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Albert Gleizes

'Le Cubisme et la tradition', Montjoie! no.1, 10th February, 1913

Albert Gleizes: La Cathédrale de Chartres, 1912
Oil on canvas, 72.5 x 60 cm

Sprengel Museum, Hanover

Montjoie! was founded by the Italian writer Ricciotto Canudo as an 'organ of French artistic imperialism.' The introductory editorial announces the intention to 'tie our desires [volontés] for renaissance into a bundle [faisceau] of readers, sign of strength and of menace in front of the new Barbarians who dominate the modern world.' Although Gleizes' Le Cubisme et la tradition appears in the first issue, carrying over into the second, he is not subsequently very prominent as a contributor. A drawing is reproduced in issue no.4 and there is the Opinion (see below) given in no.11-12. Montjoie! does not on the whole seem to have been very obviously orientated towards the circle of the Abbaye de Créteil. Other contributors include Apollinaire (no.3, 14th March 1913 - an enthusiastic review of the 1913 Salon des Indépendants in which he chiefly celebrates Delaunay - Simulataneism and Orphism), Léger (no.8, 7th May 1913: Les Origines de la peinture et sa valeur représentative) and André Salmon (review of the Salons, 11-12, Nov-Dec 1913 and second year, no.3, March 1914, in which he says, rather cheekily for a journal which, Antliff assures us, was a temple of Bergsonism: 'I do not know what deeply down to earth [terrestre] gift, an animal vigour - let us not be afraid of words - has saved Albert Gleizes from excessive speculations, from a sort of bergsonian Cubism which once threatened us but is no longer a danger'). Le Cubisme et la tradition was republished in Gleizes: Tradition et Cubisme (1927), and it is this version I have used for my translation.

If we are to believe most of the critics, there is a state of flagrant anarchy emerging out of the different currents into which, as they believe, French painting is being drawn. But the very same people who are annoyed by the most audacious researches become hardly less apoplectic when it comes to those paintings that enjoy an official blessing. Routine or audacity are equally a matter for concern and their anger only quietens down to give way to the most sanctimonious pleasure before the productions of capable and cunning champions of peace and compromise. One, whose candour and authority are generally admitted, assures us that it is not possible to admire both Claude Lorrain and the Impressionists; another that it would be a disgrace for the masterpieces held by the Louvre if Cézanne were to be put beside them, so repeating today what was said yesterday about Manet. Assertions that are perfectly gratuitous, that do not go beyond the limited field of personal opinion but which, nonetheless, constitute proof of an absolute lack of ability to see clearly what is important in the history of our painting, as well as the irrational way in which they bestow their admiration explains their utter inability to co-ordinate what was in the past with what is in the present. We, by contrast, consider that the works of those artists of today who are most conscious of their intentions proceed from the springs of our national tradition. So it is important to know throughout the centuries that are gone which are the painters who belonged to that tradition, which of them knew how to render the generalities of the race and their time, and to free themselves from the frivolous accidents of fashion.

In the whole history of art, the influence that had the most disastrous effect, owing to the unfortunate direction it imposed, was, without any doubt, the officially sanctioned invasion that goes under the name of the Renaissance of the sixteenth century.

We ought to have weighed up the difference between, on the one hand, the colossal and so very original artistic heritage we possessed at that time and, on the other, this Italian art that was so far removed from our original aspirations, so utterly immersed in Greek antiquity and in lightheartedness; but, instead, into the vigorous stock that had produced the roses of our cathedrals - we agreed to graft the branch of Latin culture, whose capacities were already exhausted but whose leaves, sprouting everywhere, would inhibit the flowering of the original stem.

