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(a) Against 'the Cubists' 

In "Cubism" and Tradition, published in August 1911, Metzinger treats Le Fauconnier and Delaunay as two opposite poles of Cubism: 'Le Fauconnier and Delaunay mark two limits which cannot be passed without falling either into academicism or into esotericism.' The word ésotérisme is rather strange as characterising Delaunay unless we imagine that Metzinger felt that to go further in his direction would be to fall into abstraction. As it did since the following year Delaunay embarked on his great, nearly abstract Windows series.  Metzinger and Delaunay had been closely associated in their Neo-Impressionist days but the passage into Cubism marked a rupture between them. Delaunay, alone of the Cubists, insisted on maintaining the Neo-Impressionist palette and we can be sure that, given his own visceral dislike of Picasso, he would have disapproved of Metzinger's Picasso-like contributions to the Autumn-Spring 1910/11 Salons. Nor, one imagines, would he have approved the more rigorous intellectual geometrical approach of Tea-time and its aftermath. 

The most striking painting at the Salon des Indépendants in 1912 was Delaunay's large Ville de Paris, which was received with rapture by Apollinaire who saw in it the return of Neo-Impressionism.  Soon after, in his letters to his friends in Germany, Delaunay dissociates himself very emphatically from Cubism, drawing a distinction (which I discuss in my For and Against the Twentieth Century (68)) between Metzinger - whom he groups with Picasso and Braque - and Gleizes, whom he groups with Seurat and Rousseau, his favourite painters. In April he begins work on the Windows, which Metzinger would certainly have regarded as falling into esotericism but which could also be regarded as the fulfilment, the most perfect expression, of the original Neo-Impressionist impulse, the impulse to realise light through colour.

68   p.164. The main source is Delaunay: From Cubism to Abstract Art, p.159.


(b) and Maurice Princet 

At this point Delaunay has a most surprising ally in the person of Maurice Princet. Princet, as we have seen, wrote the introduction to an exhibition of Delaunay and Marie Laurencin which ran from 28th February to 13th March, 1912; and the account of the Delaunays by Georges Bernier and Monique Schneider Maunoury includes an extraordinary letter from him which is undated but which probably belongs to much the same period (it refers to an invitation by Apollinaire to write an article, presumably for the Soirées de Paris, which started publication in February 1912): 

'Dear friend 

'It is agreed with Apollinaire that I should write fifty or sixty pages on Seurat. I would very much like to see you before finally tracing out the plan of this work. 

'Here in two words, how I intend to develop this interesting subject. 

'Explanation of my sympathies that attach us (you and I) to him directly - beyond that infinite exuberance that has no relation to the Impressionists and the definitive misery of the Cubists, only lightly touching the neo-Impressionists and Gauguin. I would like to show that you alone have continued Seurat's work, extracting from it everything that was really the substance of his idea, using light to reveal [éclairer] colour but without aiming at a strange effect, with the unexpected result that has to strike with astonishment eyes that are not used to seeing. The line barely exists or rather it is only the intersection of the volumes influenced by their three principle qualities: 

'1. proportional dimensions

'2. colour

'3. tone. 

'We have to talk seriously and you must show me your latest labours. I seriously want to show those poor young people (some of whom are very nice) that they are being led to the abyss by the perfidious councils of Apollinaire and the bad examples of Picasso. 

'It is understood that this is just between ourselves.' 

There exists among the Delaunay material published in From Cubism to Abstract Art a collection of notes on Seurat which may well have been a response to this letter (p.116).  If I am right in saying Princet worked with Metzinger and Gris in 1911 then he must have been dissatisfied with his pupils since both of them, Metzinger especially, use distinct lines to separate the fragments of imitation in their paintings. Princet's insistence on 'the intersection of the volumes influenced by their three principle qualities ...' is closer to the practise not only of Delaunay but also (in this period at least) of Gleizes. 

