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L'Art d'Aujourd'hui - Poznanski's introduction

We are now approaching Poznanski's most obviously important contribution to the history of twentieth century painting - his organisation of the exhibition L'Art d'Aujourd'hui in 1925. This is the poster for the exhibition, designed by the Swiss artist, Gustave Buchet. 

There was no pretence at showing all the types of painting that were being practised in 1925. Perhaps we might remember here the return to classicism which was being followed by some of the leading former Cubist painters, such as Jean Metzinger and Gino Severini. Realistic art of this kind was rigorously excluded. According to the English historian, Christopher Green, quoting a contemporary journal, L'Art vivant, the exhibition was originally to be called L'Art abstrait and the story it told was, broadly speaking, of an evolution of Cubism to 'abstract' or non-representational art, with the complication that it also included a Surrealist element, most notably Max Ernst and André Masson, together with Joan Miro, Jean Arp and, perhaps more ambiguously, Paul Klee.

According to Fernand Léger's pupil Marcelle Cahn, the preface to the exhibition was written by Poznanski. In it, Poznanski says:

'Why this exhibition? Not to show examples of all the tendencies of painting today, but to bring together, as thoroughly as circumstances and distances allowed, the representatives of non-imitative plastic art' - this phrase is emphasised - 'the possibility of which the Cubist movement was the first to conceive.'

A footnote specifies that the exhibition presents the present day state of the consequences of and developments parallel to ('ses prolongements ou de ses parallèles') Cubism. 

He explains why painters are trying to free themselves from the imitation of the appearances of the external world:

'The viewer is accustomed by works done according to the old aesthetic principles to begin by looking for what he considers to be the subject, the scenario. Since 1911 that has been eliminated almost completely with a view to releasing the lyrical from the bonds of the real. So the musician is not obliged to imitate the sounds of nature, but he organises sound whose effect is always, so to speak, internal to the music. With the painting that makes up the object of this exhibition, painting is no longer an intermediary ['relais'] between nature and the spectator. It works directly on him by virtue of the forms and colours, on our sensibility, and using this as a path, on our spirit; the photograph is an intermediary; the old style of painting is an intermediary; a Bach fugue isn't an intermediary, while the song of a nightingale imitated by Beethoven in the Pastoral Symphony is an intermediary; the work of the painters represented here are not (in general) intermediaries, but organisations ['agencements'] whose whole effect comes from "inside"'

The spectator should look at them with the same spirit of silent contemplation with which one would listen to a piece of music:

'You must look at this painting "with your eyes" and make a sort of silence inside yourself or, as the philosophers would put it, put yourself into a receptive, non-critical state. This attitude is necessary for the play of coloured forms to act and to provoke, if the painting is capable of it, that lyrical state which it is its sole purpose to evoke in the mind of the spectator. Afterwards you can start making judgments.'

The exhibition was far from being a comprehensive record of the international 'non-imitative' art of the period. Russia was represented not by the new generation of Suprematists and Constructivists but by the older Alexandra Exter, Georges Iakouloff, Nathalie Gontcharov and Michel Larioniov, all of them now based in Paris, but this may have been due to problems with the Soviet government. Many other painters, though, were based in Paris not in their countries of origin. For example, Spain was represented by Juan Gris. Joan Miro and Pablo Picasso, all of them living in Paris. Poland was represented by the Paris based Louis Marcoussis and by Poznanski himself; Switzerland by the Paris based Jean Crotti and Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, better known as the architect, Le Corbusier. Alfred Reth, also living in Paris, represented Hungary.

Gleizes's pupils and circle of acquaintance are well represented - for example the Irish painters Evie Hone and Mainie Jellett, though they were somewhat incongruously catalogued under 'Great Britain.' This is I think, I can't be sure, the Mainie Jellett painting that would have been shown, a painting with 'Three Elements'. 

'Great Britain' was also represented by Ben Nicholson and his wife, Winifred Nicholson, together with Paul Nash. The connection may have been made through Evie Hone who was a friend of Winifred Nicholson. Nash was a friend of the Nicholsons. Blanche Lazzell, Lucy L'Engle and Ambrose Webster from the United States had studied with Gleizes. Robert Pouyaud was there as one of the French representatives, though he had only been studying with Gleizes for a year. Gottfried Graf, one of the representatives of Germany - and not a notably non-representational painter - was a friend of Gleizes. Gleizes himself exhibited only two paintings, as opposed to six from his fellow-Cubist, Robert Delaunay, and eight from Léger. One of Gleizes's painting was called 'Sketch for the 7 Elements, reduced by one third'. The 7 Elements was a very big painting, about 2.5 metres high. This is a photograph of the painting, as it was at that time. 

This is the same painting as it is now, since, in 1934, Gleizes added a series of grey curved lines to facilitate the movement of the eye about the canvas.