Had we not in any case, already, almost two centuries previously, had our own Renaissance - more profitable, and more in harmony with the hopes of our race, more beautiful and better in its time? And who would question the resurgence of sap, of abundance [luxe], of magnificence, of that love of truth that is so evident in the arts of the age in Paris, at Bruges, at Dijon, on the artistic directions of the Flemish as well as of the Italians? From the beginning of the thirteenth century onwards, France was the heart [noyau] of all the manifestations of the human spirit; and if the One Hundred Years War put a temporary halt to this wonderful burgeoning [essor], as soon as the storm had passed it all burst into flower anew. In Burgundy, Jean Malouel, (1) in the Bourbon country [Bourbonnais] the Maître de Moulins; (2) in Avignon, Nicholas Froment (3) are the chief examples and, with our most glorious ancestor, Jehan Fouquet, (4) it is the triumph of our national genius, so sober and so moving in the relations between the natural and the human.

(1)   Jean Malouel, active 1396-1415, a painter who worked for the Duke of Burgundy but came from Nijmegen in the Netherlands. Very little attributed to him with certainty.

(2)   Maître de Moulins, active 1483-1500, painted a triptych, c1498 in Moulins cathedral.

(3)   Nicholas Froment, active 1450-1490, known for the Altar of the Burning Bush, in the cathedral in Aix en Provence, 1476.

(4)   Jehan Fouquet, c1420-c1481, painter and illuminator

But the irreparable was about to occur. The one who had done so much to establish the hegemony of French art would also be the instrument of its ruin. The death of René d'Anjou was, in fact, the unexpected starting point [signal] for the Renaissance, since its deep causes are to be found in the Italian wars: (5) the official arrival in Paris of the Rosso (6) and of the Primatice (7) with their sparkling verve, their consummate virtuosity, their conventional flashiness, indicates clearly the direction the master of the moment (8) wished to impose on our destiny. And so we have the most uncompromising enthusiasm for everything that came from beyond the Alps; the aristocracy was immersed in an obsession for all that was pedantic or artificial, it addled their brains [bouleverse les cervelles] and became the policy of state. Many painters are still unknown because of this drunken craze for Italianate taste which our knights brought back with them in their saddle bags from the campaigns on the other side of the Alps; many painters who were too much enamoured of their own part of the world, too sincere to renounce their faith, too respectful of the inheritance of their ancestors, would be ignored because they did not accept the yoke of this art whose highest glory would take the form of triumphal marches and which, in the loud blare of trumpets and the fluttering of many flags, would enter France as a condottiere. (9)

(5)   The Italian wars, fought by the French Kings for possession of Naples and Milan, lasted from 1494 to 1559. They began with the attempt of Charles VIII (r1483-1498) to make good the title of King of Naples that had been bequeathed to the Kings of France by René d'Anjou (d1480), ruler of Provence and well known as a patron of the arts. The wars continued under Charles VIII's successors, Louis XII (r1498-1515), François I (r1515-1547) and, unsuccessfully, Henri II (r1547-1559). They ended with the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis, which established a longlasting Spanish domination of the area.

(6)   Giovanni Battista di Iacopo de Rossi (Le Rosso), 1494-1540. Installed by François I in Fontainebleu.

(7)   Francesco Primaticcio, 1505-1570. Worked in Fontainebleu for François I.

(8)   François I, if it does not refer simply to the spirit of the age.

(9)   Term given to leaders of mercenary bands who fought for the Italian rulers.

Certainly, between Cimabue and Raphael a cycle had been achieved that was perfect; but that was no reason - above all not at the precise moment when the imitators of this painting were showing only that it had fallen into decadence - to put upon it all the hopes of our race. Just as the influence of our 'stone cutters' ['tailleurs de pierre'] of the twelfth century had, in the event, been negative in Italy, equally the influence of Raphael, Michelangelo and Leonardo would be negative in France in the sixteenth century. That was so much the case that, a century later, with one of the greatest of painters, who never escaped from this formidable imposition, Nicholas Poussin, (10) we find ourselves having to regret it in everything he did, following on from Raphael and da Vinci, passing by Le Dominiquin; (11) it was his limitless admiration for this sumptuous past that led him all his life to seek after the title of Italian painter and we are forced in truth to agree that he belongs much more to this period of moral collapse [débandade] than to the true line of succession to which we wish to attach ourselves today.

