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Daniel Robbins tells us that it was, in the earliest days, mainly Marcel Duchamp who introduced the Gleizes to life in New York. The two painters were already closely linked through the meetings that had taken place prior to the war in Puteaux, in the studios of Duchamp's brothers, Jacques Villon and Raymond Duchamp-Villon, and in Gleizes' own studio in Courbevoie.

Gleizes was to remain all his life a friend and admirer of Jacques Villon but, despite his friendship, he was less enthusiastic about Marcel. It seems to have been Gleizes who was mainly responsible for the decision to ask Duchamp not to show his Nu descendant un escalier at the Salon des Indépendants of 1912. (10) But Nu descendant un escalier had enjoyed an enormous succès de scandale in the New York Armory Show in 1913 and when Gleizes arrived in New York he found that Marcel was enjoying something of the status of a superstar. Gleizes' friend and one of his best interpreters, Walter Firpo, tells us:

'You now he was so famous that when Gleizes arrived in New York in 1915 there was a large crowd there to welcome him. He said "I know I'm quite well known but so many people!" He was very pleased with himself, but they had all come to ask for news of Marcel, and Marcel was as well known in the United States as Sarah Bernhardt.' (11)

(10) There are several accounts. Duchamp himself refers to it in his interviews with Pierre Cabanne, 1995, p.31. It is discussed in Calvin Tomkins's Duchamp - a biography, 1998, pp.79-84. Tomkins gives what seems to me to be the correct explanation, now widely accepted, that Duchamp's painting showing the different stages of a figure in movement, was too close to the methods used by the Italian Futurists to be shown at a moment when Cubists and Futurists were in the middle of an ideological conflict. I discuss the matter in the section on Duchamp in my introduction to Du "Cubisme" (elsewhere on the present site) where I point out that the question was not whether Duchamp could show the painting or not (as a member of the society he had a right to show it) but whether or not it could be shown in conjunction with other members of the Cubist group, It was shown in the later collective Section d'Or exhibition, after the Italians had left.

(11) Walter Firpo: Un Cubisme d'avenir, Ampuis, Association des Amis d'Albert Gleizes, 1996. There is an English translation at

But Duchamp was using this influence to undertake a work of undermining everything which, in Gleizes' eyes, had value in the work of art. With the benefit of hindsight Gleizes, in the Souvenirs, says that he can see a logic in the position adopted by Duchamp. If a work of art is only a way of interpreting any old subject that happens to exist in the world of appearances, why not simply take the subject as it is and exhibit it? It is the well known principle of the 'Ready Made' – the snow shovel which became a work of art when Duchamp conferred on it the title: In advance of the broken arm; or, the best-known example, the urinal which Duchamp exhibited at the 'Independents' exhibition in New York in Spring 1917.

Gleizes' dismay at the developments associated with Duchamp can be seen in several satirical pieces written at the time including one which is called Ready Made. Yet the two painters continued on friendly terms, exhibiting together in New York in April 1916. Mme Gleizes tells us that Gleizes was worried that Duchamp was damaging himself with drink and that, underneath all the brilliance, he was in a state of suicidal despair. Duchamp's admirers, on the other hand, for whom Duchamp was a figure of mystery and authority, found Gleizes' attitude patronising, moralistic and, of course, too serious. (12)

(12) Daniel Robbins refers to Gleizes's anxiety in Formation and Maturity of Albert Gleizes, unpubld thesis, 1975, p.205; Tomkins gives an account of the circle frequented by Duchamp, eg p.205.

Gleizes was perhaps even more closely associated with the other great pioneer of 'New York Dada', Francis Picabia. In Paris prior to the war, Picabia had been a rather suspicious figure. Through his family he possessed a fortune and he had enjoyed a great commercial success with a rather conventional Impressionist style before transforming himself almost overnight into the most radical of avant garde painters. It is probable that he helped to pay for the publication of Gleizes and Metzinger's Du "Cubisme" in 1912 and certain that he supported Apollinaire's Méditations esthétiques (Les Peintres Cubistes). There was a rivalry between himself and Robert Delaunay for Apollinaire's friendship and Sonia Delaunay tells us that it was because a work by Picabia was included in the illustrations that Delaunay refused to be associated with Du "Cubisme". (13)

(13) My account of Picabia is largely based on the biography written by Maria Lluisa Borràs. Sonia Delaunay and the possibility of Picabia having financed Du "Cubisme" in Robbins: Formation and Maturity, p.153. For his help with Apollinaire's Les Peintres cubistes, Michel Sanouillet: Picabia, Paris (L'Oeil du temps) 1964, p.25.

Like Duchamp, Picabia was already in New York when the Gleizes arrived. The Gleizes left for Barcelona in May 1916 and Picabia followed them in June. In the middle of the Summer, the two couples (Picabia was with his then wife, Gabrielle Buffet Picabia) went together to the resort of Tossa del Mar where, according to the account Mme Gleizes gave to Picabia's biographer, Maria Lluïsa Borràs, they spent much of their time in the casinos. We may suppose that this is where Gleizes' studies on the theme Le Bateau de Picabia begin. On Picabia's suggestion, the Gleizes visited Cuba on their way back to New York in December. During the following Summer, the Gleizes stayed in the same house as Picabia and the composer Edgard Varèse. Something of the atmosphere of the household is given by Varèse's wife, Louise: 'It was a very hot Summer. Varèse and Picabia walked about the apartment stark naked and it was in this state that they received their guests of the female sex ...' (14)

(14) Borràs pp.176-7

Bateau a voile
, 1916
Oil and sand on card, 102 x 78.5 cm
Present whereabouts unknown