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On "Cubism" was more or less written out of the historiography of Cubism for around fifty years. It was replaced by Daniel Henry Kahnweiler's The Rise of Cubism, published in 1920, though largely, we are told, written around 1914-15.  Kahnweiler's book was not itself widely read but it became an authoritative source for subsequent accounts. Most notably, of course, it dealt with only four painters - Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Juan Gris and Fernand Léger - and it claimed to give the author's personal observation of their, or at least of Picasso and Braque's, intentions, working methods and general evolution. Thus Cubism was identified with the concerns of these painters as interpreted - rightly or wrongly - by Kahnweiler. The other so called 'minor' Cubists were treated as contingent phenomena, possessing a greater or lesser degree of talent but basically trying to imitate the 'pure' or 'essential' Cubists without really being able to enter into the spirit of what they had achieved. 

Insofar as any attention was paid to On "Cubism" it was treated as if it was a handbook on how to do a Cubist painting, reducing Cubism to a formula that could be copied. But it is difficult to see how this could seriously be maintained by anyone who had actually read the book, and it is an intention specifically repudiated by the authors ('In sum, Cubism, which has been accused of being a system, condemns every system'.). Daniel Robbins, the great pioneer of the broader history of Cubism, has suggested that this strange but at one time almost universal misreading of On "Cubism" derives from Guillaume Janneau's Cubist Art, published in 1929. (20)

20   Robbins: Abbreviated Historiography of Cubism, pp.277-8.

Janneau's book was possibly the first attempt at a coherent history of Cubism written from outside the Cubist circle. I myself see it as at least in part a reaction to Gleizes' own attempt at a coherent history, published by the Bauhaus in 1928 as Cubism [Kubismus]. It is indeed very largely a polemic against Gleizes, who is quoted at length. But what Janneau quotes and attacks (and radically misunderstands) are Gleizes' writings of the 1920s, when he felt he had a much clearer idea of what was important in the Cubist achievement. These writings, especially On Cubism and the Means of Understanding It (1920) and Painting and Its Laws (1922-4), could be described as formulaic and the 'formula' is not particularly useful to understanding the intentions of Picasso and Braque. They could also be described as abundant. The charge frequently thrown at Gleizes - that he wrote too much - is ridiculous if we confine ourselves to the pre-war period (the present volume contains everything I know of that was published before 1914). But it becomes much more credible in the 1920s. Essentially the Gleizes and Metzinger of 1912 have been confused with the Gleizes of the 1920s. 

But if On "Cubism" was suppressed so successfully for most of the twentieth century, what is its importance? The Rise of Cubism and its offshoots did indeed provide the authoritative account of Cubism once it had become respectable, but On "Cubism" was the authoritative account while it was still revolutionary. The Rise of Cubism and its derivatives were read by historians and museum-keepers. On "Cubism" was read by the painters, throughout Europe and America and, notably, in Eastern Europe and Russia, who first took up the Cubist idea. Its importance in this respect is reinforced when we remember the influence exercised by Metzinger and by Henri Le Fauconnier in the Académie de la Palette, attended by many young artists from outside France, notably the great Russian painter, Liubov Popova. And when we bear in mind the activities of Alexandre Mercereau, responsible for organising the French contribution to the Knave of Diamonds exhibitions in Moscow, which started in 1910, and friend of Josef Čapek, one of the leaders of the Cubist movement in Prague. (21)

21   There is an account in Lahoda: Cubist Imperialism.

On "Cubism" was published in English and Russian translations in 1913 and, in the same year, Mikhail Matyushin, friend of Malevich and an important theorist in his own right, published extracts from it interspersed with extracts from Tertium Organum, a treatise on the fourth dimension by P.D.Ouspensky. (22) When Malevich discusses Cubism in his essays of 1915, From Cubism to Suprematism and From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism, it is, necessarily, On "Cubism" that he has in mind as the theoretical statement of Cubism. We may also note here the polemic launched against On "Cubism" by the Marxist philosopher, G.V.Plekhanov in his Art and Social Life, part of the series of essays he wrote against the influence of philosophical idealism in Marxism especially among the Bolshevik 'godbuilder' group which included Anatoliy Lunacaharsky, later, as Lenin's Commissar for culture, responsible for the policy of supporting the Cubist and post-Cubist avant garde.

22   The text is given in an appendix to Henderson: Fourth Dimension.

On "Cubism" is also important of course because it was written by two artists who are of importance in their own right. The extent to which it really did reflect the concern of painters other than Gleizes and Metzinger themselves will be looked at shortly. But for the moment I would like to say some words on its relations with The Rise of Cubism and, consequently, on the ideas that have gone into the mainstream understanding of Cubism.