Back to Form and History index
Back to Du "Cubisme" index


Albert Gleizes

'A propos du Salon d'Automne', Les Bandeaux d'Or, série 4, no.13, 1911-12

Les Bandeaux d'Or was a literary magazine founded by the poets Pierre Jean-Jouve, Paul Castiaux and Théo Varlet. Le Fauconnier made portraits of both Jouve and Castiaux and shared with Varlet a lively interest in the effects of hashish. 

At first sight it might seem difficult for a painter to speak of a Salon - considerations that are too personal, an obvious and unavoidable bias; but I think that if the newspaper critics, whose job it is uniquely to keep their public informed and guide them through the rooms of an exhibition, ought to manifest an impartiality that is equally obvious, the critics writing in the reviews, by contrast, can and should - since these are addressed to an elite - show the tendencies plainly and proclaim themselves to be for or against. That, then, is what I propose to do. 

The daily papers have all given us the complete guide to the Salon, room by room; their brilliant critics, with all the great wealth of their understanding - a little worn down, as is perfectly understandable, by the struggles of the past - have once again given voice to the usual flavourless jokes and commonplace observations. With the exception of a few writers who are full of faith, we can say of them, modifying a cliché: 'they were all beautiful ... under the Empire which was when they were able to understand and support the movement in art that was in the process of being born.'

The main aim of my own walk about the Salon d'Automne will be to identify the tendencies that are scattered apart, to bring the new, avant garde tendencies together into a group, to emphasise the real achievements [les aboutissements] and to say nothing whatever about the sub-so-and-so's [les Sous-Un-Tel] which, unfortunately, make up the rear guard.


This year's Salon d'Automne has quite certainly affirmed its capacity for life. I am persuaded that none of the other annual Salons could be as interesting. It is, at the present time, the most original and meaningful of all the manifestations of art. It corresponds to the age in a way that is truly admirable, and the intelligent visitor [promeneur] can find in it great sources of joy so long as his general level of culture puts him on his guard against the tares whose presence is inevitable in an exhibition of this sort.

The dominant note would seem to be a homage to Impressionism, but it is a homage without enthusiasm, almost without respect, a sort of weak [lâche] complacency cynically revealed through the plagiarising of those once glorious methods of working [procédés]. To the analytical form there was at the beginning there succeeds - more out of laziness than from any conscious intention [sa conscience] - a superficial synthesis stuck on the walls in those hasty sketches and those endless self-indulgences [sempiternelles déliquescences] which scream at the top of their voices the quality of their sensibility and feelings. An immense weariness emanates from the uniformly depressing emptiness of these productions which ought to be showing the intelligence of an art that has matured over a long period of time and been stripped of all the anecdotal foolishness which, in Courbet, Manet, Monet, Sisley and others among the earliest realists, was only a pretext.

Some temperaments, however, have, in the midst of all this anarchy, created an honourable place for themselves and are, albeit still insufficiently, established in their discipline. Among them, Charles Guérin (1) has, in some of his older canvasses, shown all the delicacy of his sensibility; but this great machine, which occupies pride of place in the first room, only emphasises the poverty of his plastic means; it adds nothing to his work, which has all the loveliness of a fairy tale. With Pierre Girieud, (2) in this Portrait of a Young Girl in which the volume is more affirmed [plus en volume], we are left regretting that imitation of past styles [archaïsme] that prevents the full realisation of his unquestionable gifts. To the work of all time as imagined by Girieud, I would oppose the work that belongs to an age whose roots go down solidly into the past and which is clearly directed towards what is in the process of developing [le devenir]. A conception that is more human, and more in line with the evolution of the races. Bonnard, in his three decorative panels, is sustained more by a real charm than by an act of will, which is the real starting point for any work. Matisse is cradled comfortably and with obvious satisfaction in the silvery echoes of a glory which, in the recent past, was quite deserved; he shows it in the two pieces of sample-work by which he is represented. I find myself almost liking Van Dongen with his Andalucia. Rouault is an admirable artist whose only connection with the Impressionists is a certain tendency to sketchiness [côté de notateur] which is of secondary importance in the study of his work but which appears here in several paintings. The solidity of his line [écriture], and the tragic character of his colour remind me of Daumier. Georges Desvallières, (3) in a panel designed for a library, shows his concern for composition, balance, logic, and I am happy to be able, despite the great differences there are between us, to recognise and admire the truly plastic coefficient, which is the really important thing. Puy (4) , Flandrin (5) , Vallotton (6) , Francis Jourdain (7) , Lombard (8), Diriks (9), Marinot (10), Ottman (11), Chabaud (12), Manguin (13), Valtat (14), Marquet (15), I mention them because it would be an injustice not to, but my own personal inclinations enable me to find in them only a very limited joy. Vlaminck, after those landscapes we admire, well-composed and firmly written down [écrit], should know that the time is come for a struggle with himself if he is to produce those fully realised [définitives] works we have a right to expect from him.

