'pure art', it had now found its natural home in the applied arts. This had indeed become a commonplace of the journalistic commentary of the period. For Gleizes, the success of Cubism in the popular commercial arts (as opposed to the doubts that were being cast on it in the rarefied commercial world of the art dealers, which Gleizes always disliked) was a proof of its natural strength, and a good reason for persevering with it.

But what was 'it'? What distinguished Cubism from its numerous 'enemies'? For many commentators, notably Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, in his influential Der Weg zum Kubismus. it was an art in tension between a figurative element (the still life, the portrait etc) on the one hand, and considerations that were wholly plastic and non-representational on the other. It is the struggle between the two that is interesting and distinctive; consequently, the representational element was essential. Without it, there would be no struggle, and no tension.

Gleizes also talks about this tension, describing it in broader terms as a struggle between an old 'cast of mind', which requires an imitation of the external appearances of the world, and a new 'cast of mind', which longs for something else, something which Gleizes is not yet in a position to define clearly but which is to do with the 'mobility' and 'rhythm' that characterise the arts of the great religious ages of mankind - in the case of Christian Europe, the early Middle Ages.

The tension which for Kahnweiler and his followers was the glory of Cubism was, for Gleizes, a consequence of the ignorance of the Cubists: a struggle between what they knew and what they could still only dimly perceive. This period of development was profoundly moving and even heroic, but it had to be transcended. The new principle had to reveal itself clearly, and begin to live its own life.

This new principle was more than just a refusal to imitate the appearances of the external world. On the contrary. It is a principle of organisation - an organisation that gives the eye the possibility of turning round the flat surface of the painting instead of being immobilised or drawn into it, as it is by the perspective mechanism.

Gleizes had attempted to formulate this principle in his book La Peinture et ses Lois, written in 1922, strongly affected by the wartime work of Jean Metzinger and Juan Gris, to whom he pays tribute, in L'Epopée and elsewhere, as the first painters to begin to draw clear conclusions from the Cubist experiment, to develop a comprehensible method. This is what Gleizes called, in La Peinture et ses Lois, translation and rotation. The painting is derived from the initial proportions of the space to be covered with paint. It is not imposed on that space as something alien to it. 'Translation' is a matter of proportion, balance and harmony. It remains static. In 'rotation', these proportions are, so to speak, tilted, and the eye begins to move in a circular direction.

By the time Kubismus was published in 1928, however, Gleizes had been increasingly preoccupied by the question of colour, and this had led him more and more to appreciate the importance of the pre-war work of Robert Delaunay, and the much more explicitly circular movement given in Delaunay's 'discs'. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Gleizes and Delaunay, despite radical differences of temperament, became close allies in opposition to the collapse into 'classicism' that was occurring all around them.

For Gleizes, then, Cubism was an 'epic'; the tension admired by Kahnweiler was more than just an aesthetic pleasure - one among many others - without a future. The whole drama of the age was expressed in it - and, until it was resolved, the age would remain destitute of any coherent sense of 'form'. The meaning and importance of our 'idea of form' as it changes throughout the centuries was the theme of his monumental study, La Forme et l'Histoire, written in 1930. In fact, this research was to occupy his entire life. His painting, and his understanding of what he was doing, were to go through many changes, but these changes are evolutionary. From 1920 onwards, if not from 1910, it is, to use an image of which Gleizes was fond, the unfolding of a seed. The transformations are astonishing, but they all follow logically from their starting point.

Gleizes thus remained faithful to Cubism all his life, not as a style but as an original impulse. It may seem that events have proved him wrong. Cubism has not, despite his own efforts and those of Robert Delaunay in the 1930s, given rise to a great, popular, decorative art. But Gleizes was also fond of remarking that nothing resembles a building site so much as a demolition site. Cubism expressed both the demolition of the old 'cast of mind' and the construction of the new. It is difficult to see a 'new cast of mind' in the present state of modern painting, or indeed any indication of anything that might have a long-term future ahead of it. But it is equally difficult to believe that the present state of affairs is definitive. If Gleizes is right then we are still in the period of demolition. We have no sense of form. We barely know what the word means (and this is logical if, as Gleizes affirms, that meaning is undergoing a process of radical change). The day on which we begin to feel this as a serious problem that needs to be addressed will be the day on which Gleizes' importance begins to be appreciated.


Association des Amis d'Albert Gleizes
February 1995



The Epic

From immobile form to mobile form



The first manifestations of Cubism took people by surprise because their minds, ill-adapted as they are to the idea of movement, are never able, on the basis of what is in front of them, to envisage what is to come.

Already for quite some time, the idea of form that had been adopted at the time of the Renaissance had become more than doubtful. During the nineteenth century, Christian art had been rediscovered by a team of erudite and enterprising scholars. The appearance of such a strong and respectable ally in opposition to the absolutes of Latin culture was, at the very least, interesting; but, most important, it was bound to evoke an idea of form quite different from the one which this official, Latin authority supported.

The results were quickly to be seen in the work of those who were active in the eminently practical field of the Fine Arts. The romanticism of a Delacroix, the realism of a Courbet, the Impressionists, giving up everything in favour of immediate sensation - these were so many consequences of the thesis advanced by historians who were proclaiming the independence and greatness of the principles used by Christians in the plastic arts. In opposition to the immobile means of expression that the Academy was teaching, these painters threw down like a challenge a mobile expression; to volumes situated in space they preferred the living dynamism of coloured form in evolution. In their own field, they hacked away at the foundations of the official world that surrounded them, but they did not yet know that, to build, other means than those which they had at their disposal would be necessary. So, their job was simply to shake the central pillars of the old house without being able to throw them down - so true it is that change is a long, slow process of transformation in the memory.



Cézanne, formed under the influence of the Impressionists and of Manet, had a great wealth of experience on which he could draw; and that is why he had the courage to attempt, to dare, the strange, hybrid structure of his work in which the Renaissance idea of an immobile, imitative form seeks to be reconciled, to live together, with the need that was being felt more and more urgently for an idea of form that would be mobile and would possess its own, concrete reality. The contradictions that are fundamental to his work are themselves the reason for its popularity; everyone can find in it what they want. No-one has yet either wanted or been able to see that Cézanne is no more well-disposed to the Renaissance than he is to all those still incoherent aspirations that have been thrown together under the name of 'Romanticism'. His position is the position of a man who hesitates, caught between his habits and something that tempts him but which has not yet become an imperative necessity. His own generation saw in him nothing other than impotence because they saw him naïvely; they were barely aware of the temptations to which he was subject. But the following generation, themselves quite hopelessly divided, caught between what had been made of them by an old cast of mind that had lost all creative power, and a vague longing for a renewed cast of mind - they raised the painter of Aix up to the pinnacle of greatness, simply because he had been unable himself to come to any decision. The worst contradictions pass unnoticed as if he had the infallibility of a god. The god Cézanne received at one and the same time the homage of the classicist, who could see in him only the imitative and perspective elements, and, equally, the homage of the revolutionaries because they could see in him a will towards construction, a rebellion against imitation, an attempt, still timid but clearly manifest, to raise the geometrical plane up to the vertical - that is to say, virtually, a refusal of the perspective system. The Cubists could not fail to see these tendencies in Cézanne's work; so they took him up, as did many others, but each of them for reasons of his own (1).