(10)  Nicholas Poussin (1594-1641). Most of his work was done in Rome.

(11)  Domenico Zampiero, called Domenichino (1581-1641). Major works in Rome and Naples. Poussin, soon after his arrival in Rome, worked in his studio.

The damage had been done. The battle to expel the intruders who had been made fashionable by the court would be long and rough; but the destiny of a nation cannot be stopped, and the sturdy and true descendants of the old image makers would, eventually, win over the cosmopolitan, stilted, artificial favourites whom events had tried to raise up against them. The courtiers bowed before the will of the King, but at the same time we see the ancestral truth appearing again with the Clouets, (12) showing the way to anyone whose faith and courage would be sufficient.

(12)  Jean, or Janet Clouet (c1475-c1541) and his son François (c1520-1572). Jean was chief court painter to François 1, François to Henri II, François II and Charles IX.

François Clouet was able to remain French in spirit throughout all his work, he expressed himself using uniquely the means of a painter. If he was not much interested in chiaroscuro [s'il ne se soucie pas du clair-obscur], if he painted faithfully what was revealed by his eye, his prudence protected him against the bad taste of the time and he was in no danger of falling into a poor quality imitation of the Italians; he is able to engage our interest through the plastic values he finds in his models and in the deep and faithful study he makes of his faces and objects. He avoids the childish psychology which is so much in favour. Joséphin Péladan, (13) whose great talent as a writer I admire, will forgive me if I smile thinking that he reproaches Clouet's portrait of François II because it does not reveal that King's love for Mary Stuart. Criticisms of that sort when we are talking about the plastic arts do not need any further discussion; but it is the failing of nearly all writers on art who hold forth on the subject of painting to see it from the same angles as if it was a work of literature, measuring the one according to the standards they apply habitually to the other. It would never occur to us painters to crush Jehan Clouet's François I under the weight of literature which the Sâr discovers in the François I of Titian. Jehan and François Clouet had the wisdom not to let themselves be touched by transalpine rhetoric and they have preserved, in the midst of these ambiguous times, the freshness and natural character of our origins.

(13) Joséphin Péladan (1858-1918), founder, or he would claim renewer, of the Rosicrucian Order, also organised the Salon de la Rose+Croix in the 1890s, popular among painters of a mystical tendency (they included the great Odilon Redon. Erik Satie wrote music for the order's ritual). As leader of the Rosicrucian movement he claimed the title 'Sâr'.

A century after Clouet, Philippe de Champaigne (14) in his turn reacts with all his strength against the Renaissance. The art of the Clouets matures; it is not touched by redundancies, unmistakable echoes of other peoples works [reminiscences peu douteuses], fussiness [mièvrerie]; the austerity, truth and unity of this painting stands out strongly and obliges us to consider Champaigne as the one who worked the field that had been won again and who, in opposition to the time he was living in, renewed the tenuous thread of the pure tradition.

(14)   Philippe de Champaigne (1602-74). Worked for Marie de Medici, Louis XIII and the Cardinal de Richelieu but eventually developed a very simple and austere style of painting under the influence of Jansenism.

Although the appearance in his compositions [l'apparence dans ses compositions], a certain neo-Greek quality in his architecture, could give rise to certain doubts, Claude Gellée, called the Lorrain, (15) belongs to us profoundly. He can rightly be seen as the first to feel the play of lights, the fluidity of atmosphere in his landscapes; whose descendants (at the risk of once again incurring the displeasure of Mr Péladan), the Masters of Barbizon and the great Impressionists throughout the nineteenth century, would develop remarkably what his genius enabled him to see but his age prevented him from developing further. His Fête Villageois prefigures Corot, his Gué, Théodore Rousseau, his Ports, Monet. Lorrain shows hardly any external signs of the time he spent in Italy and if his eye sometimes preserves some of its sights, he is protected by his intelligence sufficiently to ensure that the work contains nothing more. With him, for French painting, it is the age of the landscape that begins.

