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Finally, though this list of possible further issues to be raised is far from complete, there is the relation between On "Cubism" and the Salon de la Section d'Or, now much better known through the exhibition organised by Cécile Debray and Françoise Lucbert (Chateauroux and Montpellier, 2000-01) and its excellent catalogue. It could indeed be argued that the very general nature of the argument in On "Cubism" - the fact that it has little to say that is distinctive to Cubism - was intended to reflect the wider, more eclectic nature of the group brought together in the Section d'Or. (87) It becomes in this light the manifesto of those painters who have rejected Neo-Impressionism and Fauvism, who refuse the imitation of external appearances and also the exclusive use of primary colours.

87   Though we learn from the catalogue (p.237) that 'nearly all the artists of the Section d'Or 'had already been brought together the previous year (Nov-Dec, 1911) by the Société Normande.

In this context, Gleizes' insistence on the two schools of Cubism - himself, Metzinger, Le Fauconnier, Delaunay and Léger on the one hand; Picasso and Braque on the other - may appear almost as misleading as Kahnweiler's insistence on the exclusiveness of Picasso, Braque and Gris. What appears instead is a widespread movement, succeeding and distinct from Fauvism, with less emphasis on colour and more on the explicit use of straight lines to establish a construction that would embrace the whole picture surface and be less dependent on single point perspective. It is not to be confused with a 'Cézannean' painting, a tendency which belongs much more to the Fauves. 

Whether the other painters would have recognised themselves in it or not, On "Cubism" constitutes a superb summary of the concerns held in common by this wider group. It works precisely because of the width of the divergence that separates the two authors - Metzinger with his emphasis on the new means of representing a subject, Gleizes with his emphasis on the inter-relations of colour and form. Neither can express his own idea fully. The 'Nietzschean' artist-as-superman argument works precisely against dogmatic definitions and in favour of a variety of responses to the new freedoms - freedom from imitation, from single point perspective and from the need to use only primary colours. 

In their own individual writings, Gleizes, Le Fauconnier and Léger all maintain a fairly high level of generalisation. The two painters with the most definite ideas on a precise technique are Metzinger and Delaunay - two old friends though now their ideas are very far apart. Gleizes' principle concern in his review of the 1911 Salon d'Automne is to draw a sharp distinguishing line separating the new painting from the Fauves, and in Cubism and Tradition, it is to give it a particular moral character, one of sobriety and grandeur. 


One of the main arguments of this essay is that the interpretation of writers such as Cooper, Richardson, Golding and Fry - usually used to support Picasso and Braque as 'essential' or 'true'' Cubists in opposition to the Salon Cubists - is in fact derived from Metzinger via Kahnweiler; and that Metzinger is a much more important figure than has generally been acknowledged - though to argue the case fully would require a close study of developments in Paris during the war. It is amazing that the simple strength and beauty of his landscapes and portraits of 1912 - 1914 have not been recognised. Metzinger's idea, however - the total image made up of a rearrangement of different characteristics of the subject represented - was not in the event as full of possibilities as might have been expected at the time. The reduction of the object to a collection of 'ideas' tended towards the conceptual, non-plastic approach exemplified in an extreme form by Duchamp. The real strength of Cubism - even of Metzinger's Cubism, but also of that of Picasso and Braque - had nothing to do with the representation of the subject. It lay entirely in the organisation of the picture plane. And of the original group, the painter who took this furthest - this is the theme of my For and Against the Twentieth century - was Albert Gleizes. 

In saying this, I am of course aware that Gleizes' work of the period - more than that of Metzinger - was characterised precisely by ambitious subjects - the hunt, the harvest, the city, and, later, the 'enormous Broadway' in New York, which he takes as symbolic of the need to express the whole vast drama, the collection of unprecedented sensations, of modern life. In a letter to Barzun, apparently referring to Metzinger's formula as outlined in Cubist Technique, he says 

'How, for instance, give the equivalent of the enormous Broadway, fantastic river with a thousand currents, going against each other, getting tangled up with each other, raising its [word missing], by applying in our painter's expression some little principles that are just about good enough to describe a very simple object, inkwell, box etc. All at once the truth blinds us with its light, rises in revolt and smashes the charms ...' (88)

88   In various writings I have guessed that the letter, which I knew from an undated typescript was written in 1916 but Pascal Rousseau (L'Age des synthèses, p.171) has found it in the Barzun archive giving the date as 24/8/1917.

Metzinger and, later, the Kahnweiler school, defended the modest subject matter of the Still Life as more suited to the Cubist method of analysis. During the war, by a strange chance, the painters who were most hostile to Picasso and Braque - Gleizes, Delaunay, Léger - were scattered, while those who knew Picasso personally and were impressed with him - Metzinger, Gris and Severini - remained in Paris. Their typical subject, which they used to great effect in what was in many respects the high point in the collective history of Cubism, was the Still Life. 

But in fact there is no real contradiction between emphasis on the 'big' subject and emphasis on purely plastic relations. The big subject is precisely a subject that is rich in plastic possibilities. It would be a long time before Gleizes was able to develop a non-representational painting as rich and complex as the Harvest Threshing. Here the interest of the painting is all to do with 'the institution of relations between straight lines and curves' or the 'thousand surprises of fire and of shadow' proposed in On "Cubism". The subject matter is entirely, as Gleizes himself says, and as Le Fauconnier says, 'a pretext'. The great pencil transcription done - to scale - by the potter Geneviève Dalban barely touches the figuration; it reveals the greatness of the construction. The 'duration' that has been so much talked about is entirely a matter of the length of time that can be spent looking at it, as one thing leads to another, in and out and round about, in an endless visual dance. It is a mark of the failure of the Cubist revolution - its hi-jacking by the champions of the subject - that nearly one hundred years later there are writers on art who can see in such a picture only peasants, a church tower, a rustic meal, mountains, clouds ...