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The word "Cubism" is used here only with a view to sparing the reader any doubts as to the subject of the study; but we hasten to declare that the idea it evokes - the idea of volume - is not of itself sufficient to define a movement which aims at the realisation of painting in its full integrity [la réalisation intégrale de la peinture]. 

But we don't claim to be making precise definitions; all we want is to suggest that the joy of capturing art, which is itself beyond definition [l'art indéfini], within the limits of a painting is worth the effort it requires; and to inspire anyone worthy of achieving it to make that effort. 

It doesn't really matter if we don't succeed in this. In all honesty it is pleasure that has prompted us to write this book - the pleasure a man has in speaking of his work, and we firmly believe we have said nothing that will not serve simply to confirm true painters in what is for them a source of personal delight. 


To understand the importance of Cubism, we must go back to Gustave Courbet. 

This master - once David and Ingres had brought an idealism that had lasted a century to a quite magnificent conclusion - declined to follow the example of painters like Delaroche (1)  or Deveria (2) in delivering himself of large quantities of slavish repetitions. Instead, he set in motion an aspiration towards realism, an aspiration in which all the modern efforts have had a part. But he remained the slave of the worst visual conventions. Not knowing that if one true relationship [rapport] is to be discovered, a thousand appearances have to be sacrificed, he accepted, without any intellectual judgment [contrôle] anything that was communicated to him by the retina of his eye. He had no notion of the fact that it is only through the operation of thought that the visible world becomes the real world, and that the objects that strike us most forcefully are not always those that are the most rich in truths of a plastic nature [en vérités plastiques].

(1)   Hippolyte Delaroche (1797—1856), commonly called Paul. A friend of Géricault and Delacroix who favoured large scale historical themes, often involving the martyrdom of monarchs and the triumphs of Napoleon. He was responsible for an enormous allegorical mural (1837) in the French Ecole des Beaux-Arts.

(2)   It is not clear if Gleizes and Metzinger are referring to Achille Deveria (1800-1857) or Eugene Deveria (1808-1865). 

Reality is deeper than the academic textbooks [les formulaires académiques] would allow, and also more complex. Courbet was the first to look seriously at the ocean but, caught up in the play of the waves, he gave no thought to the depths; we can hardly reproach him for this since it is to him that we owe the joys we experience at the present time, so subtle and so powerful. 

Edouard Manet stands on a higher level. But his realism is still tributary to the idealism of Ingres, and his 'Olympia' seems heavy when placed beside the Odalisque. But we should love him because he broke with outworn rules of composition; and reduced the importance of the painting's subject matter to the extent of painting 'anything'. Here we can recognise a forerunner, we for whom the beauty of a work lies precisely in the work itself and not in what can only ever be a pretext. Unlike many others, we do not rank Manet as a realist just because he represents everyday events; but rather because he was able to endow many possibilities hidden in the most common objects with a reality that is radiant. 

After him there is a split. The aspiration towards realism is divided into superficial realism and deep realism. The first belongs to the Impressionists, to Monet, Sisley etc. The second to Cézanne. 

The art of the Impressionists implies something that is nonsensical; it tries to create life through the diversity of colour, and it promotes a drawing that is weak and without interest. The garment sparkles and is wonderful; the forms wither and disappear. With the Impressionists, even more than in the work of Courbet, the retina counts for more than the brain - but in this case it is done consciously and justified by a supposed incompatibility of the intellectual faculties with artistic feeling. 

But no energy can turn against the general impulse that set it in motion. It would be wrong to regard Impressionism as a false start. The only error possible in art is imitation; it offends against the law of time, which is The Law. If only through the freedom with which they revealed the processes of their craft, and showed what were the elements that go to make up a particular colour [teinte], Monet and his disciples widened the range of possibilities. They never tried to make of painting something that was decorative, symbolic, moral, etc. If they were not great painters, they were painters all the same, and that is sufficient for us to regard them with respect. 

People have wanted to make of Cézanne a sort of failed genius; it is said that he knew all sorts of admirable things but that he stammered them out, he wasn't able to sing. The truth is that he had miserable friends. Cézanne is one of the greatest among those who are able to give history a sense of direction, and it is quite inappropriate to compare him to Van Gogh or Gauguin. He suggests Rembrandt. Like the maker of the Pilgrims to Emmaus, he disregards the vain lapping of the waves [les vains clapotis] to break through, with a determined eye, to the depths of the real; and if he himself never entered those regions where a profound realism is transformed insensibly into a luminous spirituality, at least he gave to those who are determined to get there a method at once simple and rich in possibilities. 