Between Cézanne and the Cubists must be placed that group of painters who were called the Fauves : Matisse, Derain, Friesz. Cézanne was not the only one who worked on them; they also underwent the influence of Van Gogh and Gauguin, who were not so far removed as people have later liked to pretend from the working out of the new thought. I have stated on several occasions that men such as Sérusier, Maurice Denis, Seurat, Cross, Odilon Redon were, in their different ways, pioneers, without knowing it, of the order that is in the process of being established (2). Can anyone be so simple-minded as to imagine that one man is sufficient to achieve a re-orientation as difficult and as complex as that which is required by the state of painting at the present time? Such an idea goes against all the experience of our history. Every important change is the result of many efforts, of people working together, of people working simultaneously, of people working one following the other. To achieve it, there is no need for any of those spontaneous, crazed geniuses that have been taken up by the world of fashion; there is a need for men of intelligence and ability who know how to sacrifice the little affairs of their momentary, personal vanity for an end that is far removed from them and requires a service that is entirely disinterested.

Convinced as I am of the human importance of what has been called Cubism, I have always tried to search out its true causes in the collaboration, whether conscious or not, of a group, and I know that the last word has not yet been spoken - that for a long time yet the track, which has still barely been indicated, will need the work that other generations will bring to it before, finally, it becomes a great road, rendered banal and uninteresting through being used too much.



The belief that only what was developed during the Renaissance could have any value has also been threatened by that taste for archaeology which is so pronounced at the present time and through which the work of emancipation begun by the romantic scholars has been continued. At the official level, certain ages of human history were simply declared to be rudimentary, primitive, full of good intentions, but absolutely lacking in any quality that could possibly deserve to be held up as an example. This was not just a result of the opinion that had been imposed with regard to the Renaissance; it was also a result of the idea of continual progress, of historical materialism and of an idea of prehistory which claimed to be able to unravel the secret of our origins. It was really a result of the self-satisfaction we all felt because we had confused civilisation with technology, with the development of machines and the resulting proliferation of an inferior, demoralising product. Even today we still hear people who blame artists for what they call 'archaic' influences while the most frivolous pastiches of the so-called civilised ages are seen as normal. Independent-minded painters saw the matter differently.

They were in a position to be more daring than their elders of the nineteenth century. These had admired the character of Christian forms dating from the period before the Renaissance - a synthesis of Mediterranean and Nordic qualities realised on Celtic soil. But the painters could now go even further back into the human past. They could begin to see the incomparable treasures which the inventory of history being undertaken at the present time was revealing to them. So, leaving the Christian world, they discovered other worlds and were inspired by works of art that were every bit as beautiful as those that belong to their own past. They used the external appearances of these works of art that were still unfamiliar to the majority of their contemporaries and in this way they acquired, without too much effort, a reputation as explorers of new territory. The world of fashion got itself involved, seeing in this work of uncovering the ancient springs of life, a means of effecting a series of changes of image. So, in the public exhibitions that have taken place over the past twenty-five years, we have seen a succession of works after the Egyptian manner, the Hindu manner, the Chinese, Red Indian, Negro manners. Superficial as they are, these manifestations were not entirely useless. They are preparing the way for the coming of that cast of mind which is going to replace the cast of mind in which we are all of us destined to die; and it is thus that, following the rhythm of life, a new cycle will begin.

In its beginnings, Cubism, too, shared this enthusiasm for everything that was 'archaic' or 'primitive'. It felt early on that its principles could not be found in the rules that had been developed in Greece in the age of Pericles, nor in those that had been discovered by the 'Masters of the Renaissance'. It turned rather to those works which brought a blush to the cheeks of the spirit of civilisation. After seeing them, and liking them, Cubism was not ashamed to, itself, assume appearances which the world about it considered to be monstrous. So, for some, it was through the old image-makers of the period before the thirteenth century and, for others, it was through negro sculpture, that their work was able to acquire such a very profoundly human character.

That was where all the researches began - in that transformation of the old way of looking at things. The Cubists were not the only ones who found those ages that had been denigrated by the academies passionately moving, since this passion is still the distinct, distinguishing characteristic of our whole generation. We are often unjust in the attitudes we adopt towards the Romantics, but nothing can change the fact that it is because of them that we know something other than what the official teaching, soaked in the slogans of the Renaissance, was capable of giving us.

There you have a brief indication of the antecedents of Cubism. In its origins it was readily confused with the general tendencies of its generation, but the moment is not far off when it will assume the leadership, when it will go beyond the level of mere appearances and will oblige what is still just an intellectual admiration for past ages to turn into a practical knowledge of principles that cannot be changed. It will act not just on painters, sculptors and architects, but on the world as a whole at the widest and most general level.



It was at the Salon des Indépendants in Paris in 1911 that, for the first time, the public was confronted with a collection of paintings which still did not have any label attached to them. I know that, in saying that, I am going against the generally accepted legend but the truth requires that it be said.

I have in front of me a small cutting from an evening newspaper, The Press, on the subject of the 1910 Salon d'Automne. It gives a good idea of the situation in which the new pictorial tendency, still barely perceptible, found itself: 'The geometrical fallacies of Messrs. Metzinger, Le Fauconnier, and Gleizes'. No sign of any compromise there. Braque and Picasso only showed in Kahnweiler's gallery and we were unaware of them (3). Robert Delaunay, Metzinger and Le Fauconnier had been noticed at the Salon des Indépendants of that same year, 1910, without a label being fixed on them. Consequently, although much effort has been put into proving the opposite, the word Cubism was not at that time current (4).

Things speeded up in 1911, and the nature and importance of the crisis that painting was entering into began to be seen more clearly. Room 41 of the Salon des Indépendants was a revelation for everyone. There was no-one who did not feel its power. It struck the imagination as an element which has been disturbed can astonish and produce a feeling of anguish without necessarily being understood. These canvasses in a dull, muddy grey - did they not hint at a future in which the forms of the present day would be destroyed and replaced by others? Already people were beginning to argue for the legitimacy of the great masters of the Renaissance, even though they still occupied a position that was far more powerful than that of the newcomers (see, for example, Georges Mourey in Le Journal on the Salon d'Automne of 1911). Minds that confuse what is at the present time with what is permanent, cannot bring themselves to admit that change is of the very stuff of existence.

The painters were the first to be surprised by the storms they had let loose without intending to, merely because they had hung on the wooden bars that run along the walls of the Cours-la-Reine, certain paintings that had been made with great care, with passionate conviction, but also in a state of great anxiety.

It was from that moment on that the word Cubism began to be widely used.

Never had a crowd been seen thrown into such a turmoil by works of the spirit, and especially over esemplastic (5) works, paintings, whose nature it is to be silent. Never had the critics been so violent as they were at that time. From which it became clear that these paintings - and I specify the names of the painters who were, alone, the reluctant causes of all this frenzy: Jean Metzinger, Le Fauconnier, Fernand Léger, Robert Delaunay and myself - appeared as a threat to an order that everyone thought had been established forever.

In nearly all the papers, all composure was lost. The critics would begin by saying: 'there is no need to devote much space to the Cubists, who are utterly without importance' and then they furiously gave them seven columns out of the ten that were taken up, at that time, by the Salon. One could make several interesting psychological studies on the subject of the press in general, based uniquely on the daily papers and reviews that were produced at this time.

And Cubism was not just the affair of a season or of a particular more or less limited little coterie. As there was nothing planned about it, so there was nothing forced or artificial about the consequences it provoked - they hadn't been sought after, worked up by assaults on the public, assaults mounted as part of a noisy publicity campaign by artists impatient to make a career for themselves (6). This is clear enough when we look at those canvasses today. Compared to Cubism as it is now, or compared with the many other manifestations which, since then, have been more interested in noise than in anything else, these paintings are astonishing in their dignity and simplicity.

