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Albert Gleizes

'L'Art et ses représentats - Jean Metzinger', La Revue Indépendant, no.4, Sept 11

La Revue Indépendante began publication in June 1911 under the patronage ('Dépôt générale') of Eugène Figuière, later publisher of Du "Cubisme" and of Apollinaire's Méditations Esthétiques. According to Gladys Fabre (Albert Gleizes et l'Abbaye de Créteil), Figuière's house, opened in 1910, was a successor, via the Bibliothèque des douze and the Oeuvres du jour to the Abbaye de Créteil's own publishing house which, after the closure of the Abbaye itself in 1907/8, had continued in Paris. The contributors included the poet Paul Fort together with Alexandre Mercereau, Paul Castiaux, H.M.Barzun, Roger Allard and, quite prominently, Jacques Nayral, Gleizes' friend and later brother in law, subject of the great portrait which must have been done about this time. Nayral had contributed previous pieces in the series L'Art et ses représentats, on Mahler and on the writer Gaston Deschamps (1861-1931). Robbins' bibliography for the 1964 Guggenheim exhibition mentions another article in the series by Gleizes, on Le Fauconnier, but this does not seem to have appeared.

Subheadings are my own - PB


In the midst of our present age, characterised as it is by overproduction and by the excessive number of the talents that appear, it is still, whatever anyone may say, possible to make out the direction in which painting is headed. After the efforts of Picasso, Braque, Derain, which are, doubtless, open to controversy but which appeared unquestionably at the right moment, we must notice in the group that affirmed its presence this year in Room 41 of the Indépendants - not because he is more important than any of the others but simply because he is the subject of this study - Jean Metzinger.

A painter first and foremost, gifted with a rare sensibility, sustained by a will and logic in the service of a subtle intelligence, one day people will be obliged to admit the influence his researches will have had on the evolution of our way of considering and engaging with the problem of what form the plastic work should take - the renaissance of painting in the twentieth century.

And since this word 'renaissance' has appeared under my pen, I shall take the opportunity to explain what I mean by it. In fact I believe the many inquiries devoted to this subject recently have revealed primarily a wish to return to the heroic times of the sixteenth century. And yet from Giotto to Raphael there runs a continuous furrow that is every bit as deep as that from Watteau to David, and no less to do with a renaissance, a rebirth, than that from Poussin to Cézanne. Since the Renaissance in art had, in the natural way of things, to follow the very march of Humanity, whatever responded to the needs of yesterday had, obviously, to undergo a process of being reworked if it was to satisfy those of the time. A refusal to move [l'Immobilisme] would be death through boredom, and the artists's first duty is to remain steadfast to the age in which he is born. His birth will, for the ideal curve of Beauty,  be a rebirth, a renaissance, and he will have the honour of discovering signs able to add new links to the effort that went before. He has to know it, this Past, well enough to be able to distinguish the great highway cut out by Tradition from the treacherous little by-ways where only values of little consequence can be satisfied; as I have indicated already, it is through the masters who mark the road that leads right to our own time - Giotto, Raphael, Poussin, David, Cézanne - that we can discern what are the side roads of those people of talent, sometimes even of genius, who refused this road and led their followers astray, chasing after some formula that could be easily applied.

During the Impressionist period - since I don't want to review all the ages of painting - only Cézanne understood the danger of these delicate, external researches which could not have any future. We should have been particularly suspicious of this seductive art which in the end could only give us a grace of secondary importance through a renewal of colour; we ended up with the appearance of a social art, accessible to a mass of people whose culture appealed all too clearly to the law of least effort. But Cézanne, the most important painter of our time - at least in what he intended if not in what he actually achieved - tried to uncover the true spirit of the French tradition; his work, all based on discontent, makes a wonderful contrast to the chaos of disparate tendencies that emerged from Impressionism - Pointillism, Divisionism and the Neos. His researches into form and into solidity was certain to be of use to the generation which would follow and, through that generation, it emerged into an awareness of the path to be taken, or rather to be found again. It would now be possible really to understand the work of David, Ingres and Delacroix. Instead of the ridiculous formula imposed by the 'Great Man's' clever followers - a formula which did not, merely because it became officially recognised, thereby gain new life (1) - instead of the epileptic scribblings of painters from nature of a too tempestuous character, we are now going back, as Guillaume Apollinaire put it very rightly, 'to an art that would be simple and noble, expressive and measured, passionate about the search after Beauty, coming back to principles with regard to colour, composition, drawing and inspiration.' (2) And Cézanne is the true link between them and these tendencies. Already, of the great principles, colour and composition, the Fauves had given a foretaste. With the painters who have been called Cubists (?) (3)  we once again find and renew the true process of the working out (l'Ecriture) and inspiration of painting.

