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 The present essay was published in a German version in 1928, under the title Kubismus, (*) in the same series of Bauhausbücher as Kandinsky's Point and Line to Plane, Klee's Pedagogical Notebooks and Malevich's The Non-Objective World. The French version was published, as 'L'Epopée' (The Epic), in the journal Le Rouge et le Noir in 1929. A first version was however written, in response to an invitation from the Bauhaus, in 1925.

(*) Albert Gleizes: Kubismus, Bauhausbücher 13, Albert Langen Verlag, Munich 1928. Reprinted, Florian Kupferberg Verlag, Mainz, 1980.

The 1920s is the period when, it is generally agreed, Cubism finally came to an end as an immediate, living force in the history of modern art. Thereafter, it is a question of its 'influence' on other, very different, movements. Christopher Green's book, Cubism and Its Enemies gives a comprehensive account of the debates that surrounded the demise of Cubism - a 'conservative' opposition from the older schools, both academic and 'independent', and the emergence of new 'avant-gardes': Dada, which ridiculed the seriousness of Cubism (with Gleizes as a favourite target); Surrealism, which marked an altogether different approach towards painting; and the new schools of non-representational art, which had some claim to being in a line of succession from Cubism, but which still broke radically with the particular methods of construction which it had developed.

Paradoxically, however, this was also the period in which a superficial adaptation of Cubism had triumphed in the decorative arts in the style known as 'art deco'. Gleizes quotes a newspaper article of 1928 which says that, while Cubism had been a nonsense in the field of 'pure art', it had now found its natural home in the applied arts. This had indeed become a commonplace of the journalistic commentary of the period. For Gleizes, the success of Cubism in the popular commercial arts (as opposed to the doubts that were being cast on it in the rarefied commercial world of the art dealers, which Gleizes always disliked) was a proof of its natural strength, and a good reason for persevering with it.

But what was 'it'? What distinguished Cubism from its numerous 'enemies'? For many commentators, notably Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, in his influential Der Weg zum Kubismus, it was an art in tension between a figurative element (the still life, the portrait etc) on the one hand, and considerations that were wholly plastic and non-representational on the other. It is the struggle between the two that is interesting and distinctive; consequently, the representational element was essential. Without it, there would be no struggle, and no tension.

Gleizes also talks about this tension, describing it in broader terms as a struggle between an old 'cast of mind' (état d'esprit), which requires an imitation of the external appearances of the world, and a new 'cast of mind', which longs for something else, something which Gleizes is not yet in a position to define clearly but which is to do with the 'mobility' and 'rhythm' that characterise the arts of the great religious ages of mankind - in the case of Christian Europe, the early Middle Ages.

The tension which for Kahnweiler and his followers was the glory of Cubism was, for Gleizes, a consequence of the ignorance of the Cubists: a struggle between what they knew and what they could still only dimly perceive. This period of development was profoundly moving and even heroic, but it had to be transcended. The new principle had to reveal itself clearly, and begin to live its own life.

This new principle was more than just a refusal to imitate the appearances of the external world. On the contrary. It is a principle of organisation - an organisation that gives the eye the possibility of turning round the flat surface of the painting instead of being immobilised or drawn into it, as it is by the perspective mechanism.

Gleizes had attempted to formulate this principle in his book La Peinture et ses Lois, written in 1922, strongly affected by the wartime work of Jean Metzinger and Juan Gris, to whom he pays tribute, in L'Epopée and elsewhere, as the first painters to begin to draw clear conclusions from the Cubist experiment, to develop a comprehensible method. (*) This is what Gleizes called, in La Peinture et ses Lois, translation and rotation. The painting is derived from the initial proportions of the space to be covered with paint. It is not imposed on that space as something alien to it. 'Translation' is a matter of proportion, balance and harmony. It remains static. In 'rotation', these proportions are, so to speak, tilted, and the eye begins to move in a circular direction.

(*) 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.

By the time Kubismus was published in 1928, however, Gleizes had been increasingly preoccupied by the question of colour, and this had led him more and more to appreciate the importance of the pre-war work of Robert Delaunay, and the much more explicitly circular movement given in Delaunay's 'discs'. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Gleizes and Delaunay, despite radical differences of temperament, became close allies in opposition to the collapse into 'classicism' that was occurring all around them.

For Gleizes, then, Cubism was an 'epic'; the tension admired by Kahnweiler was more than just an aesthetic pleasure - one among many others - without a future. The whole drama of the age was expressed in it - and, until it was resolved, the age would remain destitute of any coherent sense of 'form'. The meaning and importance of our 'idea of form' as it changes throughout the centuries was the theme of his monumental study, La Forme et l'Histoire, written in 1930. In fact, this research was to occupy his entire life. His painting, and his understanding of what he was doing, were to go through many changes, but these changes are evolutionary. From 1920 onwards, if not from 1910, it is, to use an image of which Gleizes was fond, the unfolding of a seed. The transformations are astonishing, but they all follow logically from their starting point.

Gleizes thus remained faithful to Cubism all his life, not as a style but as an original impulse. It may seem that events have proved him wrong. Cubism has not, despite his own efforts and those of Robert Delaunay in the 1930s, given rise to a great, popular, decorative art. But Gleizes was also fond of remarking that nothing resembles a building site so much as a demolition site. Cubism expressed both the demolition of the old 'cast of mind' and the construction of the new. It is difficult to see a 'new cast of mind' in the present state of modern painting, or indeed any indication of anything that might have a long-term future ahead of it. But it is equally difficult to believe that the present state of affairs is definitive. If Gleizes is right then we are still in the period of demolition. We have no sense of form. We barely know what the word means (and this is logical if, as Gleizes affirms, that meaning is undergoing a process of radical change). The day on which we begin to feel this as a serious problem that needs to be addressed will be the day on which Gleizes' importance begins to be appreciated.

                                       Peter Brooke, Association des Amis d'Albert Gleizes
                                       February 1995