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Spirituality, Rhythm, Form is a useful summary of the historical argument that was central to Gleizes' way of understanding painting and its relation to other branches of human activity. He presents two types of human society, each reflecting a different 'state of mind', one orientated toward God, and toward Man as the Image of God; the other towards the senses and the external appearances of the things that surround us. The first is religious, the second might be called 'scientific'. The difference between them is seen most clearly in the products - products of all kinds, not just artistic products - the societies have left behind. The 'state of mind' is revealed much more surely in the quality of the human act than in any amount of verbal reasoning. It is what the society does, what it produces, that reveals most clearly what it is.

For Gleizes, these two different states of mind alternate throughout all human history, all over the world. The products of the religious periods are 'rhythmic', the products of those periods that are based on a detached 'scientific' observation of the world, are imitative and lifeless. Of course in each of the two sorts of period there are always elements of the other, history is always going from a 'spatial' period to a 'rhythmic' period or vice versa. The Christian West has been living through a long period in which detached observation of external appearances has been lauded as the highest value. But the coherence of this state of mind is now falling apart. One of the signs of this - one among many - is to be found in the changes and uncertainties that have appeared since the turn of the nineteenth/twentieth centuries in the arts. Cubism, Gleizes believed, was one of the most acute expressions of these disturbances, a clear indication that: 'in a more or less short period of time, a rhythmic period is going to open up again, not just in painting but in the whole of western civilisation ...' (Spirituality, Rhythm, Form).

A first crude sketch of this argument can be found in Gleizes' as yet unpublished writings in New York, during the First World War, prior to his own conversion to belief in God, which took place in 1918. The whole case is presented in a much more coherent fashion in La Peinture et ses Lois(1) written in 1922. But the most impressive presentation is the monumental La Forme et l'Histoire(2) published in 1932, though it was completed in 1930. La Forme et l'Histoire is beautifully illustrated with drawings done by Gleizes' pupil, Robert Pouyaud - drawings which show various representative works of art from different ages and different parts of the world, emphasising their purely rhythmic, plastic qualities to the detriment of the mere imitation of external appearances.

(1) Albert Gleizes: La Peinture et ses Lois, ce qui devait sortir du Cubisme, Paris 1924 and in La Vie des Lettres et des Arts, vol xii, n° 5, nd [1922 or 3]. English translation, Painting and Its Laws, Francis Boutle publishers, London, 2000.

(2) Albert Gleizes: La Forme et l’Histoire, Jacques Povolozky, Paris, 1932. 

 Despite the 'revelation' at Pelham, near New York, when Gleizes was converted to belief in God, and despite his admiration for the Western Christian tradition, Gleizes did not formally enter the Roman Catholic Church until 1941-2. It had been the early mediaeval church - prior to the rise of scholastic philosophy and of representational painting and sculpture in the thirteenth century - that had excited his admiration. He believed that the church had, since, lost this 'spirit'. In 1941, however, he was persuaded that, despite many intellectual aberrations, the sacraments were still true and effective. In 1942, he was formally confirmed and took his First Communion.

It was about this time that Gleizes began to write his Souvenirs, extracts from which we have published in our pamphlets Key Words and Albert Gleizes in 1934(3) It is also the period of the 'Supports de Contemplation', which must certainly rank among the greatest of his paintings, the fulfilment of an ambition towards the spiral - the spiral lived, internally, not simply observed and copied - which he had expressed as early as 1915.

(3) Albert Gleizes: Le pouvoir des mots-clefs, Association des Amis d’Albert Gleizes, Ampuis, 1993. Extract from Gleizes: Souvenirs. English translation, Key Words, ibid, 1995. And ibid:  Albert Gleizes en 1934, Association des Amis d’Albert Gleizes, Ampuis, 1997. Extracts from Gleizes’ Souvenirs. English translation: Albert Gleizes in 1934, ibid. 1996. See also ‘Souvenirs: le Cubisme, 1908-1914’, Cahiers Albert Gleizes, Association des Amis d’Albert Gleizes, Lyon, 1957. Reprinted, Association des Amis d’Albert Gleizes, Ampuis, 1997. All these items should appear in time on this website.

