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The schools - Gleizes, Léger, De Stijl

The role of Fernand Léger in the organisation of the exhibition seems, however, to have been almost more important than that of Gleizes. This, called 'Roses and Compass' is one of the paintings he showed. 

Like Gleizes, he appeared as a master surrounded by an international array of pupils and associates. They included Franciska Clausen from Denmark, Florence Henri, originally from the US, Marcelle Cahn from France, and Otto Carlsund from Sweden. The exhibition opened on 31st November 1925 with a concert of music by the American composer George Antheil, including, according to the French historian, Christian Derouet, his Ballet mécanique. An earlier version of the Ballet mécanique had been devised for Léger's film of the same name in 1924. 

Léger seems to have had considerable influence on the actual hanging. His pupil Marcelle Cahn remembered: 'I took part at that time in L'Art d'aujourd'hui. It was an exhibition of fundamental importance, the first international exhibition of the tendencies that were current in the age. One can say that, with the exception of Braque, all the masters and sub-masters of the researches of the age were represented. Poznanski, who organised the exhibition, was certainly someone who was very well informed. All these avant-garde forms went together very well. At the entrance was a room with Arp and the Surrealists, then a big room, with Léger at the centre of it. In this room there were two of my paintings, the 1925 Abstract Composition and The Kitchen Sink facing ['de l'autre côté de'] works by Franciska Clausen. In the same room the Constructivists were brought together: Vordemberghe Gildewort ... [sic] and Klee. In one or two smaller rooms they had put Picasso and the Cubists. I still have a critique by Maurice Raynal saying that it was surely Léger who arranged the hanging and that was the reason why the others were put aside in this way.'

The Cubists in question were, according to Maurice Raynal's account: 'Picasso, Juan Gris, Marcoussis (Braque wasn't invited), Laurens, Gargallo, Csaky, Robert and Sonia Delaunay ... they were invited out of politeness to stick them into a little room which malicious tongues have called the Salon des Refusés.' In one of several unpublished drafts for an article on the exhibition Gleizes, regretting Braque's absence, says that he had been invited but hadn't replied to the invitation. The lowly position given to the 'Cubists' (other than Léger and Gleizes) was the occasion of one of Picasso's famous witticisms. When his friends complained that he had not been given the place of honour he replied 'Wherever I am, that is the place of honour.'

Raynal's suspicion that Léger was behind the hanging and the affront to Picasso is abundantly confirmed in a letter Léger sent to the gallery owner Léonce Rosenberg:

'I think I've done things not too badly. It is the arrival ['avènement'] of the sort of thing you like. We put those gentlemen P[icasso] - J[uan] G[ris] etc. etc. in a little rather provincial, rather old fashioned room but, what do you want, too bad for those who don't like it, the "rupture" had to be made sooner or latter. Its done and I think quite radically.

'I think our big room holds together - what do you think of my three students Carlsun [sic], Clausen and Mlle Kahn [sic], its really good I think. And then you'll take your big pair of spectacles and search conscientiously for anything that might remain in all that of the influence of P[icasso].'

Christian Derouet's notes to the correspondence between Léger and Léonce Rosenberg also quote a letter from Léger to Carlsund saying 'I want you to be with Mlle Kahn [sic] and Clausen in the big room and Poznanski has promised me.'

Derouet also tells us that 'Mondrian takes part. He was afraid for a moment that this exhibition of abstract art had been organised by Van Doesburg but after going to find out from Léger, he learns that his rival had only been invited. He decides to send two canvases.'

Mondrian and Van Doesburg were both members of the group which in 1917 had launched the Dutch journal De Stijl. For some years they had worked very closely together but by the time of the L'Art d'aujourd'hui exhibition they had fallen out. Among several reasons for this, Mondrian had insisted on a principle of stability which could only be provided by vertical and horizontal lines, while Van Doesburg had begun to incline his compositions to an angle of 45o thus, he claimed, introducing an element of dynamism. 

This - the cover of a book Van Doesburg wrote for the Bauhaus in Germany - is an example of the stable, vertical-horizontal style which Mondrian approved. And this, a poster for an exhibition of Van Doesburg's work in the United States, is an example of the 'dynamic', diagonal style of which Mondrian disapproved. 

We may remember that the distinction Gleizes drew between his principle of stability - 'translation' - and of time/movement - 'rotation' - was also, initially at least, based on the distinction between the vertical and horizontal plane on the one hand, and the plane inclined to a diagonal on the other.

The De Stijl tendency was also well represented in the exhibition by the Dutch painters Vilmos Huszar and Cesare Domela, the Belgian George Vantongerloo, and the Germans Walter Dexel and Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewort.

The exhibition marked an important stage in the process by which a more uncompromising art derived from Cubism became fashionable. One of the reviewers complained of the opening: 'Is that it, the international manifestation of this Cubism that has been so misunderstood and the object of so much mockery? But it is destiny, the festival of snobbery ['bombance du snobisme'], at this opening. Gentlemen in suits, ladies in evening dresses, their automobiles blocking up the rue de la Ville-l'Eveque. High society, dresses from the rue de la Paix, distract attention from the objects on show. And here come the Americans with their dollars, their flat heeled shoes and their laugh bursting with health that comes from their made-up lips ...' Mme Gleizes, herself quite at ease in this world, described it in less hostile terms: 'When  everything had been hung the whole was persuasive - so much so that the exhibition was a huge success. Plenty of visitors who up until then had protested against this incomprehensible art were converted. One heard: 'Of course, the colours are nice' or 'its very pleasant' 'its very decorative.' A quartet came one evening - an excellent quartet - to play Beethoven and Debussy (as always paid for by Poznansky).' It is perhaps strange that she remembers the quartet but not, apparently, Antheil's Ballet mécanique

The exhibition was followed by, and may have helped produce, an increase in the commercial success of some of the artists involved, notably Mondrian, Van Doesburg and Léger. One of the reasons for this was the interest of a number of important collectors from the old aristocracy, including the Vicomte de Noailles and the Baron Napoléon Gourgaud, both of whom seem to have been friends with Poznanski. Gleizes wrote to De Noailles in September 1926 inviting him to write for a new journal to be called Ars (in the event it never appeared). He said in the letter that he knew through Poznanski that de Noailles loved painting 'in a disinterested manner'. De Noailles bought one of the Mondrians exhibited at L'art d'auhourd'hui and commissioned Van Doesburg to decorate a room in the villa he was building in Hyères in the south of France. Mme Gleizes refers to the 'Baron G.' as one of Poznanski's 'most intimate friends', though she says Poznanski was disappointed when in 1926 Gourgaud bought a Léger at an enormous price from Léonce Rosenberg after refusing to buy a very beautiful Léger he could have had at a much lower rate from Poznanski. The painting he bought from Rosenberg was Le Lecteur and it marked a very substantial increase in the going rate for Léger's work

One painter who is strikingly absent from the exhibition is the Czech Frantisek Kupka, who has a good claim to be regarded as the first twentieth century non-representational painter. His absence is all the more surprising since his studio was next to the studio in Puteaux of the French Jacques Villon, who was represented. Villon was a friend of Gleizes, and Gleizes worked for a while in the same group of studios after his return from the United States. That was where he had been joined by his first pupils, including Poznanski. Soon after the exhibition Van Doesburg contacted Kupka and began to promote his work. Kupka wrote to him in March 1926, appreciating his interest and contrasting it to 'the attitude of the cubists, who have all followed me while relegating me for long years to a position far from the known world ...'