(15)   Claude Gellée or le Lorrain (1600-82). Most of his work was done while living in Rome.

While Jean Boulogne (16) continues laboriously in the line of Caravaggio, we have to proclaim aloud the importance of painters who are a little too neglected to my liking, if not completely unknown - the Le Nain brothers (17) - who courageously initiate a popular art, out of which will emerge all the audacities of the realist movement; with them, we begin to sense that the beauty of a painting does not at all lie in the choice of the subject, and that the most modest representations even of commonplace themes can provide the occasion for very fine paintings. This impulse, briefly brought to a halt by the mannerism, the pedantry and preciosity that we still find exasperating in the painters of the eighteenth century, once again finds an admirable champion in J.B.S.Chardin. (18) Chardin in turn shows himself to be scornful of the subject so much prized by his contemporaries, in whom it is gossip, style, the grace of a pithy anecdote, the attempt through an expression to render character, that seduce the spectator much more, even in Watteau, than they touch him simply through the quality that belongs properly to painting: this is the swansong of all the influences of the sixteenth century, as much in France as it is Italy, the country of origin, with Tiepolo. Only Chardin remains in his canvasses rich in possible lines of development for those who would come after him. Then, faced with the collapse of so many aborted illusions, two men of great talent appear and try to once again raise the ancient idealist edifice. David and Ingres envisage nothing less than to rise as close as possible to the coping stone, to Raphael. It doesn't last long, this great effort; the descendants of these two masters are the pupils of Cabanel;(19) while the glory of Chardin, the embodiment of a whole race full of sap, shines with the greatest brightness in Géricault (20) and Delacroix. To frozen poses succeeds a dynamism which is still latent in the drawing and the colour but spirited and lyrical, and the Chasseur de la Garde clearly prefigures the Entrée des Croisés à Constantinople. (21)

(16)   "Moïse" Jean Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632). Most of his career was spent in Rome where he continued using the dramatic chiaroscuro effects associated with Caravaggio after they had fallen out of fashion among the Italians.

(17)   Antoine (c1600/10-48), Louis (c1600/10-48) and Mathieu (c1600/10-77) Le Nain, born in Laon and working in Paris by 1629. Their pictures were signed Le Nain and the exact attribution to one or the other among them is often uncertain. They were best known for highly realistic and sober pictures of peasant life.

(18)   Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin (1699-1779)

(19)   Alexandre Cabanel (1823-89), pupil of Ingres. Gleizes' uncle, the painter Léon Comerre, was a pupil of Cabanel's.

(20)  Theodore Géricault (1791-1824). His Chasseur de la Garde was his debut painting, exhibited in the Salon of 1812.

(21)   by Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863)

From that time onwards, the movement gathers speed; two parallel paths open up; on the one hand Lorrain's lesson is understood and it is the great exodus towards nature. The Ile de France provides the painters with almost everything they need. If a special place must be assigned to Georges Michel for his role as precursor, Théodore Rousseau, Millet, Decamps, J.Dupré, Corot (22) carry the art of the landscape to great heights, soon to be followed by the Impressionists who finally rid it of its romantic heaviness. On the other hand, after Delacroix, it is Courbet and Manet who, in great compositions, clarify [précisent] the realism of Le Nain; finally it is Renoir who gives it a spiritual quality [le spiritualise] by using, to realise his figures, spoils [trophées] won from the colours of Impressionism.

(22)   Barbizon School: Georges Michel (1763-1843);  Théodore Rousseau (1812-67); Jean-François Millet (1814-75); Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps (1803-60); Jules Dupré (1811-89); Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875). 'Plein-air' landscape painters. Rousseau, Millet and Dupré were part of the 'Barbizon school' who took the Forest of Fontainebleu in the Ile de France as their subject matter. Decamps is best known for scenes set in North African landscapes but towards the end of his life he became friends with Dupré and joined him in Fontainebleu.