Spirituality, Rhythm, Form was written at the end of 1943 for a special edition of the Lyon-based journal, Confluences, devoted to 'Les Problèmes de la Peinture'. Although this collection of essays had been planned while France was still under German occupation, it was only after the Liberation that it was published, and it attracted great interest as a first indication of the directions French art might be expected to follow after the war. Gleizes' article, in particular, attracted considerable attention in Catholic circles. The mediaeval historian, Régine Pernoud, became, for a year or two, an enthusiastic advocate of Gleizes' ideas. A Benedictine monk, Dom Angelico Surchamp, still at the time only a novice, came on the strength of Spirituality, Rhythm, Form to study with Gleizes and it is thus that the essay can be said to have laid the foundation stone of the publishing house Zodiaque, established by Surchamp at his monastery, l'Abbaye de Ste Marie de la Pierre-qui-Vire, and well known for its large and impressive collection of books on Romanesque art.

Gleizes, however, soon found himself in difficulty with the French Catholic intelligentsia, especially with its influential Dominican, Thomist wing. In particular, despite the continued support of the Benedictines of La Pierre-qui-Vire, he excited the opposition of the Dominicans, Fathers Pie Raymond Régamey and Marie-Alain Couturier, the leading promoters of an alliance between the Church and Modern Art, responsible for important commissions given to, among others, Léger (Assy), Matisse (Vence) and Le Corbusier (Ronchamp and the Dominican convent at La Tourette). A controversy between Régamey and Gleizes - with the Benedictine, Dom Claude Nesmy, Surchamp's brother, intervening in Gleizes' support - broke out in the pages of the journal Arts and in Régamey's journal, Art Sacré. Right at the end of his life, however, (Gleizes died in 1953) he gained some support in Jesuit circles, most interestingly from the aged Father Victor Fontoynont, the inspiration behind the extraordinary collection of texts and translations of patristic literature, 'Sources Chrétiennes'. The Association des Amis d'Albert Gleizes have published an account of the commission Gleizes received for a painting in the Jesuit chapel at Les Fontaines, Chantilly, in our pamphlet (in French) La Fresque "L'Eucharistie" d'Albert Gleizes(4)

(4) De Montrond, Henri: ‘Le cadre’, Atelier de la Rose, n° 9, March 1953. Reprinted in Gleizes et al: La Fresque “L’Eucharistie” d’Albert Gleizes, Association de Amis d’Albert Gleizes, Ampuis, 1995. For more on the controversies surrounding Gleizes and 'l'art sacré' see Peter Brooke: Albert Gleizes - for and against the twentieth century, Yale University Press, 2001.

Fontoynont, a specialist in the transition from classical antiquity to early Christianity among the Greek speaking peoples, seems to have been one of the few who understood what Gleizes meant by the word 'rhythm'. In general, however, the enthusiasm for Romanesque art, which was very marked in artistic circles from the 1930s onwards, was more directed towards the whimsical treatment of external appearances than to the solid, plastic, 'rhythmic' principles which, Gleizes argues, are the real concern of the artist, or, rather, of the craftsman. If the appearances of the external world are 'distorted' - when seen through eyes formed under the discipline of single point perspective - it is because, for the painter or the sculptor, they were only of secondary interest. It was the same with Cubism. What is of real interest are the plastic, rhythmic principles that are seeking expression. The strange deformation of the appearances of the external world - which is all that has interested most of the many commentators on Cubism - is only an accidental by-product, a regrettable distraction. In itself, it is of no - or at last of very little - interest.

Gleizes' view, of course, has not prevailed. But the present state of painting and of art theory is not so healthy that we can take this as proof that he is wrong. His argument has at least this to be said for it. Very pessimistic with regard to the present, he offers an optimistic view of the future. He offers a sense of direction for the inchoate aspirations of modern art, and a practical means by which the rhythmic principle celebrated in Spirituality, Rhythm, Formcan be realised by those who share his enthusiasm for the way in which it has been realised in other places at other times. It certainly cannot be realised by copying the external appearances of the earlier work. But it is at that point that literature is obliged to recognise its limits and that the practical experience of the workshop must assert its rights ...