With the Salon d'Automne of that same year,1911, the fury broke out again, just as violent as it had been at the Indépendants. I remember this Room 8 in the Grand Palais on the opening day. People were crushed together, shouting, laughing, calling for our heads. And what had we hung? Metzinger his lovely canvas entitled Le Goûter; Léger his sombre Nus dans un Paysage; Le Fauconnier, landscapes done in the Savoie; myself La Chasse and the Portrait de Jacques Nayral. How distant it all seems now! But I can still see the crowd gathering together in the doors of the room, pushing at those who were already pressed into it, wanting to get in to see for themselves the monsters that we were.

The winter season in Paris profited from all this to add a little spice to its pleasures. While the newspapers sounded the alarm to alert people to the danger, and while appeals were made to the public authorities to do something about it, song-writers, satirists and other men of wit and spirit, provoked great pleasure among the leisured classes by playing with the word 'cube', discovering that it was a very suitable means of inducing laughter which, as we all know, is the principle characteristic that distinguishes man from the animals.



The contagion, naturally, spread in proportion to the violence of the effort that was being put into stopping it. It quickly went beyond the frontiers of its country of origin. Public opinion throughout the world was occupied with Cubism. As people wanted to see what all the fuss was about, invitations to exhibit multiplied. From Germany, from Russia, from Belgium, from Switzerland, from Holland, from Austro-Hungary, from Bohemia, they came in great numbers. The painters accepted some of them and writers like Guillaume Apollinaire, Maurice Raynal, André Salmon, Alexandre Mercereau, the advocate-general Granié, supported them in their writings and in the talks they gave.

The scandal was not as violent in the other European countries as it had been in Paris, but the interest that Cubism aroused was just as great. Public opinion was excited by the new appearances that were being assumed by painting. What came back to us at that time, as an echo, from the manifestations to which the public of these other European countries gave themselves up on the faith, good or bad, of the papers (which told the wildest stories, illustrated with portraits or reproductions nearly always arbitrarily re-worked when they hadn't been invented altogether) shows to what extent the imagination can pull masses of individuals out of their daily routine, if only it is moved by something that has life in it. We are sometimes surprised to think that in Greece, thousands of men could be moved, passionately, by a play of Sophocles. Cubism has shown that such passion can still be aroused at the present day, if we judge by the lively debates it provoked - debates which, after eighteen years of living evolution, are still far from being at an end.

By the time of the Salon d'Automne which opened in 1911, some new talents had appeared, joining those who had been there at the beginning: André Lhote, Marcel Duchamp, Roger de la Fresnaye, Jacques Villon. And elsewhere, though he did not show with us, there was Juan Gris, the pitiless inquisitor, who was, later, to be one of the first to distinguish the essential elements of what there was in Cubism that was important, still, at this time, hidden by the tenacious persistence of old habits. None of us, however, were able to get used to the scandal which continued to rage about us.

In those heroic times, what high, disinterested courage was shown by my friends in the struggle! I cannot bring those moments back to memory without admiring the carefree open-heartedness of their action. And this action was not an affair of little importance. In fact, it is to those painters who were seen at the Indépendants or at the Salon d'Automne of 1911 that the glory belongs of having planted in the world of humanity a seed that, in the natural process of its growth, would split from top to bottom the generally accepted idea of form.



It was against these painters - and against them exclusively - that the attacks of the public authorities, provoked by the Parisian press and by pressure from the academies, were aimed. The Conseil Municipal de Paris threatened the Salon des Indépendants, where Cubism had begun, with its thunderbolts. Questions were put against the Cubist painters in the Chambre des Députés. To defend them and, at the same time, to defend the Salon d'Automne, whose chief administrators were in a state of panic, Maurice Sembat spoke: 'The Salon d'Automne this year [1912] has had the glory of becoming an object of scandal, and this glory it owes to the Cubist painters!!!' That was how Sembat's speech began, and this speech is an important event in modern history. For the first time in a parliament a question concerning the moral order, free of any material interest, a question of concern to the needs of the spirit, was raised. For the first time, the legitimacy and superiority of the appearances of unofficial art were openly proclaimed. What had until then been said only in little groups was now announced from the heights of a national tribunal; and it provoked interruptions from one side and from the other which were, generally, approvals. Painting evoked literature; Cubism evoked the memory of Mallarmé - the Symbolist poets had become part of the established order of the day (7).

If such a thing had happened in Greece or in Rome it would have inspired floods of admiration from among our aging humanists. But, so close to us, it does not seem so extraordinary. However, we predict that it will be recognised as having been something exceptional once the new order that is coming begins to look for its heroes in the order that exists today - when, its reign having begun, it will search for its antecedents in an earlier age.

The canvasses themselves, moreover - those which provoked the scandals and also the courageous defence - will be there to witness better still, through their own act, that something was being born. Once time has produced an accurate understanding of the period, permitting only that which was truly solid, capable of resisting its influence, to remain, then to each will be rendered according to his works. Then we will know which were the truly great works of the age that is passing - the works that are at present being covered in silence through the combined efforts of a fickle virtuosity (8) and financial interest.

So that they will be remembered, I will recall that to the Salon des Indépendants of 1912 Metzinger sent La Femme au Cheval, Léger a Groupe de Personnages, Le Fauconnier a sketch for Le Chasseur, Delaunay his immense Ville de Paris, myself Les Baigneuses. To the Salon d'Automne the same year, Metzinger Au Café Concert, Léger La Femme en Bleu, Le Fauconnier Les Chasseurs, myself L'Homme au Balcon; it was also during the winter of 1912 that the Exhibition of the Section d'Or took place, the most important specialist exhibition of that time, which brought together the best values of that generation, all of whom had agreed to be shown under the sign of Cubism. At this same moment, Jean Metzinger and myself, trying to put a little order into the chaos of everything that had been written in the papers and reviews since 1911, published the first book on Cubism - Du "Cubisme', published by Figuière in Paris. A little later, Guillaume Apollinaire published a study of the new painting in which the real substance of the problem was rather buried under a combination of good will and poetic talent - Méditations Esthétiques, Les Peintres Cubistes - also with Figuière.



The year 1913 saw the movement continuing to evolve. The changes it had already undergone since the Indépendants of 1911 could leave people in no doubt as to its nature. Cubism was not a school, distinguished by some superficial variation on a generally accepted norm. It was a total regeneration, indicating the emergence of a wholly new cast of mind. Every season it appeared renewed, growing like a living body. Its enemies could, eventually, have forgiven it if only it had passed away, like a fashion; but they became even more violent when they realised that it was destined to live a life that would be longer than that of those painters who had been the first to assume the responsibility for it.

At the 1913 Salon des Indépendants could be seen a very large work of Jean Metzinger's - L'Oiseau Bleu; L'Equipe de Cardiff from Robert Delaunay; two important canvasses from Léger; still lifes and L'Homme au Café from Juan Gris; enthusiastic new work from La Fresnaye and from Marcoussis, and from others again; and finally, from myself, Les Joueurs de Football.

Again, to the Salon d'Automne of 1913 - a salon in which Cubism was now the predominating tendency - Metzinger sent the great picture called En Bâteau, La Fresnaye La Conquête de l'Air, myself Les Bâteaux de Pêche and La Ville et le Fleuve. If the first moment of surprise had passed by, the interest Cubism excited was as great as ever. The anger and the enthusiasm had not changed sides, our enemies held to their guns. It is enough for proof to read the diatribes of Louis Vauxcelles in Gil Blas for that year,1913, and the panegyrics of Guillaume Apollinaire in L'Intransigeant.

Finally, to finish off this pre-war period, it only remains for me to mention the last Salon des Indépendants of 1914, where we continued to show important works, among them those of Robert Delaunay - Disques Simultanés, which I will talk about in a moment.