He teaches us how we can master the universal dynamism.  (3) He shows how ordinary inanimate objects impose mutual changes one upon the other. Through him we know that to alter the colouring of a body is to undermine its structure. He foretells prophetically that unheard of horizons would be opened through the study of primordial volumes.  His work, which is all of a piece, changes as we look at it, contracts, stretches out, collapses or becomes radiant. It proves beyond doubt that painting is not - or is no longer - the art of imitating an object by lines or by colours, but of giving to our instinctive feelings a plastic consciousness [conscience plastique].  

(3)    'le dynamisme universel'. It is difficult to find an eloquent way of expressing this but the point is not just that everything is in movement but that everything IS movement, i.e. there is no static thing that moves. Hence the dynamism is 'universal' in the sense that nothing - including the apparently static painting - is excluded from it.

The person who understands Cézanne already has a feeling for Cubism. We are now able to say that between this school and its predecessors the only difference is one of intensity; and, to be convinced of this, all we have to do is pay close attention to the process by which this realism, beginning with the superficial reality of Courbet, plunges with Cézanne into profound reality, and becomes light, forcing the retreat of everything that cannot be known [en obligeant l'inconnaissable à reculer]. 

There are those who maintain that to take this direction is to deviate from the curved line of tradition. Where do their arguments come from? From the future or from the past? The future does not belong to them so far as we know and it requires extraordinary naivety to want to measure what is by the standard of what no longer exists. 

If we do not want to condemn the whole of painting, then Cubism, which continues it, must be seen as legitimate and, indeed, as the only conception of pictorial art that is possible at the present time. In other words, at the present time, Cubism is painting itself. 

At this point we would like to get rid of a misunderstanding that is very widespread and which has already been mentioned. Many people believe that the minds of the new painters must be dominated by considerations of a decorative nature. Such people are doubtless unaware of the obvious indications which reveal decorative art as quite the opposite of painting. It is only through its 'end' [sa destination] that decorative art exists. It is only through the relations that are established between itself and objects that are already predetermined that it comes into life. Essentially dependent and necessarily incomplete [partielle], from the very beginning it must satisfy the mind in such a way as not to distract from the spectacle which is, necessarily, its justification and completion. It is an organ. 

The painting [le tableau] (4) carries the reason for its own existence within itself. It can without danger be taken from a church to an exhibition room, from a museum to a living room. Essentially independent and necessarily complete in itself [nécessairement total] it has no need to satisfy the mind all at once; on the contrary it is able to draw it little by little towards those depths of the imagination [fictives profondeurs] where the light resides that puts everything in order. It has no need to enter into harmony with such and such a collection of things; it enters into harmony with the totality of all things, with the universe: it is an organism.

(4)   It is clear here - as it is in Le Fauconnier's essay on La Sensibilité moderne et le tableau (which will eventually appear on this site) - that the word tableau is being used to refer specifically to easel painting. Gleizes would later regard mural art, art inscribed in a particular context, as superior in principle to easel painting.

 Certainly it is not our intention to belittle decoration to the benefit of painting; we only want to suggest that if wisdom consists in knowing how to put each thing in its place, then most artists are far from possessing it. We have had enough of decorative plasticity and pictorial decoration, enough confusion and ambiguity! 

Don't let anyone argue on the basis of the end served by our art in its earliest days [Qu'on n'argue pas du but primitif de notre art]. Wall painting (5) encouraged the artist to present objects that were distinct and which evoked a simple rhythm over which light would spread to serve the ends of a vision uniting everything in a single time frame [une vision synchronique] necessarily imposed by the large scale of the surface. In our own time, oil painting has enabled us to express notions of depth, of density, of duration which had previously been thought inexpressible; and it encourages us to present, in a complex rhythm, in a restrained space, a true fusion of objects. Since every preoccupation in art is structured by the material support that is being used, we must regard the decorative preoccupation, if we find it in a painter, as an anachronistic artifice, good only for covering up a weakness. 

(5)   The original says 'la fresque' but it is clear that the term is being used to describe wall-painting in general, not the specific technique of fresco painting.

The difficulty that the public - even a sensitive and cultivated public - has in reading modern works, is this a necessary consequence of the conditions prevailing at the present time? We admit that it is; but it is a problem that must be resolved in pleasure. People enjoy today what yesterday reduced them to exasperation. It is a transformation that is certainly very slow, and the slowness is easily understood - how could understanding develop as quickly as the creative faculties? It follows in their wake.