(1)  Charles Guérin (1875-1939), student of Gustave Moreau at l’École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. One of the founders of the Salon des Tuileries in 1923

(2)   Pierre Girieud (1876-1948) Painter from Marseilles. Based in Montmartre prior to the war, he frequented the Lapin Agile with Picasso. His painting was firmly in the line established by Gauguin. He became a dominant figure in the Salon d'Automne after the war.

(3)  Georges Desvallières (1861-1950), One of the founders of the Académie de la Palette and later co-founder in 1919 with Maurice Denis of the Ateliers d'Art Sacré.

(4 )  Jean Puy (1876-1960) One of the artists who, together with Matisse, was characterised as a fauve after showing at the 1905 Salon d'Automne.

(5)   Jules Flandrin (1871-1947). Studied with Moreau and associated with Marquet, Matisse and Rouault.

(6)   Félix Vallotton (1865-1925), associated with the Nabis, mainly known for his dramatic wood engravings.

(7)   Francis Jourdain (1876 - 1958). Son of the founder and first President of the Salon d'Automne Frantz Jourdain. Painter, etcher, designer and writer. Established Les Ateliers Modernes, specialising in furniture design, in 1911/12.

(8)   Alfred Lombard (1884-1973). Studied with Gustav Moreau and associated with the Fauves. Based, together with Pierre Girieud, in Marseilles.

(9)   Karl Edvard Diriks (1855-1930). Norwegian painter, friend of Edvard Munch. Lived in Paris from 1899 to 1921.

(10)   Maurice Marinot (1882-1960). Known at this time as a Fauve painter he eventually made a considerable reputation as a glass blower.

(11)   Henry Ottman (1877-1921) Rousseau et al.: Robert Delaunay, p.257, gives an incident in which Delaunay and Henry Ottman react sharply to an article by Apollinaire which appeared to suggest that Delaunay's formes circulaires  had been influenced by the Futurists and Ottman had been influenced by Delaunay.

(12)   Auguste Chabaud (1882-1955). Associated with the Fauves and, at the time Gleizes was writing, particularly known for his rather grotesque and tragic paintings of Paris night life, though he eventually settled as a landscape painter in Provence.

(13)   Henri Manguin (1874-1949), studied with Gustav  Moreau and was associated with the Fauves in 1905-6.

(14)   Louis Valtat (1869 - 1952) Associate of the Nabis, Paul Signac and Renoir.

(15)   Albert Marquet (1875-1947), friend of Matisse and associated with the Fauves in 1905-6. Mainly known for  views of the barges on the Seine in subdued colours.

Finally, so that I can associate them with these names, let me regret those who have refrained this year from showing - Grantzow, Dufy, B.Mahn, and their absence leads me to think also of the very important absence of Picasso, Braque, Derain, Delaunay, who bring me quite naturally to Room 8, where the true, original movement of this Salon is to be found. After the quick survey I have just done, I can affirm how good it is finally to stand in front of a generation which knows where it is going. Here, putting aside one or two leftovers of no importance, everything we have seen of Impressionism has been entirely removed; the general appearance of the room is a relief after the firework displays of colours seen elsewhere: it is the seduction of coloured greys, essentially French, the solemn richness [somptuosité] of a harmony that is new and entirely traditional. 

The tendencies of the painters who belong to this discipline were already revealed in Room 41 of the Salon des Indépendants, which is why, in this study, I particularly want to clarify the very distinct nuances by which they can be differentiated here.

First there are those who were, for whatever reason, called the Cubists - Jean Metzinger, Le Fauconnier, Fernand Léger.

Then, with concerns that were originally parallel [analogues], De la Fresnaye, Dunoyer de Segonzac, Luc-Albert Moreau.

Finally, thanks to certain affinities of race, Albert Lhote.

Wanting to determine as precisely as possible how these efforts are to be defined, I will look in other rooms for artists who should have appeared here - Marie Laurencin, Marchand, Othon Friesz - but have been sacrificed for reasons that remain mysterious.