(1) Gleizes may be referring here to Paul Signac's D'Eugène Delacroix au néo-impressionisme which claimed to have deduced the system that came to be called pointillisme from the practise of Delacroix. See his remarks on Metzinger's neo-Impressionist phase at the end of the essay. Gleizes was one of the few Cubists (Picasso was another) who didn't pass through a Neo-Impressionist phase.

(2) Gleizes is quoting, a little freely, the Préface Apollinaire wrote for the 8th exhibition of the 'Indépendants' in Brussels, 10th June to 3rd July, 1911, in which he announced that 'the new painters who manifested their artistic idea in the Salon des Indépendants in Paris, accept the name of Cubists which they have been given.'

(3) The question mark is in the original.


This digression has been useful to me; it will help me to show the whole effort of Jean Metzinger, whom we will classify under that last name. Coming just at the moment of the triumph of Impressionism, when Matisse was beginning to show and to count, Metzinger must, with his intelligence more than with his painter's sensibility, have seen early on that painting was floundering about in researches that were undermining preconceived notions but which only touched the superstructure; and that the very precious insights of Picasso and Braque did not, in spite of everything, break free from an impressionism of form which, all the same, was raised up in opposition to the impressionism of colour. Did he not write that we were dependent exclusively on principles invented by the Greeks; and that the researches of a modern artist should, by contrast, envisage the creation of plastic signs that would enrich the domain of our perceptions? (4) To enlarge the domain of our perception by enriching it with new possibilities, that is the whole question, and that would be the direction that Metzinger's art would take.

(4) See Metzinger's Note on Painting in the present collection

Those twenty centuries of Graeco-Roman traditions and the forms those ages have canonised are now so familiar to us that it seems impossible to imagine any others. The plastic signs of the Hindus, Chinese, Egyptians, Negroes are, for our culture formed in the west, only interesting as curiosities, as something exotic, but dangerous, and useless for the purpose of adding to the tendencies of our race. Do we not look more with indulgence than with admiration at the work of our own Primitives! Greece has imposed its art, its canons, which enable us to understand things quickly by means of a comparison that is made all too easily.

Under these conditions, the idea we have of form can only be explained as a mould-type, that underpins our education and through which our sensations are made to pass: to the perfect coming together of image and mould a perfect type of beauty. What more do we need?

But the child who is born with eyes and ears, sees and hears in the strict meaning of these two words; but it is obvious that the idea of the images and sounds is not the same for him as it is for more developed individuals, and that he cannot be expected to sense those subtleties that enable us to say: 'this figure is ugly', or 'this song is beautiful'. The education he will receive will, then, be a first measure, a unit of judgment, which will enable him to establish relations; and it will be by following the direction proposed by this culture that he will form ideas of what is beautiful or ugly. So nothing can be fixed less easily than the meaning of these words, and only the artist can give them their true meaning. Nothing is more susceptible to change than the establishment of those relations which, nonetheless, hold together between themselves to form a whole state of equilibrium. It was, then, Metzinger's role to discover new relations that would allow him to avoid destroying the equilibrium that had already been established. In this way, he could bring his own personal contribution to the tradition as he had received it. I cannot always accept the things that Metzinger has found but I admire enormously the daring logic by which they are determined. And so I will try to explain them here. 

Metzinger could not tie himself down to the immobility of a painter who places himself in front of the object and thus is subjected to the laws of an initial perspective that cannot be broken. Obsessed by the desire to inscribe the total image, he would endow the plastic work with a considerable degree of dynamism by making the painter turn [évoluer] round the object which was to be represented, then, using his instincts [tact] as the principle of measurement and organisation, he would inscribe it in the largest possible number of schemata [plans]. (5) To a truth that is purely objective he wants to add a new truth, born from what he knows through his intelligence. As he himself says: to space he will join duration.

(5) I've had difficulty knowing how to translate plan here. A dictionary definition of schemata as 'diagrammatic representation' seems to correspond to how I understand it.

