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It was at the Salon des Indépendants in Paris in 1911 that, for the first time, the public was confronted with a collection of paintings which still did not have any label attached to them. I know that, in saying that, I am going against the generally accepted legend but the truth requires that it be said.

I have in front of me a small cutting from an evening newspaper, The Press, on the subject of the 1910 Salon d'Automne. It gives a good idea of the situation in which the new pictorial tendency, still barely perceptible, found itself: 'The geometrical fallacies of Messrs. Metzinger, Le Fauconnier, and Gleizes'. No sign of any compromise there. Braque and Picasso only showed in Kahnweiler's gallery and we were unaware of them (3). Robert Delaunay, Metzinger and Le Fauconnier had been noticed at the Salon des Indépendants of that same year, 1910, without a label being fixed on them. Consequently, although much effort has been put into proving the opposite, the word 'Cubism' was not at that time current (4).

(3) In fact Metzinger knew Picasso, and wrote an article which refers to him in 1910.

(4) Matisse used the word 'cubes' referring to paintings submitted by Braque to the Salon d'Automne in 1908. Apollinaire used the word 'Cubism' in a review of the 1910 Salon d'Automne, in which he complains that Metzinger was imitating Picasso. But Gleizes is right to say that the term was not yet in general use.

Things speeded up in 1911, and the nature and importance of the crisis that painting was entering into began to be seen more clearly. Room 41 of the Salon des Indépendants was a revelation for everyone. There was no-one who did not feel its power. It struck the imagination as an element which has been disturbed can astonish and produce a feeling of anguish without necessarily being understood. These canvasses in a dull, muddy grey - did they not hint at a future in which the forms of the present day would be destroyed and replaced by others? Already people were beginning to argue for the legitimacy of the great masters of the Renaissance, even though they still occupied a position that was far more powerful than that of the newcomers (see, for example, Georges Mourey in Le Journal on the Salon d'Automne of 1911). Minds that confuse what is at the present time with what is permanent, cannot bring themselves to admit that change is of the very stuff of existence.

The painters were the first to be surprised by the storms they had let loose without intending to, merely because they had hung on the wooden bars that run along the walls of the Cours-la-Reine, certain paintings that had been made with great care, with passionate conviction, but also in a state of great anxiety.

It was from that moment on that the word 'Cubism' began to be widely used.

Never had a crowd been seen thrown into such a turmoil by works of the spirit, and especially over esemplastic (5) works, paintings, whose nature it is to be silent. Never had the critics been so violent as they were at that time. From which it became clear that these paintings - and I specify the names of the painters who were, alone, the reluctant causes of all this frenzy: Jean Metzinger, Le Fauconnier, Fernand Léger, Robert Delaunay and myself - appeared as a threat to an order that everyone thought had been established forever.

(5) I sometimes translate Gleizes' word plastique by Coleridge's word esemplastic (from the Greek eis en plattein -'to shape into one'), partly to avoid the modern connotations of the word 'plastic', but also to affirm a continuity, which I believe to be valuable, with Coleridge's line of thought. I regret that the word 'esemplastic' has not passed into general use. 

In nearly all the papers, all composure was lost. The critics would begin by saying: 'there is no need to devote much space to the Cubists, who are utterly without importance' and then they furiously gave them seven columns out of the ten that were taken up, at that time, by the Salon. One could make several interesting psychological studies on the subject of the press in general, based uniquely on the daily papers and reviews that were produced at this time.

And Cubism was not just the affair of a season or of a particular more or less limited little coterie. As there was nothing planned about it, so there was nothing forced or artificial about the consequences it provoked - they hadn't been sought after, worked up by assaults on the public, assaults mounted as part of a noisy publicity campaign by artists impatient to make a career for themselves (6). This is clear enough when we look at those canvasses today. Compared to Cubism as it is now, or compared with the many other manifestations which, since then, have been more interested in noise than in anything else, these paintings are astonishing in their dignity and simplicity.

(6) Gleizes was engaged in a very heated controversy with the Dadaists in 1920, despite, or perhaps because of, his earlier friendship with Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia. He almost certainly has the Dadaists in mind here.

