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Painting and Its Laws

Now that Gleizes had pupils he had to formulate the principles whose existence he had already announced. The result was Painting and its laws, first published in the journal La Vie des lettres et des arts in 1922-3, then as a book in 1924. The publisher in both cases was Jacques Povolozky, who also kept a gallery where Gleizes exhibited in the early 1920s. Povolozky was another of Gleizes's Polish contacts. Painting and its laws is largely taken up with a historical argument that Cubism - and the non-representational art that was developing out of Cubism - was a return to something like the spirit, or state of mind, of early mediaeval, 'Romanesque' art which, Gleizes argued, was rhythmic rather than representational. I have published an English translation of Painting and Its Laws together with From Cubism to Classicism by the former Futurist painter, Gino Severini. Severini argued that Cubism would result in a return to the mathematical principles that had informed early Renaissance painting. Though Gleizes does not mention him, I have argued that his historical argument is a response to Severini's historical argument - that Severini had forced him to clarify ideas he had already developed in very broad terms.

The book ends, however, by outlining what he calls a 'new mechanism' of painting which is essentially the principle that he was teaching Hone, Jellett and Poznanski (together with Colette Dumouchel-Nel who later, as Colette Allendy, opened an art gallery in Paris which was very influential after the Second World War).  The basic principle was that the whole construction of the painting should be derived logically from the overall shape and dimensions to be covered in paint, normally a rectangle. The first job of the painter was, so to speak, to map out the area to be covered in paint with a series of planes, using the same proportions of height and width as the overall surface 

These planes would be organised according to two principles which Gleizes called, borrowing the terms from physics, translation and rotation. In the movements of translation, the planes remain parallel to the outer limits of the surface, that is, always assuming that the overall surface is a rectangle, they remain vertical and horizontal. They thus convey a feeling of stability which Gleizes identified with our basic human capacity to experience and feel at ease with space. So fundamental was this verticality and horizontality to our basic human need for stability that Gleizes took the view that it should be asserted even if the overall shape to be painted was not a rectangle.

In the movements of 'rotation', by contrast, the planes are inclined, to the right or to the left thus establishing a feeling of disequilibrium. 

We read the inclined planes as a movement of the stable, vertical and horizontal, plane and this in turn introduces into the painting a feeling of time. A sense of equilibrium is restored when the inclination of the plane to the right and to the left are introduced simultaneously. 

The complete language of the painting is given through the juxtaposition of the static translation and the rotation which puts it into movement.

We can see the resemblance to the paintings of wartime Cubism, for example the painting by Juan Gris I showed you before, the portrait of Josette.  And here are two examples from Metzinger, a still life from 1918 and another still life from 1917. 

And just to show that Gleizes had also been doing something similar. albeit with a much more ambitious subject matter during the war, this is the Port of New York, done in 1917.

And here are two 'Compositions' from 1922, the year in which he was writing Painting and its laws.