An example:

In the plastic representation of a face, a portrait, Metzinger is convinced that by recording it on one and the same canvas first frontally then in profile - the two schemata put together with a great deal of sensibility, which thus becomes very important - the likeness can, to a quite considerable degree, be improved. It is obvious that to do this a rational component [une mesure] will be needed which will provide something held in common between the tradition of the masters and the efforts of our own time. In sum, he wants to develop the visual field by multiplying it so that it can be made consistent with the space of the canvas itself, and that is where the cube has a role to play, and that is the means Metzinger will use to re-establish the sense of balance that has been broken momentarily by this daring kind of inscription. 


The last Salon d'Automne enabled us to appreciate the whole technique, laid down and revealed to us in a straightforward manner.

His Femme Nue, represented from various angles, in a constant interplay with the area surrounding it, the forms very subtly enclosed one in the other, was more a masterly demonstration of the total image than an achievement that was purely pictorial in character.

Certain critics in the know (there are so many of them!), who judge works of art only by the things they contain that are marginal to them - literature, anecdotes, character etc - saw this more as a discovery in metaphysics than as a manifestation to do with art. Alembics, retorts, laboratories, intellectual masturbation - that was all that was written on the subject, and all in the most serious tone imaginable. But my God, isn't it all the same necessary to explain what people cannot understand; and irony and jokes, are they not the arguments most in favour among idiots? Where the only true explanation was that of an artist struggling with his temperament and with his will, they wanted to see something finished, a monument that was fully realised. And it is certain that to a very great degree of ignorance has to be added an all too obvious malicious intent.

The unquestionably disturbing appearance of the work, which is what let these incoherent judgments off their leash, which roused the indignation of the regular visitors to our salons, was caused uniquely by the relatively small importance given to naturalism - by which I mean a possibility too willingly excluded. (6) But Jean Metzinger had to show us, scientifically - which is to say by a conscious act of the will - what the result of his researches were; and the handful capable of reading was enough for him. Did Degas not like to say that a work of art is made for only three or four amateurs! We must not ask for more.

(6) au faible coefficient du naturalisme, j'entends de possibilité trop volontairement exclu. I am not sure if Gleizes means that the naturalism is a possibility that has been too willingly excluded or if he is saying that naturalism itself too willingly excludes other possibilities, ie obliges the artist to submit to the logic of copying the appearances of the external world.

Since then, the Salon des Indépendants, in the famous Room 41 - which, according to the real artists who support this movement such as Guillaume Apollinaire and Roger Allard, was the most important pictorial manifestation of recent times - has enabled us to follow Metzinger further in the cycle of his evolution. There, the 'Emperor of Cubism' - as he was baptised so wittily [spirituellement] by one of those irritated critics unable to sense possibilities for the future and, perhaps for that very reason, having caught the ear of a public reluctant to engage in intellectual efforts and satisfied with the commonplaces of the memory - there, the 'Emperor of Cubism' showed us new conquests won in the plastic realisation of his work. In the 'Landscape', in perfect equilibrium, and cleansed of everything extraneous and unnecessary, where the forms of the houses and the trees combined together with those of the fields and the sky to form a whole which is classical in the full meaning of this word, in which the use of a sober way of registering the objects transposed on the canvas enables us to read them easily, we could appreciate how important was the contribution we had received from this conscious effort of the will. In the 'Portrait of a Woman', which inspired that subtle and well-informed critic, the deputy public prosecutor Granié to say, rightly: 'Very eighteenth century, Metzinger's Woman's Head', the broken thread of our tradition could indeed - and perhaps here more than anywhere else - be found. Through the subtlety of the drawing, emphasised [rehaussée] with a delicate, wholly internal [intérieure] colour, with a very rare sensibility, by forms that might have appeared to be incompatible, face and profile recorded and juxtaposed with a perfect degree of tact, the whole infused with a certain preciosity which added moreover a charm to this canvas - all this it was possible quite sincerely to recognise and even to admire.

The little 'Still Life' was the only thing in all that he showed that could give the jackals of criticism, the grave robbers, anything to yelp about - though even here those gentlemen could easily, without upsetting the delicacy of their nervous system, have remarked the organisation [schéma] of the total image Metzinger had worked out: they would have understood his entire method without any great difficulty since it was laid out before them in a very lucid manner.

I say 'method', since it would be pointless trying to add to an inheritance that is already so rich by replacing yesterday's results with any sort of system; we must not see in this the mathematical application of a formula [poncif], which is something to be avoided but, on the contrary, a new and more expansive broadening out of our means. It is a plus and not a minus.