The radical feeling of bewilderment of a frivolous [gouailleuse] press, stunned by the abrupt appearance of a whole movement that threatens to wreck the great Impressionist dream, has endowed this grouping with a considerable degree of vitality. In the combative pamphlets published against Cubism one can remark typically that no really direct attack has been expressed in words: many things have been talked about, from the childish simplicity [bon-garçonnisme] of these painters right up to the cut of their suits and the length of their hair but never anything touching their art itself. There has been no lack of the most ludicrous and facile jokes but as for trying to show, logically, where they have gone wrong or honestly refuting their conception, which is, after all, as respectable as that of the Impressionists and of the Pointillists to name but two - in front of the unquestionable effort that can clearly be seen in their canvasses and that distinguishes them from the rapidly scribbled sketches that swarm on either side of them - the ignorance of the ones jostles with the bad faith of the others.

I said above that in all honesty, faced with the canvasses of Léger and Metzinger, however hermetic they might be, the scrupulous observer cannot fail to be surprised by the sheer quality of the painting. In contrast to the orgy of sketches and preparatory notes [notations], we find here a finish, a craft that is even considerable. The deliberate decision to set the coefficient of realism aside, the photographic image [cliché] we are in the habit of expecting that does not, right from the outset, coincide with the painting - these are what have alienated those superficial minds who are only looking for satisfactions that are immediate.

Look at Fernand Léger's Essai pour trois portraits; even though much less savage [barbares] than he was at the Indépendants with his Nus dans le paysage, the absolute will to achieve his ends using uniquely plastic means gives his composition an appearance that is a little disturbing when we first encounter it. But the more one looks at this canvas, the more we enter into it, the more the subject [le motif] is deepened [se creuse], lives intensely, moved by a dynamism that is strange and real; the persons, the objects that surround them, related to each other constantly through a measure, a little too small for my liking, are admirably formed into volumes with a flexibility that has been elaborated with very great care [une souplesse laborieuse]. Léger's colour is highly personal, the tones of his landscapes [les paysages de tons] have been obtained patiently through half values, the quality of his blacks, the varieties of his whites, give a bloom [un veloûté] to his material that is very seductive.

The same remarks of a general order can be made about the paintings of Jean Metzinger; Le Goûter, which I prefer to the Paysage because it seems to me to be more fully realised, is easy enough to read, thus rendering all the childish references [rapprochements] that have been made to 'jigsaws' [puzzles] redundant. His leading method [technique directrice] may certainly be questioned but no-one can deny the importance these latest inscriptions [ses neuves inscriptions] could have on the evolution of modern paintings. And always the same correctness, the same poise, the same impression of grandeur and of calm [repos]. Through the complete suppression of the brushstroke he enters easily into our French tradition which has contributed only values of composition, the ordering of the picture, equilibrium established between the masses and the manner in which the forms are inscribed. With this painter it is intelligence that appears in the first instance, to the detriment of that sensibility about which our ears and our eyes have been filled to bursting for more or less half a century. It is a matter of contrast. That is what explains the apparent dryness, in relation to the flabbiness of the latest pictorial productions, which reveal a complete lack of any ability to affirm anything. From the ambient stuttering of those who have nothing to say we move on to the willed and stubborn eloquence of this reaction.

More human and less remote, the pictures exhibited by Henri Le Fauconnier ought to encounter less hostility. His Paysage lacustre and Le Village au bord du lac are works in which everyone can have confidence. He knows very well how to pretend not to be breaking too abruptly with yesterday's weaknesses [négligeances] while still making an important contribution to the concerns of the present day. I will again criticise Le Fauconnier for the rather slipshod aspect of his three paintings. This fine artist seems to be considerably inhibited by the material side of his work; he thinks more than he paints and I am quite sure that his construction could only gain if he supported it with those materials that form the very basis of a painter.

Through researches in form, a certain desire for construction, a sober use of colour, the artists who follow show some affinities with the Cubists.

With regard to De la Fresnaye, if the works we have here before our eyes seem less complete because more unsettled [inquiètes] than his Cuirassier, they are still much closer to realising a definite direction. They speak more violently of a concern that is less decorative but more practical, above all in the Still Life that occupies the chimney-piece in the dining room that can be admired in the work of André Mare in the decorative arts section.