What has happened to the works I have just been quoting? Most of them can be found in museums and collections in Germany. The rest are scattered. There are some in France, others in America, in Russia, in Spain - circumstances have not allowed us to keep track of them. So, since, by the all-powerful will of commerce which has become master of the world, they are unable to appear regularly in the public sales, they have been forgotten or ignored. How interesting it would be to bring them together some day, to show them once again to the public! The passage of the years would allow us a better understanding of them, and thus of the history of modern painting. They would soon put back into their proper place the parasites by whom it has, for the moment, been falsified.



So, between 1911 and 1914, Cubism evolved from the notion of form based on volume to the notion of cinematic form which breaks, once and for all, the perspective unity of the Renaissance.

Robert Delaunay even had the intuition of a synthetic form which would replace the form which remains static and fragmentary, whether it is shown in perspective unity or in a multiplicity of points of view. Of course he is still in space, he is still too visual, of that there is no doubt; he is too much dominated by the play of sensory impressions but, nonetheless, he suspects the existence of something new; he begins to touch it, he proclaimed it aloud in his Disques Simultanés. And that seems to me to be profoundly moving nowadays, when I believe that I have good reasons for understanding what I could not grasp then. In saying this, I shall probably surprise many people who think of Robert Delaunay as he is today, once again seduced by the descriptive image. So much the worse for them if they cannot recognise that Delaunay in 1913 announced the end to which Cubism was working. As for myself, I admit that the more I deepen my understanding of the problem of form posed categorically by Cubism in 1911, the more Delaunay's work reveals its worth. And that is why I conclude, freely, that among all of us at that time, it was he, sustained solely by gifts of the first order and by his own abundant high spirits, who came closest to the truth.

Behind that exuberance of colour, beneath this fondness for monotonous discs, beyond all that vulgar modernism, there was the longing for heaven, for what Mallarmé calls l'azur; the vision of plasticity in time, complete, definitive, circular, astronomical. Delaunay played with suns and moons like an amazed child. And I am delighted now to be able to find this work already established behind us, incomplete perhaps, but nonetheless big with the future because it was free-spirited and adventurous.

What Delaunay had to contribute could not, at that time, have been used by anyone other than himself. He was ahead of his time because he had no reason for restraint. To open the window to let the light flood in was a reckless thing to do. Immediately the representational elements of the analysis of form were consumed and a new form, unknown and still, for the rest of us, inadmissible, began to turn, freely. The immobile had been changed to mobility.

We were still attached to the representational image. We cut into the form, the different angles from which it could be seen, the perspective. The object turned in our hands, we turned round it. We were tortured by this mystery of form. Delaunay had no worries of this kind. The object - he saw it as being like something that turns (9). We could not agree with him, with an idea of plasticity of this kind, all the more because he was still unable to free himself from a certain atmospheric effect, he tended even to exaggerate it. However, I repeat that he saw, all at once, an esemplasticity that was something radically new; or, rather, he announced the return of an esemplasticity that had only been known to certain periods of the past whose cast of mind was the opposite of that which none of us was yet able to renounce. And without such a renunciation no clear understanding is possible - exceptional intuitions have no future; the most painstaking work of analysis will for ever be in vain.

To sum up, here is what seems to me to emerge unquestionably from this pre-war period:

On the one hand painters like Braque and Picasso, to whom we should add Juan Gris, living and travelling apart, already fallen into the hands of the picture dealers. They had passed through the analysis of volume, the analysis of the object (10), and were beginning to touch the plastic qualities of the flat surface, the material of painting as it is, independent of anything else.
On the other hand, in the breach, engaged in the battle, Jean Metzinger, Le Fauconnier, Fernand Léger and myself, taken up with a research into weight, into density, volume, the dissection of the object; studying the dynamism of lines; beginning to sense the importance of the real nature of the plane.

Robert Delaunay, finally, insufficiently disciplined to linger over such analytical researches, but possessing an exact intuition of what the destiny of Cubism was to be.



Between 1914 and 1918, there was the war, and the dispersal of the painters. But it obliged a work of profound reflection which would contribute to the constitution of that new cast of mind opposed to what is still the predominant cast of mind - a new cast of mind, necessary prerequisite for any really fundamental change. For its part, through the continued development of its technical means, Cubism was enabled to arrive at certain important truths. It became obvious that the flat surface was itself to be the starting point for the painted work. The word plastic which, up until then, had been thought to be exclusively to do with volumes in space - whether real, as in sculpture and architecture, or reduced to trompe l'oeil, as in drawing and painting - evolved a more solid and definite, palpable meaning. It began to correspond to the real nature of the senses. It appeared that, in the end, it depended not on a support that was purely intellectual but on the support of those materials that correspond to the direct, immediate experience of the senses - materials on the basis of which form, changing the directions of its movement, will change its dimensions (11). The meaning which plasticity had lost when it believed itself to be inseparable from imitation, and from the perspective mechanism which conditions it, was found again, thanks to the simple recognition of the raw plastic material which the painter has at his disposal - the flat surface.

Men like Jean Metzinger and Juan Gris wanted to find true, solid rules - rules which could be generally applied - on the basis of aspirations which were still unsure and ill co-ordinated. They did more than anyone else to fix the basic elements. Painters who had been there right from the beginning, it was certainly they who were able, before anyone else and better than anyone else, to fix the first principles of the order that was being born (12).

I have often said what I think about these two men. Gris' importance goes far beyond the apparent frigidity of his paintings - consequence of his refusal to use the subterfuges of talent to gloss over the things of which he was ignorant. But everything he knew he said, clearly, and his work is a rich source of lessons for young painters who cannot, if they have any respect for the craft they have chosen, believe that painting is at the mercy of irresponsibility masquerading as genius, a mere cover for incurable intellectual laziness. Gris has set, for the conscience of the craftsman, the noblest example I know. His example is the proof that painting will deliver its secrets only to those who approach it after having committed themselves, internally, to a vow of patience. Gris did not work with the ease of a virtuoso. He always had difficulty in the construction of his paintings; he was not a great colourist, able to manipulate the subtle games of nuance. But what an intelligence he had, what knowledge, what wisdom, what prudence.

Simultaneously with Gris, Jean Metzinger, whose limpid intelligence I was able to appreciate when we wrote Du "Cubisme" together, worked, with great erudition and with remarkable precision, to lay the foundations that are indispensable for the true technique of painting. The others - and I assure you that I include myself among them - continued their researches in an empirical fashion, with successes or failures depending on greater or lesser degrees of talent or good luck. But Metzinger, clear-headed as a physicist, had already discovered those rudiments of construction without which nothing can be done. I affirm that in a spirit of perfect freedom, taking no accountof the generally accepted version that has been devised by interested parties and spread by the thousand incoherent elements that go to make up the main currents of public opinion. I wish to establish the true history of Cubism whose beginning was not a matter of mere chance, something dependent on a throw of the dice, but clearly linked to that revaluation of all the values of whose absolute necessity no-one in these days can be in any doubt.



For that very reason, then, I have to say something about the intrigues which have succeeded in substituting for the true history of Cubism an apocryphal version which is principally calculated to satisfy the needs of the old cast of mind, the one that is disappearing, to comfort it with the illusion that it still has some life in it.

During those terrible years which followed each other, one after the other, between 1914 and 1919, the representatives of Cubism were dispersed and tormented by thoughts of what the future might hold, and Cubism itself was condemned by the means that were typical of the time - the pressure of patriotic calumnies (13). Under the circumstances, it was unable to resist the advances that were made to it by the fashionable world, the world of snobbery (14). It thought, perhaps, that by accepting such patronage, it could ensure its continued existence. One after the other, the Cubists moved into the artificial world of those circles where, more and more, money was becoming the sole possible title of nobility. And Cubism could be said to have 'arrived' if, reduced to a mere matter of individual fantasy, it had no other end in view than the realisation of a successful career.

