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Jean Metzinger

'Note sur la peinture', Pan, no. 10, Oct-Nov 1910

Pan appeared between 1909 and 1911. Among its contributors we may note, from the circle of the Abbaye de Créteil, Georges Duhamel (Aug-Sept, 1910), Charles Vildrac (Sept-Oct, 1910), Luc Durtain (Nov-Dec, 1910) and Roger Allard  (Dec 1910-Jan 1911). Metzinger's article is followed by a poem by Mercereau. The same issue also features a piece by Max Jacob. 

Is there a work among the most modern in painting or in sculpture that does not, secretly, submit to the rhythm of the Greeks?

Nothing, from the primitives to Cézanne, has been able to break away definitively from the chain of variations that connects us to the hellenic theme. These days I see yesterday's rebels prostrating themselves unthinkingly in front of the bas-relief in Eleusis. Goths, Romantics, Impressionists, the old measure has triumphed over your admirable departures from rhythm [arythmés]; but your labour was not in vain. It has established in us the presence of another rhythm.

The Greeks invented the human form for us; it is up to us to invent it again for others.

This is not a matter of a 'partial' movement that has to do with known liberties, liberties of interpretation, of transposition etc. These are half measures! What we need is a total emancipation.

And already courageous souls conscious of what they are doing are being awoken, real painters: Picasso, Braque, Delaunay, Le Fauconnier. Painters, and nothing other than painters, it isn't their business to cast light on invisible realities [ils n'enluminent pas les noumènes] after the manner of the all too brightly lit 'neo-primitives' - they do not believe in the stability of any system, even if it calls itself classical art; at the same time, they recognise in the newest of their creations the victory of ambitions [volontés] that are centuries old. Their reason establishes an equilibrium between the pursuit of what is fleeting and the passion for the eternal. If they condemn the deeply irritating absurdity of the theorists of 'feeling', they are careful not to draw painting into the speculations of an approach that is purely decorative. When, with a view to undoing all the little tricks that optics play on us they, momentarily, assume command of [dominer] the external world, their minds are not taken over by any Hegelian superstition.

It is useless to paint anywhere where it is possible to describe.

Having gained strength through a work of reflection, Pablo Picasso gives us the possibility of glimpsing the very face of painting.

Refusing every ornamental, anecdotic, symbolic aim, he realises a purity in painting that has never previously been known. I know of no painted works of the past that belong so completely as his to painting.

Picasso does not deny the object, he illuminates it with his intelligence and with his sensibility. To perceptions that are visual, he adds perceptions that are tactile. He undergoes an experience, he comes to an understanding of it, he organises it. The painting that results will be neither a transposition nor a schematic representation. In it we will contemplate the equivalent, made accessible to the senses and brought to life, of an idea - the total image. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis: the old formula undergoes a radical re-ordering in the inversion of its first two terms: Picasso shows he is a realist. Cézanne showed us how forms live in the reality of light; Picasso brings us a material account of their real life as it is lived in the mind; he lays the basis for a free, mobile perspective out of which the judicious mathematician Maurice Princet has deduced a whole geometry.

Nuances are of no effect when they find themselves in the presence of strong, passionate construction. Picasso has contempt for the often very coarse game of those who claim to be colourists. He reduces the seven colours down to white, to the primal unity.

Rejection of the heavy heritage of the dogmas, displacement of the poles by which habits are structured, a lyrical refusal of axioms; artfully combining the successive and the simultaneous, Georges Braque has a good knowledge of the great natural laws that render liberties of this sort possible.

Whether he paints a face or a piece of fruit, the total image shines forth in time [la durée]; the painting is no longer a dead fragment of space. Out of the struggle of the different masses for domination, an overall, physiological, volume is born. As an accompaniment that is fluid and flexible, this wonderful dynamism is made possible through a use of colour that is faithful to the dual principle that cannot be escaped - that of the cold tone and the warm tone.

In his work of joyfully fashioning new plastic signs, Braque never makes an error of taste. We are not at all bemused by the word 'new'. I can, without in any way disparaging this painter's innovatory daring, compare him to painters like Chardin, or Lancret and show how the tough minded grace of his art is related to the genius of our race.

I remember that 'Manège' (1) executed three years ago by Robert Delaunay. This canvas brings together all the violence [paroxysmes] of an age that has been both spectacular and chaotic. In it I could see elements of a logic that is still unknown. Following this logic, Delaunay has been developing his recent ideas beyond all artistic preconceptions. It pleases him, for example, to show the Eiffel Tower. The tower comes alive in a state of dizziness with the thousand ideas he has about it and on the canvas another tower appears, with unexpected, ever variable, beautiful proportions. Delaunay is intuitive but what he calls intuition is the sudden bursting into flame of all the chains of reasoning that have been accumulating day by day. He paints in the way that whole peoples build.

(1) Manège de Cochons, 1906. The painting was destroyed though a fragment has been discovered recently on the back of one of the Fenêtre series (Rousseau et al: Delaunay, pp.96-7)

His art is surprising but is not alarming [n'inquiète pas].

What is surprising and what is alarming - Le Fauconnier is particularly good at showing how different they are. The surprising indicates the feeling that accompanies an effort that remains for ever unfinished, it contains within itself the idea of revelation; the alarming implies a wilfully false understanding of the past.

Le Fauconnier situates his idea, which is particularly inaccessible to those who cannot stop talking about order and style, in a vast equilibrium of numbers. Making use of the riches of both the intelligence and the senses without preferring one to the other, he is able to put up with 'a certain coefficient of naturalism' - just what is needed to satisfy the requirements of a normal sensibility without throwing the mind into darkness. He does not allow charm to stumble into the space that is reserved for force, that one of the terms of the generous formulation he has adopted should draw attention to itself at the expense of the others. There is a precise link binding the constituent parts of the painting together into blocks that cannot in any way be altered. Le Fauconnier reaches the highest level of evocative power - solemn magnificence [la grandeur] is the mode of beauty he has chosen.

Independently of the deformations of the ignorant, or of stylisations that are frigid, form - which has for too many centuries been treated simply as the inanimate support for colour - is once again recovering its rights to life, to instability. To find in the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Chinese, what we need to respond to our modern desires, that is certainly a great admission of impotence! But if we abandon the ancient world to the archaeologist, old coins to the numismatist, and do not admit to the title of 'beauty' things whose prestige, dubious and indirect as it is, is perhaps drawn solely from the fact that are ancient - that does not mean, I repeat, that we pretend to want to have nothing to do with tradition. Tradition is in us, it is an acquisition of the subconscious, we don't have to think about it. We should stop for a moment before the Masters, listen to what they have to say ... and pass on. The flames of the Single Fire as they flare up progressively follow one upon the other too rapidly for us to take the time to admire them. Quickly, today's error becomes a truth, more complete than the truth of the past, and it quickly becomes an error again, to give birth to a truth that is richer still.

Aphrodite, the Venus we find in the museums, the archetype of the perfection of form, does not crystallise the Absolute any more than do the figurines of Oceania, Christian demons, the landscapes of Hiroshige Matonaga. Only the idleness of eroticism gives her any pretensions to eternity [seule la paresse des érotismes fit son éternité]. A sign that has sprung from the alphabet of a dead language, the marble goddess has become an abstract goddess; I hope she will go off and assume her proper place somewhere very far away from us in some Platonist hierarchy.

There was a time when one said of a woman: she is one of the infantas of Velasquez! Now we say: she is a blonde by Renoir! I have no doubt that tomorrow people will be saying: she is exuberant like a Delaunay, noble like a Le Fauconnier, lovely like a Braque or, simply, like a Picasso.

September 1910