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A Letter to Anne Dangar

September 1934 

Dear Miss Dangar

I didn't reply to your letter as soon as I would have liked, simply because I was fully immersed in executing the paintings I told you about, and that was eating me up, literally. I wanted to keep you informed about the results of these efforts and to speak to you a little about what I have learned from the trials I have been going through. It is now finished. I have four quite important canvases which I consider to be the most complete that I have ever done. Complete in the sense of the ordered application of those principles of which I have for some time now been more or less conscious. That, finally, is the problem. You manage to unravel the mystery in an intellectual way and, with your hands, you cannot give it its reality; you haven't the means. And you know that, in the last analysis, you know nothing.

But that is the moment when, knowing that you know nothing, you know that you have to know, whatever the cost. Last April, you saw me realising, one fine day, that what I had been talking about for the previous twelve years, what I had proclaimed in my books, I did not do. And I did not do it because I did not know how to do it. I immediately had to set about filling this gap. On the canvasses I had available, which I felt to be incomplete, which didn't satisfy me, I attempted the impossible - to endow them with their resolution, the integration of the curves, the game of light.

You know the result. But perhaps you do not know that, despite the joy that I expressed, I still wasn't satisfied. In fact, this resolution had not been built into these canvasses when they were first conceived because, at that time, I had been unable to envisage it concretely. They behaved themselves very well and did not react too violently when I imposed it upon them; they did what they could and I am grateful to them. But ... but ... it was insufficient and my pleasure quickly gave way to criticism. The final circles were too much outside the translation and the rotation, or, rather, by reason of the very rigour of the newly arrived circles, these last were shown to be imperfect, confused, disordered, they appeared as a false start.



If the decisive circles were to be logical and truly appear as a resolution, apotheosis, the translation and rotation would have to prepare their appearance methodically, clearly, which is to say, in order. The three stages of the construction of the monument had to appear in the totality of the work, successively. Successively, you understand? That is to say that the first stage with the foundations should be in its own place, the second as well, and the third, as the roof, should appear as a natural conclusion. In other words, space, immobile, accessible to the senses - translation - should be the base; time - cadence, rotation - should put the first into movement; and, to finish, this cadence should become rhythm, form, light. So, the figures, dominated by straight lines; then the periodic displacements of straight lines and curves; finally, unity, the circles:

1) Organisation of combinations of colours following all the games of the fancy.

2) These combinations organise themselves into cadences of colour, transformed according to the order of the chromatic circle.

3) The chromatic circles come together according to their natural tendency into grey - an intensity given by a mixture of black and white, the equivalent in painting of the intensity of light.

When these stages appear in their regular interlinking, their natural order, then there is really unity. The circular light arrives as something that is destined and not any more as something that is superfluous, as in those canvasses you saw, which are mainly interesting for what they are trying to do and for the intuition they express, but which are badly ordered. Now the light is something expected, satisfying, conclusive.

And then the problem appears in its totality, in its true nature, exactly as it is. It comes down to this: to organise the passage from the square to the circle through the multiplication of the sides of the square in rotation. It is obvious: that is the beginning and end of painting. There are the isolated colours, which are the square. Put into movement, they come together, they multiply their angles so that, for example, a blue that is square (that is to say, seen by itself, in isolation), if it is put in movement becomes a green which, continuing the movement, becomes a yellow which itself becomes an orange ... etc. And the circle, that is THE LIGHT towards which this regular dance leads the way.



So we can understand that our rejection of the image accessible to the senses is only a means, suited to the needs of a passing moment, to learn, without being inhibited by an oppressive habit, what we did not know, what we have lost, of a great tradition whose reality is, once again, being felt. So the image had to be abandoned in the expression it had assumed at the time of the Renaissance which, in the end, becomes photography. It had to be abandoned in what, essentially, defined it in its Renaissance expression - the dependence on raw sensation, on a sight that is purely mechanical. But once the true process is recognised and known, what importance does our terror of the figurative image finally have? How did we understand this image? On what was the way in which we understood it, which caused us to fly from it, based?

