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[Gleizes showed these paintings at an exhibition organised in June under the auspices of the group Abstraction-Création which had been formed to bring the non-figurative painters together in opposition to the Surrealists and to those painters who had been caught up in the return to Classicism. The exhibition, he tells us 'would certainly have attracted attention if it had been mentioned in the artistic press. But our artists' co-operative, independent of all the networks inspired by commercial interest, aroused no sympathy in the world of the galleries and even a journal such as Beaux-Arts was careful not to mention any of our activities ... We were surrounded by a conspiracy of silence ...' ]

When I saw them all brought together, I was struck by the incompatibility there was between the painting as such - the coloured translations and rotations - and the rhythmic rotation of the grey curved lines which, as I've already said, established the movement by drawing the eye along after it. This gap, this incompatibility between the two orders, was wrong; it was a serious flaw I could not fail to see, though, and I admit the fact, I hadn't noticed it in the studio.

Where did it come from? I assigned to it several reasons. First of all, a fault in the tonality of the grey arabesque. Perhaps also in the fact that these canvasses had been painted before I knew about this rhythmic resolution and they weren't able to assume it; hence this contrast that was too violent for the painting? Or perhaps there were other reasons that I hadn't yet seen? At any rate, once I had my paintings back in Bld Lannes, I studied them and tried to put the problem right. I carefully worked at the values of the rhythmic arabesques, which I wanted to present in a single tone, without any modulation. But it was impossible to find a tone of grey which was able everywhere to sustain contact with the painting. Finally, with very great reluctance, I had to resort to modulating the rhythmic arabesques so as to resolve, evenly cross the whole surface of the canvas, this conflict between the grey rhythm and the coloured values. I had the feeling that I was cheating and that I was making use of a subterfuge to obtain an aesthetic effect, when what I wanted was something more than that, when I wanted to work in accordance with the order of life, which is all simplicity. Nonetheless, through the use of modulated tones of grey, the incompatibility between the two orders disappeared and the movement remained, less violent, more subtle. I understood that there was something that I did not understand. And it was with this feeling that I left Paris to return to Cavalaire.



I set to work once again at Cavalaire. And this was the decisive step. It didn't take me long to see how I had sinned. The rhythmic arabesque was in itself certainly a critically important acquisition. But, in the paintings I had taken up again some months previously with the intention of revealing their rhythmic movement, this arabesque had introduced a troublesome element which was caused by a poor understanding of space (the relations between the measures, the proportions, the theme) and time (the cadences).

I had composed these pictures following the plastic mechanism of translations and rotations as I had sketched them out in Painting and Its Laws. True to the limited extent of its usefulness but incomplete and giving rise to the error I have already indicated with regard to the nature of rotation. Without realising it, of course, I had fallen into the error of 'space-time' in which it is impossible to distinguish one of these two successive natures from the other. Trying by purely empirical means to get myself out of a situation which I felt was equivocal but which, rationally, I was unable to understand, I had adopted the successive order of the colours of the chromatic circle, as well as the succession of modulations that can be obtained through the use of intermediate tones. (8) My intentions were good, but the structures of the painting prevented it from working entirely as it ought. I had not yet realised the inadequacy of the space-time. So, when I placed the rhythmic resolution on these compositions, my grey arabesques, expressing the luminous intensity, spoke, with regard to the movement, of a real grey and thus their separation from the rest was affirmed with violence. They had not been prepared by a logical process of ascension, and so they stood out in opposition to the world of the colours about them, which was reluctant to receive them.

(8) The principle here is change of colour or change of tone. The eye follows easily the movement in one colour from dark to light or light to dark. Alternatively it passes easily from one colour to another in order round the colour circle - orange (red and yellow) - red - violet (red and blue) - blue - green (blue and yellow) - yellow - orange. But the movement is blocked if it is say a pink (light red) to a dark violet, a change of both tone and colour.

Yet again, I realised, it had taken me several months before my intellectual understanding and technical ability could be brought together.

'Die to space to be reborn in time, and die to time to be reborn in Eternity' I had said. But I was still not able to give to this formula - perfectly correct in itself - the objective reality I so desperately longed to give it.

At the time when I had been so unpleasantly struck by the incompatibility there was between the coloured composition and the rhythmic lines, I had not yet grasped the reason for it. I had to chase after it for a while through a series of dead ends.

But now I saw clearly what needed to be done. I needed to obey, to submit, to put things in order. To begin by situating the spatial theme, the relation established between the figures, measured and coloured. That having been done, to develop it and project it into the enveloping paths and by-paths of time, to surround it with a network of cadences, on which the coloration of the theme could resound, in which they would be taken up, would respond to each other, would complement each other. Finally - the logical end to all these meanderings - to cause the static figures that had been put into movement in the cadences to die to their dual nature and rise again in the unity of light, of which the grey curve, formal, rhythmic, fully realised, omnipresent, bounded and infinite, open and closed, immobile and mobile, provided at once the resonance and the intensity.

The order had been observed, respected, followed; the problem of the incompatibility had been resolved because each nature was now recognised as autonomous and situated in a hierarchical relationship to the others. Now the objective reality, with its three successive levels, had been realised, and the painting was no longer dependent on a subject, but on principles and laws founded on the very nature of colour and of light.

Working in this way, drawing the distinction between these three natures, I had produced a composition that was analogous to the great compositions of the Middle Ages such as the Christ in Majesty and the Virgin and Child in Glory of Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe, sacred works of the twelfth century.

And that was for me a lesson in modesty.

Virgin and Child - Saint-Savin 


So my researches, supported by the researches of my Cubist comrades, sometimes more, sometimes less conscious of what they were trying to do, had led me, not to the invention of some novelty which would itself be swept away in its turn, but to the recovery of a traditional means of esemplastic expression whose secrets had been lost when a state of subjectivism had been imposed on Western Christianity as it allowed its mind to be dominated by sensation. A Christ in Majesty! A Virgin in Glory! Majesty and Glory have a formal meaning of which the archaeologist seems to have hardly the slightest notion, no more than those who elaborate ideas on theology or philosophy.

The question of how, from our low, corporeal nature, it is possible to rise up to the form that is supreme, seems to escape them totally. They have no suspicion of it.

They are words, symbols of something that cannot be defined, nothing more.

But if they can recover their value as imagos of the Word, they will belong to the order of those incantatory signs which, as soon as they are pronounced, evoke the object, from which they cannot be separated.

Fiat lux and there was light. Nothing new under the sun.

'Man is a child born at midnight; when he sees the sun rise, he thinks it is for the first time' says the Chinese proverb. For the moment, let us give the proverb the lie and say that it is not the first time that the laws of the object have been recognised.

The references I have just given, which may be found at Saint Savin-sur-Gartempe, at Montoire, and everywhere else where works of this 'height' were elaborated, whether in Christendom or elsewhere, give us the most conclusive proofs.

Illustration from La Forme et l'histoire

We should, then, be modest when talking about our own discoveries. If they are worth anything then we can be sure that they can be found again in the past, corresponding to states of mind that are analogous to those that provoked them among ourselves. And let us be happy that we have been able to play a part in the process of their recovery, now that, once again, a propitious moment has arrived.