With the Salon d'Automne of that same year,1911, the fury broke out again, just as violent as it had been at the Indépendants. I remember this Room 8 in the Grand Palais on the opening day. People were crushed together, shouting, laughing, calling for our heads. And what had we hung? Metzinger his lovely canvas entitled Le Goûter; Léger his sombre Nus dans un Paysage; (7) Le Fauconnier, landscapes done in the Savoie; myself La Chasse and the Portrait de Jacques Nayral. How distant it all seems now! But I can still see the crowd gathering together in the doors of the room, pushing at those who were already pressed into it, wanting to get in to see for themselves the monsters that we were.

(7) The Nus dans un paysage was actually shown in the Spring 1911 Salon des Indépendants. Léger showed his Étude pour trois portraits in the Salon d'Automne. 

The winter season in Paris profited from all this to add a little spice to its pleasures. While the newspapers sounded the alarm to alert people to the danger, and while appeals were made to the public authorities to do something about it, song-writers, satirists and other men of wit and spirit, provoked great pleasure among the leisured classes by playing with the word 'cube', discovering that it was a very suitable means of inducing laughter which, as we all know, is the principle characteristic that distinguishes man from the animals.



The contagion, naturally, spread in proportion to the violence of the effort that was being put into stopping it. It quickly went beyond the frontiers of its country of origin. Public opinion throughout the world was occupied with Cubism. As people wanted to see what all the fuss was about, invitations to exhibit multiplied. From Germany, from Russia, from Belgium, from Switzerland, from Holland, from Austro-Hungary, from Bohemia, they came in great numbers. The painters accepted some of them and writers like Guillaume Apollinaire, Maurice Raynal, André Salmon, Alexandre Mercereau, the advocate-general Granié, supported them in their writings and in the talks they gave.

The scandal was not as violent in the other European countries as it had been in Paris, but the interest that Cubism aroused was just as great. Public opinion was excited by the new appearances that were being assumed by painting. What came back to us at that time, as an echo, from the manifestations to which the public of these other European countries gave themselves up on the faith, good or bad, of the papers (which told the wildest stories, illustrated with portraits or reproductions nearly always arbitrarily re-worked when they hadn't been invented altogether) shows to what extent the imagination can pull masses of individuals out of their daily routine, if only it is moved by something that has life in it. We are sometimes surprised to think that in Greece, thousands of men could be moved, passionately, by a play of Sophocles. Cubism has shown that such passion can still be aroused at the present day, if we judge by the lively debates it provoked - debates which, after eighteen years of living evolution, are still far from being at an end.

By the time of the Salon d'Automne which opened in 1911, some new talents had appeared, joining those who had been there at the beginning: André Lhote, Marcel Duchamp, Roger de la Fresnaye, Jacques Villon. And elsewhere, though he did not show with us, there was Juan Gris, the pitiless inquisitor, who was, later, to be one of the first to distinguish the essential elements of what there was in Cubism that was important, still, at this time, hidden by the tenacious persistence of old habits. None of us, however, were able to get used to the scandal which continued to rage about us.

In those heroic times, what high, disinterested courage was shown by my friends in the struggle! I cannot bring those moments back to memory without admiring the carefree open-heartedness of their action. And this action was not an affair of little importance. In fact, it is to those painters who were seen at the Indépendants or at the Salon d'Automne of 1911 that the glory belongs of having planted in the world of humanity a seed that, in the natural process of its growth, would split from top to bottom the generally accepted idea of form.