The rejection of the figurative image loses its importance once we understand that what we are fleeing is the image as it was formulated at the time of the Renaissance, that image that, as I have just said, is the heavily mechanical expression of a sight without intelligence. After we had been using this image for centuries, it was inevitable that the photographer would appear, who is true to its nature and who, for anyone who thinks about the matter, proves definitively that the Renaissance image is deprived of a soul, deprived of any real humanity. It is simply a function of the eye and nothing more. It is impossible to mechanise, to photograph, a 'spiritual vision', even when it has assumed an overall shape that evokes echoes in the memory.

Examples can be found at the level of nature as it is accessible to the senses, round the senses - the design of an image from the twelfth century, from the eleventh century, from Greece in the archaic period, from ancient Egypt ... why? Because the image is mnemonic, which is to say, physiological, which is to say that it comes not from the senses but from the memory. Do you understand? An evocation of that sort is of the order of the cadence, it prepares the cadence, it touches upon it, it satisfies the senses and leads them on to the second stage. The schematic square becomes less severely intellectual without ceasing to be present and without ceasing to be the principle of this part of the whole. The image confers on the square and on all the geometrical combinations a greater degree of liveliness. It thus helps to awaken number, still more stripped as it is, in its cadences, of any gross sensual character.Thou shalt not make unto thyself any images may, then, be understood: 'You shall not remain at the level of the nature of the senses; you shall not be enslaved to the senses in their merely mechanical operation.'

God, in painting, is expressed by the circle. That is his form-unity. Man is an image of God in light - curve - through the intermediary of the memory, time, expressed in cadences. Cadences and form-light-unity, that is the new basis for the painting. This new basis is prepared by what is below, but necessary - the level of sensation, the state of immobility. So this level must be as complete as possible without weighing the whole thing down. The overall construction of the Renaissance image is confined to the level of the senses and it is therefore heavy, despite all the talent that has been expended upon it. It stops everything at itself. The overall construction of the image of the eleventh and twelfth centuries and, better still, earlier, is, by comparison, light; sacrificing itself for the benefit of the cadences, the level immediately above it.



So, now that we are in possession of the means (and I firmly believe that we are) we must pitilessly reject the image of the Renaissance that is addressed exclusively to the senses, but, at the same time, we should not fear, should the occasion present itself, an image determined by geometry, by the square, the right angle, because it, in its nature, corresponds to the higher stages. The Renaissance image, I repeat, bears no, or too little, relation to them; the new image will give more meaning and variety to the space.

I will talk all this over with you again when I see you, and clarify what has been left incomplete in these sentences, thrown out at random, just as I think of them. You will see that the figurative, the representation of an external appearance, is something quite other than what I understand by the reintroduction of a construction that suggests an image drawn from the memory. For the moment, the most important thing is that you know where I am. And where I am is at the placing in their correct order of the three factors - space, time, eternity - senses, memory, duration [SIC - PB] (9) ... You can refer back to the beginning of this letter. These three states, natures relatively independent and differentiated one from the other, must be brought into a relationship that will finish up in unity.

(9) The use of the word 'duration' is surprising here since, as Gleizes explains at the end of the previous text, duration, even if prolonged indefinitely, is always confined to the level of time. Also, the 'senses' and 'memory' are human faculties. The word one might have expected to follow them would be 'intelligence', understanding Intelligence as the 'noetic faculty', the faculty by which we can know God.

(1) Space - translation

(2) Time - rotation

(3) Resolution - simultaneously space and time

Remark that (2) becomes

Curves cut by the inflexions of the translation (1) and by the slow beginning of the rotation.


 The (3) is the continuous grey and is, consequently, without division. 

The image-memory can only be in the state (1) - translation, and modified by the state (2), at its lowest, beginning its movement. After that, there is no more image but only movement towards light, towards unity.

Now, dear Miss Dangar, that I have put myself right with my conscience with respect to you, I will reply to the practical questions you have posed in your letters ...

[There follows a largely anecdotic account of problems relating to Moly Sabata]

Best wishes to Lucie [the weaver, Lucie Deveyle - PB] and to all those whom you have around you.

Plate by Anne Dangar, 1936, based on Gleizes: Figure-Lumière, 1934. Glazed earth, 46 cm diameter.