I do not want to expand on the quick role-changes assumed by particular individuals. I only want to focus the public's attention - inclined as it is to wander - on the circumstances, in the hopes of helping people to understand what followed.

The enthusiasm snobbery was showing for the obscure, unintelligible side of Cubism (though it turned against it almost as soon as it had taken it up) naturally roused the interest of the commercial world, who began to see in it a possibility of expanding its normal activities. Like the manufacture of guns and of poisoned gas, Cubism excited an appetite for wealth. But it was a rather more delicate investment. The unstable character of the world of the snobs had for a moment conjured up an illusion in the minds of the businessmen but, almost immediately, they were disappointed. The money invested did not give a quick enough return. Apart from some gullible nouveaux riches and certain professional collectors, the necessary clientèle did not emerge. Stocks built up and stayed in the vaults and back rooms. The international organisation of the commercial exploitation of works of art was opposed, fundamentally and morally, to the Cubist venture. It decided that Cubism had to be given a meaning which harmonised with its own interests, present and future. It explained it, managed it, obliged it to accept the return of everything against which it had struggled from the moment when it first appeared (15). With the comforting arrival of peace, the world of the snobs which, only a few years previously, had only been interested in the worst confections of the academy, and which had only taken Cubism up by chance, now returned to its true self and the moment was not far off when an academic art, adapted to modernity - that is to say, with all its own virtues systematically sabotaged - could be offered to it with some prospect of success.

These tendencies were greatly intensified in the period immediately following the war. The growing authority of all sorts of dealers, the more and more irresistible process by which all the values of the spirit that could not be turned into money were discredited, the insecurity of life taken as a whole, which made any long work requiring patience impossible - these reasons and many others have produced the apparently incredible state of affairs which prevails at the present time, which everyone complains about though they do not dare to try to account for it as it is. During the war, instead of keeping offstage and manipulating political puppets whose role would have been to give an appearance of decency to the work of robbing the public purse, the speculators had taken over the ministerial seats themselves so as better to be able to follow the course of their affairs. After the war, the same thing happened in the field of works of art.

When will the interests - all too obviously commercial - which claim the right to control the arts be called to order? As they wish they give such and such a turn to events, and the undiscerning public swallows it. They act like sedatives on the conscience of the young artists and like stimulants on those who buy. These last few years, an astonishing degree of cynicism has been reached, and the propaganda means employed pass all imagining. Dealers write, often under pseudonyms, with the purpose of deceiving the reader, books and articles to vaunt the merits of the merchandise they hold; they run so-called art reviews which are no more than catalogues for their shops; they form partnerships with papers, with reviews, through publicity contracts, in order to give a glossy appearance to their goods in their quest after buyers. The critics, with very few exceptions, are in their pay. With the complicity of a state that is overwhelmed in debt and which closes its eyes so long as it is given its share of the spoils, the markets are falsified by a speculation on works of art which imposes the fantasy of fictitious bids to push up the prices in the public sales (16).

The result is that a set of historical circumstances as easily verifiable as those which accompanied the rise of Cubism remains unknown to writers who, whether out of ignorance or idleness, act as agents for these daring entrepreneurs. What books have been written on Cubism during these past few years have - perhaps without the author's being aware of the fact - been dominated by the influence of the galleries and the bulletins of the public sales because that is where they have gone to look for their information; when it would have been just as easy to have gone to the Bibliothèque Nationale to consult the still hardly yellowed collections of newspapers from 1910, 1911 and later, to have a real documentation on this historical movement that is so important,

It must be said: the continual changes of direction that have taken place since 1919 in the world of art have done nothing more than record the panic of the galleries. The artist who, more than anyone else, should be above considering the needs of economic competition, has, unconsciously, lent himself to all sorts of manoeuvres for pushing prices up. The artist's attitude towards the dealers is disturbing. The dealer demands and obtains an absolute obedience. They are cruel ages, those in which the traffic of goods becomes the only reason for living. Already the confusion is enormous - what will it become if no-one is willing to condemn this trafficking in the works of the spirit.



Now I come back to the history of Cubism which continued to grow like a hardy annual, outside the boutiques where impulses that were clearly, in their origins, impulses of the spirit, were being systematically perverted.

Artistic relations between France and Germany were renewed in January 1920 through an exhibition which I organised in Berlin at Herwarth Walden's Stürm gallery. It was the first time that Germans had a chance to appreciate the captivating work of the Polish painter living in Paris, Louis Marcoussis.

That same year, Fernand Léger, Georges Braque, the Polish painter Leopold Survage, myself, and the Russian sculptor Archipenko, tried to revive the principle of the Salon de la Section d'Or of 1912 (17). An important exhibition was held in Paris, bringing together a collection of works which revealed that a complete process of transformation and renewal had taken place. It was impossible not to see in these obvious proofs the extent to which the idea as it developed had burst the bounds of the thin shell imposed by the word 'Cubism'.

Some months later, I published a little book - Du Cubisme et les Moyens de le Comprendre - in which I tried to outline the general principles, the simple and precise elements, on which all true painting must be based. This work is known in Germany since it was translated and an edition published by Stürm in Berlin.

Since then, Cubism has followed the line of evolution that is natural to it, asserting itself from one year to the next, protected by its own internal liveliness against all attempts to take it over, and progressing from the limited sphere of aesthetics to that of life itself, at the widest possible level of generality. For that is certainly what the end must be for all those timid efforts of 1911 which had the rare privilege of provoking the exasperation of the world about them - to restore to the work of art its place in the general, human world; to renew the pact with the rest of humanity that had been broken at the time of the Renaissance. And, while speculators in aesthetics wanted it to be understood as nothing more than an isolated accident, bigger capitalist interests gave them the lie, demonstrating that certain elements of Cubism could be used for the general purposes of commercial propaganda. I have no illusions as to the real nature of this recognition of the commercial strengths of Cubism - there was nothing about it that was in the least disinterested. It was only concerned with the needs of an even more exaggerated over-production. But it was based all the same on a true psychological insight, because its clientèle is the entire human race, with all its variety, its nuances, its many differing reactions. Necessity has obliged the larger-scale commercial interests to develop a great deal of perspicacity. And that is why they made no mistake concerning the real, underlying strengths of Cubism, about the universal nature of the means it had developed and, consequently, about the power which it was already capable of wielding over the crowd.



Large scale speculation - that is to say, large-scale commerce, production and consumption - approached Cubism. It proposed a collaboration. It must at once be said that it was only able to use the most superficial characteristics of the new Cubist works - works that could be seen in the Salons done by some of the old painters of 1911 who were showing more and more rarely, and also by some young painters who were continuing in the same line of development. It used great surfaces painted to emphasise their flatness, it syncopated continuous lines, it showed representational silhouettes done using a very angular style of drawing, the colour was an imitation of that of the Cubists. It never addressed itself directly to any of the true Cubist painters. It used commercial artists, industrial designers, poster painters. And so we began to see Cubist-style advertisements on the walls of our great cities, Cubist furnishing fabrics, dresses, all sorts of objects in the big shops, more and more simplified furnitures reduced to essential, stylised forms, whose exotic materials made a strange contrast to this apparent commitment to austerity.

It is in this over-hasty and crude application of Cubist means, which has its own importance in the history of Cubism, that I for one see a sign of what the future has in store. Cubism was the first stage in an evolution away from a painting that was essentially metaphysical (18) - reduced to the isolation of the easel painting, necessary consequence of the cast of mind that had been established at the time of the Renaissance - towards a physical painting, called upon to work in conjunction with architecture. This will be imposed by the cast of mind which is being prepared and which bears a strange resemblance to the Christian spirit, whose forms the Romantic scholars were the first to rediscover.