In Dunoyer de Segonzac I would criticise the somewhat caricatured way his boxers have been set down. It displeases me because of certain exaggerations that have been introduced to an end that is more decorative than plastic. The grey colour, though very seductive, lacks variety because it is much too rapidly divided up into flat surfaces over large areas of the canvas [en aplats de grands plans]. I have to admit that I regret the nudes he showed at the Indépendants, which were very much superior. His drawings of Isadora Duncan show us all the quality of observation he possesses; but he should be wary of his great facility. It serves him well in those strange [curieuses] sketches, and on a small scale, but it does not support enlargement with a view to a full scale painting. That is perhaps what is wrong with the canvas that is shown here, of a realism that is wildly exaggerated [exaspéré]. As for Luc-Albert Moreau, the almost offputting [antipathique] severity of his colour gives him much more in common with the movement I am discussing than his discoveries in the area of form. His naked woman, sad and without grace [profane] is all the same better than the landscape even though this latter is solidly established, but not very well balanced.

Marie Laurencin, represented in the Salon d'Automne by a Still Life which adorns the chimney piece in a study in André Mare's house (Decorative Arts), shows all the delicacy that is enclosed in the feminine soul as well as an intelligence that is rare and a plastic restlessness that, among women, she alone possesses. This basket, these flowers, that fan in this composition dominated by a vibrant technique [écriture] must seduce even those who, reluctant to make any effort, are looking first and foremost to be charmed. The elegant chimney on which this delicate and deliberate panel has been placed is one of the purest things in this section.

André Lhote,  who has been associated with Friesz  and Dufy because of the three artists' common origins, is wasting a very fine temperament on researches into the past. The images d'Epinal can only interest us nowadays through the delightful naivete of the artists who engraved the blocks; but what use is it in our own time to repeat in painting what was only an accidental characteristic of wood engraving? Parts of his Port de Bordeaux show that Lhote is quite able to compose his paintings and establish an equilibrium without tearing them into pieces, dividing them into fragments.

Marchand  reveals real qualities in his 'Suzanne taking a bath' on which I would make the same criticism as on Lhote's canvas and on the Calanque by Othon Friesz: plenty of talent devoted to original and very intelligent efforts at reconstitution; but this is something on which they should not spend very much more of their time.

There, sketched out as rapidly as possible, are the tendencies offered this year at the Salon d'Automne. Georges Desvallières can be happy to know that it is through him that they were granted the hospitality of the Grand Palais since, although there was opposition from a hostile press, his word was enough to carry the votes that were disputed between them.

As well as these new initiatives, the Salon d'Automne every year adds some retrospective exhibitions. These included in the past those of Gauguin, Cézanne, Greco, Courbet etc; today it is the engravings of Pissarro and the retrospective [anthume] exhibition of Henry de Groux. (16)

(16)   Henry de Groux (1867-1930), Belgian painter, sculptor and lithographer. Fantasy artist with a taste for large melodramatic subjects.

Pissarro's engravings, which have already been shown a few years ago by Durand-Ruel, add nothing to the glory of the great Impressionist. Certainly these taut [nerveux], needlepoint [a la pointe] sketches show how wideranging his talent was, but I would have preferred to see some of his fine canvasses which would have assured him the position in the first rank which is his by right and which seems to have been denied him for the benefit of Claude Monet.

Henry de Groux has worked heroically for the crowning moment of his career: his work, although it has lasting value [quoique durable] is far too cerebral and above all literary for me to want to go into it in detail. The plastic, which ought to be predominant, clearly gives way to the need to be evocative. Wagner, Caesar, Napoleon and Jesus, for the most part, have haunted him to the detriment of the more straightforwardly pictorial qualities which he possessed.

His sculpture is more sympathetic to me because it is less verbal. His Tolstoy, Napoleon, David and some others are truly sculptures first and foremost. 

The heaviness of his compositions in which what has been sought has been, first and foremost, the affirmation of character, and the discourse [bavardage] of a very cultured mind have destroyed, as I said before, the fine qualities of a painter; these are such as could be proposed as an example [sont d'un exemple-type] when the Cubists are reproached with being too uniquely intellectual.

Intelligence, yes; literature, no. Intelligence can put some order into the values that predominate in a particular temperament; in this case, it can direct then towards what properly belongs to painting and enable the avoidance of dangerous excursions into other realms - philosophical, literary etc.

To sum up: what was shown this year in the Salon d'Automne will count in the history of painting. Rarely has such a degree of opposition been organised against any manifestation of new birth in the plastic arts [les naissances plastiques]; rarely have we seen the whole press rise up as one in opposition to an intellectual movement. This is a very good sign for the innovators I have mentioned, and those who are yelping as part of the pack today will be swinging incense tomorrow.