French art has finally come back into its own after struggles that have lasted three centuries. Thanks to those isolated sharpshooters [franc-tireurs] who stood up against the invaders, the evil influence of the Renaissance has now, once and for all, been defeated. Only a handful, who understood Ingres' lesson very badly, continue to show us more or less Roman style Junos, Mars, Minervas who appear fully clothed out of the property room [sortis tout armés du magasin d'accessoires]. But that is no longer where the danger is to be found. There are, however, still some dangers in Impressionism with all that it has discovered that is great, exclusively to do with the palette. Blinded by the discoveries in the realm of light, painters have forgotten about architecture, but while they were enthusing about the relations between the tones, a very great painter understood how weak these recent discoveries were and he tried to bring together, to create an equilibrium between, the two elements in every painted work that cannot be separated - drawing and colour. To the still superficial realism of Courbet, Paul Cézanne brought new ideas, he foresaw that the study of elementary [primordiaux] volumes would open unheard of possibilities, he felt in advance that plastic dynamism had nothing to do with the movement that animates our streets, our machines, our factories, he created a great opening towards the future, and the rising generation has found new ground ready to be cleared for cultivation.

Since, in Du "Cubisme", with my friend Jean Metzinger, I have already studied the different reasons that lie behind the painting of the present time at length, I won't dwell on it here. I will just say quickly that painters today only consider the object through its relations with the totality of things and, in itself, in relation to the totality of the appearances it can present. As they are perfectly well aware that a form that is more strongly emphasised will dominate those less so, plastic dynamism will emerge from the rhythmic relations of one object to another, or even the different appearances presented by one particular object, juxtaposed - and not superposed as some would like us to believe - with all the sensibility and taste of the painter, for whom those are the only rules. Finally, in Cubism (an incomplete epithet), it isn't a matter of inscribing the volume of a body geometrically, which is to say - I insist on this because again there are plenty who want to claim that this is the case - by closing the form in a geometrical figure such as beginners are taught in the academies, but to establish new plastic connections between the purely objective elements out of which the painting is composed. If the painter's art consists in investing with a radiant reality so many of the possibilities that are hidden in the objects that surround us, the Cubists do not think they are failing in their duty if they devote themselves to discovering these qualities with enthusiasm.

Nowadays, when our old Celtic origins are better understood, we must salute those who have preserved and passed on, more precious in every age, the legacy of our fathers, the 'master-builders' ["les maistres d'oeuvres"] and 'image-makers' [imagiers] of the Middle Ages: we know how thoroughly their spirit [génie] was smothered under the imported art of the Renaissance, we know how hard they had to struggle in its defence, and we know what our task is now that we reckon their victory to be complete. But we would be falling short of their inheritance if we thought we were being faithful to them either in imitating or in plagiarising them, whether we think of Jehan Fouquet, or even of Claude Monet.

Painting, which is an emanation of human thought, cannot be fixed in any particular form. It evolves without ceasing and ceaselessly it brings its contribution to the discoveries already made in the field it has been assigned. Unable to live independently of the great problems of the age it will necessarily reflect them. So how childish it would be to want today's painting to look like that of the twelfth century. It cannot free itself of the suggestions [souffles], the aspirations, of the present, it receives all the seeds that are at work in the world in which it is itself developing, and our century, which is seeing such miraculous achievements in all fields of human activity, cannot have an art which is not in contact with all the energies it has produced. But above all, painting must not of itself live off elements that are foreign to it - it must avoid all compromise, literary, musical, philosophical, scientific: to believe it can express its age only by showing pieces of everyday life, stories, images [le pittoresque] would be a serious error, just like thinking we can evoke the lyricism of the machine by painting steering wheels, valves, pistons. All the dynamism, all the power, all the beauty of the age will emerge, even from the most commonplace object, only if the painter manages to invest it with an equivalent intensity of plasticity.