The Cubism of 1911 had in effect begun a revaluation of the idea of form. It had, for that very reason, to begin with a revaluation of the idea of the picture. What prejudices there were in relation to this particular object! The habit of regarding the picture as a spontaneous production of the artist was so deeply ingrained, the artist appeared to be such an exceptional being, that it had become impossible to touch the one without touching the other. To renounce the picture as an aim was, all at once, to forget the artist, so that 'the picture-taboo' was at the same time a guarantee of immunity for the artist himself (19).



In Du "Cubisme", written in 1912, Jean Metzinger and myself tried to make a clear distinction between the picture and decorative painting. We could not at that time have understood that this distinction is determined by a change in the cast of mind of the whole, and so we did no more than to try to define the two terms and draw out the contrast that there is between them. It goes without saying that we declared the picture to be superior. The subsequent development of Cubism was to lead us ever deeper into what we had then thought was a cul de sac.

Cubism, in the changes it went through, was to show us that the nature of the picture and the nature of decorative painting are no more dependent on our personal opinions than they are on our personal tastes. Neither Chardin nor Cimabue could have thought of making a choice between them. The cast of mind of the world in which they lived imposed the picture on Chardin and decorative painting on Cimabue. Who would dare to say, simply on the basis of their pictorial quality, that one of them is worth less than the other? The cast of mind of the world about them and that alone explains these particular ways in which painting appears, and renders one or other of the two options impossible. Only intermediate ages such as our own imagine that they have any choice in the matter - but that is only an illusion since, all the time, the pressure is mounting, pushing us, despite all our hesitations and our distaste, in whichever direction corresponds to the needs of the life of the age.

Painting is always subject to and determined by the needs of architecture. Architecture is the exact expression of the cast of mind of the age. It is by studying architecture that we can trace the evolution of a human cycle and understand its biological constants. Since nothing in the social organism ever disappears but everything is in continual change according to where it is placed in the cycle of its growth, we can say that, when the esemplastic consciousness of the surrounding world is determined by architecture, then painting, consciously subject to it, is decorative. By contrast, when architecture begins to decline, indicating a decline in the esemplastic power of the world as a whole, painting, by a process of repercussion, breaking free from the order that is collapsing, delivered up to its own devices, becomes the picture.

Similar changes take place in the fields of dance, music, poetry, literature taken as a whole, sculpture and, in the art of furniture, using the term in its widest possible sense. We can see it at work in the Christian cycle just as we can throughout the whole history of the numerous cycles that are known to us. The Renaissance marked a decisive moment in the separation of two casts of mind corresponding to two essential periods of life: the one had risen from birth to adulthood, the other was to descend from adulthood to death - the first was organic, the second was destined to become disorganised and disarticulated through the illusion that liberty was being accorded to each of its individual parts.

It is easy, in the world of humanity at the present time, to see the signs of that organic incoherence which is the prelude to the end that all aging biological systems have to undergo. But with some small degree of perspicacity, it is also possible to see a tendency towards coherence, which could be the sign that a new social reorganisation is taking place. In that field of human activity which has given birth to Cubism, I see definite signs of the renewal of what used to be called 'great decorative painting'. A productive activity undertaken for reasons that were merely aesthetic is beginning once again to discover those technical means which are the indispensable precondition for a real esemplastic act. Descriptive painting is beginning to give way to the living wall.

Not many painters could continue in this almost unbearable situation in which the spirit of generalisation was struggling with the spirit of particularity - a particularity which attributed a quite ridiculous degree of importance to the individual. A reaction set in which included painters who, while still trying to attract as much publicity to themselves as possible, disappeared entirely into the obscurity of a private code (20). But it also included certain painters who had started out as Cubists but who, unable to break free of an old prejudice, fell back (are they aware of the fact?) into the state of indecision that characterised the work of Cézanne.

But what is there that is so terrible about decorative painting? Is it because its freedom is ordered, because it has a structure? And, as a result, is the individual who is so taken with himself, afraid that he will be shown up clearly, in the full light of day? The chief characteristic of decorative painting is, of course, the very great quantity of means that are developed as a direct result of the technique employed. The plastic results are determined by the technique. As we can see straightaway, it is not a matter of describing, nor is it a matter of abstracting from, anything that is external to itself. There is a concrete act that has to be realised, a reality to be produced - of the same order as that which everyone is prepared to recognise in music, at the lowest level of the esemplastic scale, and in architecture, at the highest (21). Like any natural, physical reality, painting, understood in this way, will touch anyone who knows how to enter into it, not through their opinions on something that exists independently of it, but through its own existence, through those inter-relations, constantly in movement, which enable us to transmit life itself.

The picture is something quite different. It is based on a pre-determined theme and its technical means are, therefore, necessarily, distorted. They are adapted to the needs of a reproduction, accessible to the senses, of events that have their own plastic nature and existence somewhere else, and that are quite foreign to it. Only very sparingly can it permit the development of new means, and only in the confusion imposed by individual opinions - so the picture is quickly lost in the formlessness of the descriptive element, because it has never itself been plastic, or esemplastic, in the true sense of the word. In these conditions - the conditions of its complete decadence - it can only appear to be acceptable if the value of individual opinions is affirmed to be absolute, without qualification. The day on which the painter justified himself by his exceptional way of seeing things was the day on which the picture lost its general significance. Under the pressure of the deformations to which it was subjected, and which were becoming ever more eccentric and surprising, it began to drift insensibly into the most abstruse metaphysics. If you want to be convinced you only have to look at the transformations the picture has undergone between the Renaissance and the present day - from Michelangelo, who blows it up out of all proportions to put it on a wall, to Braque and Picasso, who confine it in a narrow frame. We can see the description, what man can see through the windows of his eyes, expressed first of all through a generally agreed convention based on the normal way in which things are perceived. We can then see how it is deformed into a perception that is individual, an appreciation that exists independently of any common measures by which it could be disciplined - in a word, an abstraction (22).



Braque and Picasso pushed this independence as far as it would go during the first period of Cubism, but, in their case, there is something more than just this movement in a direction that had been fixed since the time of the Renaissance. Their pictures were still deformations of an essentially descriptive and atmospheric base, but, as they reached the limits at once of the break-up of the image and also of the two dimensional geometry which held the work together, they began to touch something of a more substantial nature. They dared to introduce the papiers collés - different materials, sand, ripolin, imitation wood and marble, printed letters. This was a real challenge to the Renaissance cast of mind that had not been superseded merely because the external appearances of things were being expressed metaphorically. It was a development that really merited an outburst of indignation because, now, there was every reason to feel that the supremacy of the picture was being threatened. Yet it passed, if not unnoticed, at least unappreciated. Everyone, on the other hand, got worked up over the deformations of the descriptive image, which didn't do anything to compromise the future of painting such as it is conceived as much in the academy as it is by the independents. I would go so far as to say that, even now, people see nothing in Cubism other than these changes in the descriptive element, without being able to imagine what has already been achieved beyond them, on the other side. There, it is the solid ground of painting determined by its technique, form for its own sake, in its compete, real, esemplastic nature, that counts. But that was, and still is, too simple for minds for whom progress can only occur as a matter of increasing complications.