It is something added when our creative and perceptive faculties are increased, and we cannot allow that a whole past of efforts and achievements should vanish just in order to benefit a fashion, a gimmick to be exploited by the neurasthenics of the present age.

There is in all that a return to the great ages that is perfectly normal, for my own part I am quite sure of it. These researches may for the moment appear somewhat disconcerting - it is not yet possible for a discipline of this sort to draw a great crowd of adepts into its order; the uproar it has unleashed was to be foreseen, for how could anyone think that sniffer dogs [flaireurs] chasing after an easily recognisable formula could lightly abandon the confusion and license in which easy success can be found for a method that is tight and a product of the will, wholly internal, wholly constructive, wholly a synthesis, and merciless to any attempts at a hasty realisation.

Later on, once the principles have been found again, and once the methods of working are well established, it will be easy to appreciate the progress that has been made; the ability to look ahead is not given to everyone, so Metzinger and his friends know they must expect to sustain further struggles - and he perhaps more than the others, since he appears to me to be the one who wants to take the most risk - but always logically, with all the force of his intelligence, of his will, of his culture. He works a soil that is at once modern and traditional and which will yield harvests for our joy and for the joy of those who have been able to sense what they were worth.


Finally, I will end this study with a historical account that might help the reader to follow step by step the researches of an artist who is passionate and who has continued to search and explore, from beginnings that were often quite nebulous right up to the luminous achievements of tomorrow.

Already we are far removed from the time when Metzinger began his apprenticeship as a painter. On his arrival from Nantes, where he had found to direct his earliest battles [armes] an 'artist with an H-C [? - PB] medal', he was straightaway conquered in Paris by the work of Seurat; that was the direction in which he directed his researches, and the result was a series of canvasses which he showed at the Indépendants. For the record I will recall L'Ile (1906), La Bacchante (1908), Le Paon (1906), Les Flamands (1907), the Paysages du Midi (1907 and 1908). Then, tired of this rather facile orientation, and also feeling the need to re-establish contact with tradition, he abandoned the point to then see only surfaces and volumes; and also colour to use instead [pour lui opposer] nuance. That was the period of the Portrait de G.Apollinaire, of La Femme à genoux (1911) and finally, with a steadiness that is really admirable, we come to the logical development of his ideas and to the demonstrative absolute [absolu démonstratif] of his art: the Salon d'Automne (1910), the Indépendants (1911).

Metzinger deserves our admiration, seeing that, at the very moment when he could easily have exploited the formulae of pointillism (since that is where formulae and procedures are to be found) - with a little more form and conscious will than can be found in the creators of the system, always excepting Seurat - he had the energy to break free of the temptations, glory and sales which the half-temperaments are hardly able to resist, and to have wanted instead to make his contribution, rich in audacities and glimpses of the future, to that return to the French tradition whose pillars are grandeur, clarity, equilibrium, and intelligence.

I must refuse any notion that, in writing this study on an artist whose efforts are dear to me, I have wanted to indulge in literature. It is uniquely as a painter that I have wanted to speak of a painter, and I haven't paid much attention to the way my sentences are constructed; that is for those who believe in that sort of thing, but, as for me, all I have wanted to do is to express myself as clearly as I possibly could on a subject which I know very well.

Still, I hope you will forgive me if I finish with a quotation I have taken from Nietzsche's 'Zarathustra' and which seems to me to be admirably suited to the occasion:

'But this is the truth, the Good must be Pharisees, they have no choice.

'The Good have to crucify anyone who invents his own virtue, that is the truth.

'It is the creator they hate most of all, the one who breaks the tablets and the old values, the breaker, he is the one they call "criminal".

'For the Good cannot create, they are always the beginning of the end.

'They crucify the one who writes new values, for their own sake they make a sacrifice of the future.

'They crucify the whole future of men.

'The Good have always been the beginning of the end.' (7)

(7) Thus spake Zarathustra, Part III, 'Of old and new law-tables', 26.

And is that not why Metzinger, who brings us so many new values - and not only him but those who have similar aspirations - can hope for nothing other than furious resistance on the part of the Good, critics and artists, who, incapable of creation, maintain in a gentle state of somnolence, a state of self-satisfied blessedness, the Men they ought to be leading towards the Future? (8)

(8) The capitals are in the original.