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Maurice Princet

Preface to the catalogue of an exhibition - Les peintres R.Delaunay, Marie Laurencin - held in the galerie Barbazanges, 28th Feb-13th March, 1912

All artists have talent, few are ignorant of the fact, many are satisfied with this statement of the obvious. It is out of this perpetual self contentedness that so many charming and nondescript works are born. What is important is that the mind should establish its dominion over talent and make use of it as of an obliging auxiliary. Nonchalance, when it is engendered by the certainty of pleasing, may be very delightful but it does not lead any the less rapidly to a poverty of means and uniformity of results.

Robert Delaunay, from the very start, has understood this necessity of gathering the gifts nature has passed on to him into an equation that will be complete. He begins by pleasing and charming, but is not yet satisfied with this initial success. He wants to establish control over his grace, to offer it to those who truly love art, an art that will be solid and reasonable in its appearances.

To a vibrant temperament, to qualities of life and exuberance that are truly French, he joins the most rigorous research into the means of his art. The craft that has been so badly neglected, as much by the representatives of tradition as by the revolutionary independents, seems to him to be the real work of an artist. Our sensations are born in spite of ourselves, it is not the surrounding world nor the climate that develops them, they are almost consequences of our personality. Trying to provoke them artificially is a vain preoccupation. They must be organised in our mind systematically [il faut les systématiser], stripped of the fog that surrounds them and shown clearly and logically to those who come to admire them.

But, some will say, he is a painter-thinker [peintre raisonneur], one of the too great number of those who forget their art to lose themselves in systems, waste their energies [se dépenser] in learned theories while the canvas is left abandoned on its easel.

No. If Delaunay discusses, argues, compares, deduces, it is always with his palette in his hand. His reasonings are not the delicious acrobatics of a series of ingenious paradoxes; his reflections do not lead him either to mathematical formulae nor to the mystical symbols of the Kabbalah; they orient him simply and naturally towards the pictorial realities: colours and lines. He expresses himself with masses, values. His old works are defended by his new works, which serve to explain them.

We learn to love in his work the tranquil continuity of an effort that is, at every moment, palpable. Already in his earliest works we can see the undeniable painterly quality that will later be affirmed, the same natural gifts are there in such and such a landscape or portrait from another time. In them we feel that love of life that owes nothing to any education out of books but which, in him, is vibrant and spontaneous. He delivers himself up, giving himself completely to the joy of painting, to the victorious effort that gains mastery over the sensation of the moment to fix it and to reveal it. But, little by little, this effort becomes more intense [tendu], the part assigned to the unconscious more and more restrained.

One of the first members of that young school that took the idiots so much by surprise and provoked so much sarcasm and anger, he has been able to derive artistic results from conceptions that were purely theoretical and, for the most part, foreign to painting. (1) His clear good sense prevents him from pushing to extremes the logical - too logical - consequences of minds more drawn to the charms of causing astonishment than willing to produce. As little a writer as he is a mathematician, he intends to remain a painter.

(1) This may be read in conjunction with Princet's dismissive remark on 'the Cubists' in his letter to Delaunay quoted in the Introduction. It seems to me to refer to the theoretical concerns of Metzinger which Delaunay, as Metzinger's friend, may well have shared. 

Of this his latest sketches and his landscapes provide the eloquent proof. His sensibility has not - as some might have feared - been destroyed by his researches in the technical domain. It has, on the contrary, been purified, refined, enlarged without losing anything of its initial freshness.

Passionately taken with modernity - yet not professing with regard to the Louvre and the museums the subversive opinions of the Futurists - he has for a long time chosen the Eiffel Tower as the subject of his studies; his instinct told him, independently of any intellectual reflection [raisonnement] that that was where the explanation of our architectural future could be found.

This mass of steel at first sight seems formless and ridiculous, born by chance from the childish fantasy of an engineer who knows nothing of the harmony of things. Only a few years ago, one night in Montmartre, a young poet pointed to it with the gesture of a market trader crying 'My latest toy, the latest invention of the year.' (2)

(2) This remark is defended in an article in Paris Journal (6/3/1912) by André Salmon, which rather suggests that he might have been the young poet in question (Rousseau et al: Robert Delaunay, 1906-1914, p.243)

But despite appearances, the Eiffel Tower is not after all a childish or ridiculous plaything. We concede that it is planted there with nothing to justify it and that initially its lack of harmony is disappointing. But we must look at it more attentively. The grace of its curves, the strange smoothness of its lines, gives it a real beauty.

This is nothing more than the necessary consequence of algebraic formulae, of abstract calculations on the resistances of materials. It is to abstractions of this sort that we owe also that marvel of grace, supple and solid, the Pont Alexandre.

Moreover this can surprise only those who know nothing of architecture which has always been the material realisation of the mathematical researches of the age.

Without knowing anything of such things, Delaunay has been able to derive them out of what he is able to read in lines, forms and colours; his choice has been dictated by a happy intuition.

It is not our business to search out what there is in him that should be admired. Each eye and each vision will adapt [modifient] the quality of the sensations that they receive. We have wanted simply to indicate the effort he has undertaken; it is up to sincere minds to say whether or not this effort has been useful.