But, whatever people might say, it was these real elements - papiers collés, sand, imitation wood etc - that were the truly daring innovation. They compelled the development of an approach that was genuinely esemplastic and which, dependent as it was on the technical means employed, was inevitably bound to produce a return to the spirit of decorative painting. Builder's decorating, which requires only artisans with no 'artistic' aspirations, is all that remains, because it is indispensable, of the great decorative painting of the past. After the Renaissance, since wall-painting was no longer needed by architecture in its decline, it had to disappear and the little there was of it that was still indispensable, was done by ordinary workers who, deprived of the stimulus of any higher values, confined themselves to using only its most rudimentary technical means. What ambitions they had to rise above this level led them to emulate the artist-painters who had been completely divorced from them since the seventeenth century, in descriptive imitation, and so they developed methods for giving an illusory appearance of wood or of marble. That was itself another factor in the degeneration of the housepainter's craft. But, by introducing those modest imitative elements - these materials that were incontestably part of the technique of the craftsmen - into the picture, Braque and Picasso courageously began a work of regeneration (23). They broke with the prejudices that had so long kept the artist and the artisan apart from each other: the framed picture for the salons of a privileged class, large scale decorative painting for the masses.



Metzinger, Delaunay, Léger and myself, more respectful than Braque and Picasso of a drawing that would be generally accessible, less willing to disappear into a metaphysical fog, attached a crucial importance to the verticality of the picture plane. Independently of that analysis of the descriptive aspect which occupied, and preoccupied us, we attached great importance to the general composition seen as a matter of construction. We wanted the spectator to have the impression of a whole, through the simple disposition of light and dark. The anecdotal side had, mercilessly, to give way before the organised painting. It seems that we didn't do too badly. The habit of seeing the painting only in the light of the story it had to tell was so strongly established that we were usually accused of being illegible. At the same time, we changed the generally accepted dimensions of the picture - the easel painting seemed to us to be too small given the dangers implicit in what we had undertaken. We needed a certain fullness in the surface space if painting was to become itself. This fullness undoubtedly imposed changes on our technique. The visible brushstroke, which had had its place in a small picture, became problematical in the expanse of a great canvas. We all struggled against the fluttering effect which it imposed on the painting. Delaunay even used size and wax, difficult techniques, incompatible with the small, delicate Cézannean brushstroke. Little by little, the notion of form was restored to the plane surface of the painting. Once again it became esemplastic, it learned how to be realised independently of the description of something other than itself in an illusory space. And so the technical means too had to correspond to the nature of the plane surface, free from all those complications into which they had been led by the cult of the picture - free, finally, to express an esemplastic reality that would be mobile, in response to the needs of the spirit - a reality of which any spectator, of whatever social background, or no matter what intellectual capacity, could become conscious through the intermediary of the eyes. A natural reality is not just the property of a few. It is given to everyone, and everyone, according to his faculties, can get something out of it. And this isn't a new idea. It is what lies at the bottom of the story of Orpheus, whose poetry touched animals and plants as well as men. So, the artist was giving way to the artisan, the picture was being subsumed in decorative painting, and that meant that metaphysics was being chased away by physics. The imagination was, once again, learning how to move.

All the Cubist painters managed to reach this stage, the stage of decorative painting. The means that they had to develop in response to problems of a purely technical order required the progressive elimination of the perspective - that poor stage manager whose only role was to provide a suitable setting for the descriptive element. But it takes such a long time to finally get rid of prejudices that most of the painters felt apologetic about the consequences of their researches instead of openly making a virtue of them. The contempt with which decorative painting was regarded was so great that that they felt ashamed, they, artists, to be associated with it. By one of those absurd non-sequiturs that are so characteristic of our time, everyone was full of praises for the great ages of art - ages which were dominated by architecture, and whose painting and sculpture were therefore entirely decorative; but this was not enough to persuade them that their scorn for decorative painting was merely a matter of habit. And I think they are still quite unconscious of the contribution they have made towards the return of an order that has once again become necessary, and that this is the reason why, by anticipation, they are great,



The commercial interests of the time understood it better than they. Only because commerce - in what is in it that is most general and, consequently, most necessary - is addressed not to a so-called chosen élite, but to the widest possible human public. So it could see all the benefits it could obtain from the means that had been developed in response to the technical problem. It saw how the imagination of the masses could be seized by the wonderful appeal of new forms. So, necessarily, it adopted Cubism both in its intentions and in its technique. Today, while everyone continues to abuse Cubist painting, declaring it to have been a terrible mistake, they are all, everywhere, agreed in recognising that 'the aesthetic current that has transformed contemporary taste, was born in the context of proper artistic painting, though it really had nothing to do with it. Cubism is, in fact, at the origin of the whole of the modern style. But in the context of pure art, it is an obvious nonsense.' I take this quotation at random from a provincial newspaper where I read it recently - Lyon Républicain, 9th February 1928 - but it is the leitmotif that can be heard everywhere as soon as the aesthetics of what is called` 'the modern' is under discussion. Thus, although they are compelled to admit what is blindingly obvious, they insist that what was the cause of it all was only a mistake. They drew a distinction between 'art', presented without any qualification, and that specialised field which is called 'pure art'; in other words, the life of the whole - real, popular life - is not true life. It is the negation of true life.

So. In all the various initiatives that are being undertaken wherever large scale commerce exercises its influence, Cubist painting is the only sort that can hold its own. The modern decorators are not yet fully conscious of the fact. But once an architect appears with sufficient spiritual force to again become the master of the whole work that he was in the past (and he will appear sooner or later, the age, whose whole cast of mind is in disarray, is already carrying the seed) he cannot, without compromising the unity of his idea, do other than to turn to the Cubist painters if he wants to introduce painting. So we can conclude that Cubism has broken through the barrier that was put up between art and that sort of painting that claimed to be more pure - easel painting. If there has been a mistake, it is a mistake on the part of those who still do not understand that, already, in the renewal of contemporary taste, the western world, wanting to renew its life, is beginning to change its cast of mind, the very shape of its way of thinking.



Such have been, up to the present day, the great changes undergone by what, around seventeen years ago, was called Cubism. The men whose names I have given did not, at that time, see the great importance of what they were trying to do; even less had they any notion of the consequences this effort would have, or that, in the end, it would escape out of their control.

Cubism, then, was not an exceptional event in the more or less continuous curve of the history of painting. Plenty of writers have tried to explain it, justifying it, or declaring it to be undesirable, according to their own particular fancy. Too much literature, good and bad, has flowed by on the subject without its real nature being clarified. The painters too have preferred justifying their own personal attitudes to admitting that, quite independent of their own capabilities, there was a world waiting to be rediscovered. Commercial interests, terrified of the prospect of bankruptcy, have told deliberate lies. But what do these details, the sort of detail that is inherent to life, matter? Life is not just a matter of conflict. It is also able to bring such conflicts to an end, and already Cubism, after long years of patience, is recognised as a living force. Life and the necessities imposed by the painters' technique have now joined together in rejecting aesthetics and 'pure art'.

The exhibition of Decorative Arts held in Paris in 1925 (24) clearly showed to what extent the perseverance of the Cubists had been rewarded. This exhibition proved the influence of the external appearances of Cubism in the relatively superficial field of utilitarian and commercial applications. Some day people will begin to realise that Cubism is more than just a matter of appearances, and then they will take the trouble to ask what are its principles. They will no longer be content with the final result as it appears in front of their eyes. When that happens, the foundations of a new esemplastic consciousness will have been laid. But I can only speculate on how the reconstruction of the world will then be undertaken.

Until that time, Cubism will continue its development. If, one after the other, the men who had the distinction of launching it are overcome by weariness, after battles which never seem to be decisive, there will always be younger elements ready to take their place. Already there are those who are bringing to it new strength and an equally fervent conviction (25).

The great decorative painting which characterises all the religious ages followed the directives of the architect because those ages were aware of the need for construction. They were always realised on the basis of that idea of form whose existence the scholars of the romantic period suspected. That is why these were also the ages of the epic, the great song that draws the whole community along in its wake. The other periods of human history - those that resemble the period that followed our Renaissance - begin as soon as the world has come to the end of its period of growth, and is no longer capable of being moved by the epic spirit of adventure.


