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Jean Metzinger

'"Cubisme" et Tradition, Paris-Journal, 16th August, 1911, p.5

The article Metzinger was replying to was published in the Paris-Journal, 29th May, 1911. It is reproduced in Rousseau et al: Robert Delaunay, 1906-1914, p.97. It takes the form of a presumably imaginary interview with 'Metzi' (it is called 'Chez Metzi'; the quotations from Metzinger are largely taken from the Notes sur la peinture), mainly about Delaunay (rebaptised for the occasion 'Nouveauney'). It is not clear why there is such a long gap between Berger's article in May and Metzinger's reply in August.

[Note from the Paris-Journal:] There has been much talk about "Cubist" painters, some people mocking them, and some praising them. In this same journal some months ago, Mr Cyrille Berger published an article about them. Today, a "Cubist", Mr Jean Metzinger, tells us what "Cubism" is and what the "Cubists" want.

Mr Cyrille Berger has been amusing himself at the expense of the "Cubists".

His father - by which I mean his spiritual father, his symbolic father - must have found the Impressionists very amusing.

And his grandfather thought Corot was just a rapid sketch artist [un bâcleur de pochades].

Jokes of this sort are not in themselves of sufficient importance to bother us. But when they make use of the Paris-Journal as a megaphone we have to take notice of them.


Today, thanks to a handful of painters, painting appears as it is, naked and pure.

United in a discipline that is exemplary, these painters do not conform to any preconceived pattern [mot d'ordre], they are not slaves to any formula. Their discipline is their common concern never to offend against the fundamental laws of art.

They have been called "Cubists" because they use the simplest, most complete and logical forms. Because they seek to draw out of these forms new plastic signs, they have been accused of breaking with tradition.

How could they break with tradition, which is a never-ending succession of innovations, those who, by innovating, only continue it? Do people not know that the essential mission of the artist is to imprint his own conceptions in the minds of others?

The glory of the masters is, precisely, to have imprinted on our minds prototypes that are so perfect that we can say, centuries later: beautiful that which approaches them, ugly whatever goes away from them. Those who have been called Cubists seek to imitate the masters; they strive to fashion types that are new (I attach to the word 'new' the idea of difference and I separate from it ideas of superiority, of progress). Already they have rooted out the prejudice that required the painter to remain immobile at a specified distance before the object and only to fix on his canvas a retinal photograph modified, to a greater or lesser extent, by 'personal feeling'. They have allowed themselves to turn round the object, to give of it, under the control of the intelligence, a concrete representation made up of several different angles [aspects]. Already the picture was in possession of space, and now it reigns also in time [la durée]. In painting, any audacity is allowed if it increases the pictorial power. To draw the eyes of a portrait full face, the nose in a three quarter view and to divide the mouth in such a way as to reveal the profile - that could well, so long as the worker possesses the necessary degree of tact - greatly increase the resemblance and, at the same time, at a crossroads in the history of art, indicate the path that should be followed.

Clear and rational, the technique used by the "Cubists" refuses all the gimmicks learned in the schools, the facile graces and those stylisations that are admired at the present time. As soon as the line threatens to assume a descriptive or decorative importance, the painters, conscious of the miracle that takes place when the surface of the canvas evokes space, break it. These breaks in the lines are justified plastically by quantities of light and shadow distributed in such a way that the one will give birth to the other. Their orientation gives birth to Rhythm.

Le Fauconnier's admirable sense of balance [pondération] can be seen in the indispensable combination of certain signs that are conventional with others that are new. In his picture, Abondance, figures and landscape, their material nature born of one single love, develop superbly what the men of our race have got us used to admiring in the spectacles of nature; and the power which enables us to perceive, in fruits and leaves, flesh, figures, as far as the far away whiteness of sailing boats, cosmic sympathies that cannot be put in words - all this comprises a sufficient number of elements that have been hitherto unknown to make an impression that will last several generations.

As for Robert Delaunay, he replaces the laws of general optics with his own personal discoveries. Through a horror of anything happening by chance, of reminiscences, of equivocations, he would willingly use - as Seurat did for other ends - mechanical procedures. As an exercise of will he breaks surfaces and volumes up the better to master them, reaching as far as fractions that are impossible.

The dramatic variety of his Ville, and his Tour Eiffel, strikes minds with such force that sometimes they become incapable of assessing them at their proper value.

Le Fauconnier and Delaunay mark two limits that cannot be passed without falling either into the academic or into the esoteric.

Albert Gleizes, Marie Laurencin, Fernand Léger keep well clear of dangers [chutes] of that sort. Albert Gleizes reconciles the solidity of his construction, the richness of the materials he uses, and a fluidity that resembles watercolour. Logical, sensual, human, Latin, Gleizes engages our interest infinitely in the struggle conducted by his prudence against his audacity, a struggle that is rich in the harvest that it yields!

Marie Laurencin, the only woman of whom it can be said 'here is a painter', has found the hidden secret of gracefulness [le chiffre hermétique de la grâce]. Whoever refuses her Portrait or her Jeunes filles commits an offence against French taste.

Fernand Léger measures day and night, weighs different quantities [pèse des blocs], calculates resistances. His composition Nus dans un paysage is a living body whose organs are trees and people [figures]. An austere painter, Fernand Léger is passionate about that profound side of painting that touches on the biological sciences and which can be felt already in the work of painters like Michelangelo and Leonardo.

Is it not there above all that we will find our materials, we who wish to build the monument of our age?