(c) and Francis Picabia 

Sonia Delaunay told Daniel Robbins that Robert had refused to appear in On "Cubism" because Francis Picabia was included. Picabia had changed the nature of the Cubist enterprise by putting money behind it. This was probably what made possible the publication of On "Cubism", Apollinaire's The Cubist Painters and also the Section d'Or exhibition. Delaunay's withdrawal from the Cubists more or less coincides with the rise in Picabia's influence. He had a more personal reason to be annoyed at Picabia since just after the opening of the Section d'Or, when Apollinaire had promised to give a lecture on him, Picabia had whisked him off for a ride in his car to the Jura (with Marcel Duchamp). Since we do not know when On "Cubism" was prepared for publication we cannot tell if this would have had any influence or not - it could be represented as Picabia's revenge for Delaunay's refusal to co-operate. In any case, there were still, as we have seen, despite Gleizes' insistence to the contrary, good reasons to do with painting why Delaunay would have wished to dissociate himself from the Cubists. Which he did, very emphatically, in a letter to their avowed enemy, the art critic Louis Vauxcelles, published in Gil Blas, 25th October 1912, while the Section d'Or exhibition (10-30 October), which he boycotted, was still running: 

'It is without my knowledge that certain young painters have made use of my old studies! They have recently showed canvassses which they call Cubist canvasses. I don't show; only friends, artists and critics, know the direction my art has taken.' (69)

69   Pascal Rousseau: 'Chronologie' in Rousseau et al.: Robert Delaunay, 1906-1914, p.38.

It is rather touching in this context to note that it was while living with the Delaunays only a month or two later that Apollinaire put the finishing touches to his book The Cubist Painters

(d) The Cubists against Delaunay 

But not only did Delaunay criticise the Cubists, parts of On "Cubism" read like a criticism of Delaunay. The book opens with a plea in favour of 'depth' as opposed to the purely 'retinal' realism of Courbet and the Impressionists, and the depth is understood as being intellectual. Delaunay's writings of the time are an exaltation of the 'purely retinal' qualities of the eye and, in particular, of its capacity for depth ('we can see as far as the stars'). Part III of On "Cubism", on colour, criticises the use, central to Delaunay, of simultaneous contrasts: 

'The law of contrast, as old as the human eye and on which Seurat insisted judiciously, was promoted with a lot of noise, and among all those who liked to boast of their sensibility none had enough to understand that to apply the law of complementaries without tact [tact] is to deny it, since it is only worth anything if it happens of its own accord; it can only be shown to advantage if it is used unobtrusively.' 

And they continue with an entirely intellectual, non-retinal, definition of light that was hardly calculated to appease the author of the great hymn in praise of light published in Der Stûrm in February 1913 but largely written in the Summer of 1912: 

'It was at that point that the Cubists emerged, teaching a new way of thinking about light. They say that to bring to light is to reveal, to colour is to specify the mode by which the revelation takes place. Whatever strikes the spirit, they say, is luminous, and anything that the spirit is obliged to penetrate is dark.' (70)

70   Delaunay: From Cubism to Abstract Art, p.146.

We can imagine how Delaunay might have felt about his old comrades after reading that. Especially the older one, Metzinger, who continues (in Cubism was Born) to ridicule the idea that the sensation of light could be recreated through the optical mix of complementaries: 'it was not for his manner of dividing his tones that I continued to enjoy the talent of Seurat. To want, through the optical mix, to struggle with the light of day is as childish as painting cherries in such a way as to fool the birds. They aren't fooled for very long and the painter of olden times who indulged himself in this sort of game was only launching the business of papier-mâché fruit and sweety cigarettes.' 

Gleizes, on the other hand - though the passage in On "Cubism" on colour seems to describe his practise of the time better than that of Metzinger - eventually came to the conclusion that Delaunay had been right, though it is mainly the circular forms of 1913/14 that he admires; he never seems to have given the Windows the attention they deserve. His own palette lightened up considerably just before the war, though he always insisted on using black. But in the later 1920s, after the period of his friendship with Charles Henry, he develops a coherent colour theory that is expressly a continuation of the line of thought that passed through Seurat and Delaunay. With this proviso: that where the neo-Impressionists thought the full colour circle would recreate the sensation of white, as the full spectrum shown simultaneously becomes white light, Gleizes insisted, in line with the argument in On "Cubism", that they added up to grey. He differed from both the Neo-Impressionists and On "Cubism" in seeing grey, with its capacity to turn into the complementary of any colour placed next to it, as the equivalent in painting to light.