Serrières 1928
Le Rouge et le Noir, 1929

Reprinted in Albert Gleizes: Puissances du Cubisme, Chambéry (Eds Présence) 1969






[Notes by Gleizes are given in italics]

1 Cézanne's 'state of indecision' is discussed in much greater detail in Gleizes essay Painting and Representational Perspective, written shortly after the present essay (though it was published before it) Back

2 Paul Sérusier did, as it happens, claim on one occasion that he was the 'Father of Cubism' Back

3 Metzinger knew Picasso, and wrote an article which refers to him in 1910. Back

4 Matisse used the word 'cubes' referring to paintings submitted by Braque to the Salon d'Automne in 1908. Apollinaire used the word 'Cubism' in a review of the 1910 Salon d'Automne, in which he complains that Metzinger was imitating Picasso. But Gleizes is right to say that the term was not yet in general use. Back

5 I sometimes translate Gleizes' word plastique by Coleridge's word esemplastic (from eis en plattein -'to shape into one'), partly to avoid the modern connotations of the word plastic, but also to affirm a continuity, which I believe to be valuable, with Coleridge's line of thought. Back

6 Gleizes was engaged in a very heated controversy with the Dadaists in 1920, despite, or perhaps because of, his earlier friendship with Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia. He almost certainly has the Dadaists in mind here. Back

7 I remember that at this time I drew Sembat's speech to the attention of Gustav Kahn [the Symbolist poet - translator], whom he had mentioned, and this brought about a renewal of contact between the two men who had not seen each other for several years. One unexpected consequence of this was, two years later, the collaboration of Sembat and of Kahn in the Ministry of Public Works, the one as minister, the other as head of his secretariat. Cubism has been useful in many ways. And I am persuaded that an election to the academy such as that of Paul Valéry was only possible because of the death-blow struck against anecdotal art by the Cubist painters. Back

8 Gleizes clearly has Picasso in mind. The particular case of Braque and Picasso is discussed in more detail later in the essay. Back

9 Later, in, for example, the unpublished second part of La Forme et L'Histoire, Gleizes would insist on the etymological definition of the word 'Universe' as the 'one that turns. Back

10 The word object here signifies the external appearances of the thing represented. Later Gleizes would insist that this should only be referred to as the subject. The object is not something that the painter is copying but the real thing with which he is engaged in the act of painting, i.e. the painting itself. Back

11 'La forme, modifiant ses directions, modifiait ses dimensions'. The meaning would perhaps have been clearer if Gleizes had said 'changing its dimensions will change the directions of its movement'. The schema of La Peinture et ses Lois show how directions can be established on the basis of a repetition, at different levels of magnitude, of the initial proportions of the surface to be painted. Back

12 The association of Gris and Metzinger is very important. Gris may have admired Picasso more than he admired Metzinger, but there can be no doubt that his own practice was closer to that of Metzinger and that, in the initial stages, (Gleizes is generous in saying that Gris was 'there right from the beginning') he was following Metzinger's lead. Back

13 An account of this 'patriotic' wartime campaign against Cubism is given in Kenneth Silver's book, Esprit de Corps. Back

14 The main representative of this 'world of snobbery' making advances to the Cubist painters was Cocteau. Cocteau was godson to Jules Roche, Mme Gleizes' father, and had come to know Gleizes, through the still unmarried Juliette Roche, prior to the war. Mme Gleizes claims that it was Gleizes who aroused Cocteau's interest in Cubism. There is an important wartime correspondence between them, Gleizes painted Cocteau's portrait, and they planned together a production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream to be performed by the Circus Medrano in Paris. Gleizes in his Souvenirs speaks affectionately of Cocteau but on his return to Paris in 1919 he was deeply upset by the nature of the influence Cocteau was exerting in artistic circles and broke off all contact with him, to the extent of insisting that if his wife, Cocteau's childhood friend, did not also break off contact he would leave her. This was the more remarkable since at that time friendship with Cocteau - and Cocteau certainly wanted to remain friends with Gleizes - was an important means of achieving social and commercial success. Back

15 For Gleizes, the problem had been posed long before his engagement with Cubism. In 1906, he had been one of the founders of the Abbaye de Créteil, a community of artists trying to secure their independence from the pressures of economic necessity. In 1927, Gleizes repeated this experiment with 'Moly Sabata', in Sablons, in the Rhône Valley. Back

16 Gleizes had only recently had some experience of this, when Léonce Rosenberg, whom Gleizes found the most sympathetic of the art dealers, offered to push up the price of his pre-war painting La Chasse, which was coming up for auction. Gleizes replied that he rather wanted to buy it himself and therefore wanted the price to be as low as possible. Back

17 The exclusion of the Dadaists from this exhibition provided the occasion for the quarrel with Gleizes referred to in fn 9 above. Back

18 In the 1920s Gleizes uses the words metaphysical and physical to signify more or less the meaning that he would later want to convey with the words subjective and objective. As far as painting is concerned, the appearances of the external world are metaphysical because they do not correspond to the order of reality of the painting itself. As early as Du "Cubisme" (1912), Gleizes has argued that we cannot know the external world, we can only know our 'sensations'. At the time of writing the present essay he was in close relations with the mathematician,Charles Henry who, taking this as axiomatic, regarded all scientific research which pretended to describe an external world independent of human sensations as metaphysical. Which is to say that, as used by Gleizes and by Henry, 'metaphysical' and 'physical' mean almost the opposite of what they are usually taken to mean. In the 1930s, Gleizes was to become interested in the thinking of René Guénon which claims to be 'metaphysical', using a different understanding of the word. Gleizes did not in general adopt the word in Guénon's understanding of it but he no longer uses it as he does here, in a derogatory sense. Back

19 I understand this passage as meaning that the artist's 'sensibility' was no longer on display and, consequently, the artist, in the process of being converted into an artisan doing a job of work according to certain criteria of an objective nature, was no longer obliged to take the attacks that were launched against his work 'personally'. Back

20 Gleizes may be thinking of Marcel Duchamp, whom he knew very well. They had been together in New York, where Duchamp's development had worried him deeply. Back

21 The hierarchy of esemplastic acts is a main theme of the theoretical Essai de Généralisation which Gleizes intended should accompany the present essay when it was published by the Bauhaus. Back

22 As Gleizes said in a letter to Robert Pouyaud, written in 1926: 'A table is as concrete as a horse; but the tablemaker starts from principles that can also be found in the structure of the horse. The painter who starts from the horse to make an image of it, to reproduce it, has no principle. I would go so far as to say that he starts from the concrete (the horse) to arrive at the abstract (the image of the horse); while the tablemaker starts from the abstract (the principle of equilibrium, of movement, the relations of each part to the other) to arrive at the concrete. Oh, words! ...' Back

23 And there should be no mistaking the fact - it was Braque who, because of his origins, was the person really responsible for these very important initiatives. Picasso only borrowed what Braque had lived. What Picasso had lived was, alas, to return in all its glory in those intellectual works which give such pleasure to the literary people and snobs, to whom his truly great works are as inaccessible today as they were in the past. The son of the builder's decorator and the son of the teacher in an art academy have each revealed themselves according to their origins - that is what the proclamations of a publicity machine that has lost all restraint cannot hide from free spirits not yet completely abandoned by their common sense. Back

24 This was the exhibition that gave Art Deco its name. Back

25 Gleizes has in mind in particular his own pupils - Ynaga Poznansky, Mainie Jellett, Evie Hone, Robert Pouyaud - and also the pupils of Fernand Léger, in the classes he held in Amédée Ozenfant's Académie Moderne. They included Marcelle Cahn, Otto Carlsund, Francizka and Thorvold Hellersen. All these 'younger elements' were included in the illustrations to Kubismus. Back