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Much later, well into the twentieth century, the painter Albert Gleizes defined the late nineteenth century shift in sensibility as a move from the 'subject' (the thing represented) to the 'object' (the means proper to painting itself independent of the thing represented). Gleizes was a theorist of Cubism and of non-representational art, both of which Denis would certainly regard as  exaggerations of the late nineteenth century 'symbolist' or 'neo-traditionalist' idea. Gleizes would complain that, even with the development of non-representational painting, however, the transition was far from complete in his own lifetime owing to the inability of the painters to really come to grips with the objective conditions imposed by - to use the terms of the famous first proposition of Neo-Traditionalism (possibly the most quoted sentence in the whole history of art theory) - the 'flat surface covered by colours arranged in a certain order', a flat surface conditioned by a particular proportion of height and width and a particular initial colour which should, Gleizes would argue, determine everything that occurred inside it.

Gleizes's transition from subject to object was certainly a central preoccupation of the age as painters searched, in geometry, colour theory or in scientific theories of perception, for objective 'laws' of painting, independent of the subject represented. But Denis has very little to say, either here or in his later writings, about the 'certain order' in which the colours are to be assembled. Indeed in Neo-Traditionalism, he adopts a rather mocking approach to Paul Signac, theorist of 'Neo-Impressionism', perhaps at the time the most earnest seeker after objective laws of painting. Signac had come into some degree of prominence together with his friend Georges Seurat at the last official Impressionist (and effectively first Neo-Impressionist) exhibition in 1886. Making the point that we all experience 'nature' differently, and that there are fashions in the way artists experience nature, so that nature is not of itself a criterion of objectivity, Denis says: 'Mr Signac will prove to you with impeccable science that his chromatic perceptions are entirely necessary. And even if the corrections he makes in his studio are done in all sincerity, Mr Bouguereau is intimately persuaded that he copies "nature"'. William-Adolphe Bouguereau was one of the teachers in the Académie Julian frequented at the time by Denis and his friends, Paul Sérusier, Pierre Bonnard and Éduard Vuillard, and was a favorite object of ridicule among them.