It was against these painters - and against them exclusively - that the attacks of the public authorities, provoked by the Parisian press and by pressure from the academies, were aimed. The Conseil Municipal de Paris threatened the Salon des Indépendants, where Cubism had begun, with its thunderbolts. Questions were put against the Cubist painters in the Chambre des Députés. To defend them and, at the same time, to defend the Salon d'Automne, whose chief administrators were in a state of panic, Marcel Sembat spoke: 'The Salon d'Automne this year [1912] has had the glory of becoming an object of scandal, and this glory it owes to the Cubist painters!!!' (8) That was how Sembat's speech began, and this speech is an important event in modern history. For the first time in a parliament a question concerning the moral order, free of any material interest, a question of concern to the needs of the spirit, was raised. For the first time, the legitimacy and superiority of the appearances of unofficial art were openly proclaimed. What had until then been said only in little groups was now announced from the heights of a national tribunal; and it provoked interruptions from one side and from the other which were, generally, approvals. Painting evoked literature; Cubism evoked the memory of Mallarmé - the Symbolist poets had become part of the established order of the day (9).

(8) Marcel Sembat (1862-1922) was a leading member of the French Socialist party, the SFIO (Section française de l'internationale ouvrière), a close colleague of Jean Jaurès. He became Minister of Public Works in the wartime government of national unity. His wife was a painter and friend of the Neo-Impressionist Paul Signac (founder of the Salon des Indépendants) and of Odilon Redon, among others.

(9) I remember that at this time I drew Sembat's speech to the attention of Gustav Kahn [the Symbolist poet - translator], whom he had mentioned, and this brought about a renewal of contact between the two men who had not seen each other for several years. One unexpected consequence of this was, two years later, the collaboration of Sembat and of Kahn in the Ministry of Public Works, the one as minister, the other as head of his secretariat. Cubism has been useful in many ways. And I am persuaded that an election to the academy such as that of Paul Valéry was only possible because of the death-blow struck against anecdotal art by the Cubist painters. [Note by Gleizes]

If such a thing had happened in Greece or in Rome it would have inspired floods of admiration from among our aging humanists. But, so close to us, it does not seem so extraordinary. However, we predict that it will be recognised as having been something exceptional once the new order that is coming begins to look for its heroes in the order that exists today - when, its reign having begun, it will search for its antecedents in an earlier age.

The canvasses themselves, moreover - those which provoked the scandals and also the courageous defence - will be there to witness better still, through their own act, that something was being born. Once time has produced an accurate understanding of the period, permitting only that which was truly solid, capable of resisting its influence, to remain, then to each will be rendered according to his works. Then we will know which were the truly great works of the age that is passing - the works that are at present being covered in silence through the combined efforts of a fickle virtuosity and financial interest.

So that they will be remembered, I will recall that to the Salon des Indépendants of 1912 Metzinger sent La Femme au Cheval, Léger a Groupe de Personnages, Le Fauconnier a sketch for Le Chasseur, Delaunay his immense Ville de Paris, myself Les Baigneuses. To the Salon d'Automne the same year, Metzinger Au Café Concert, Léger La Femme en Bleu, Le Fauconnier Les Chasseurs, myself L'Homme au Balcon; it was also during the winter of 1912 that the Exhibition of the Section d'Or (10) took place, the most important specialist exhibition of that time, which brought together the best values of that generation, all of whom had agreed to be shown under the sign of Cubism. At this same moment, Jean Metzinger and myself, trying to put a little order into the chaos of everything that had been written in the papers and reviews since 1911, published the first book on Cubism - Du "Cubisme", published by Figuière in Paris. A little later, Guillaume Apollinaire published a study of the new painting in which the real substance of the problem was rather buried under a combination of good will and poetic talent - Méditations Esthétiques, Les Peintres Cubistes - also with Figuière.

(10) For the Section d'Or exhibition see Cécile Debray and Françoise Lucbert: La Section d'Or, Exhibition catalogue, Musées de Chateauroux, Eds Cercle d'Art, 2000.



The year 1913 saw the movement continuing to evolve. The changes it had already undergone since the Indépendants of 1911 could leave people in no doubt as to its nature. Cubism was not a school, distinguished by some superficial variation on a generally accepted norm. It was a total regeneration, indicating the emergence of a wholly new cast of mind. Every season it appeared renewed, growing like a living body. Its enemies could, eventually, have forgiven it if only it had passed away, like a fashion; but they became even more violent when they realised that it was destined to live a life that would be longer than that of those painters who had been the first to assume the responsibility for it.

At the 1913 Salon des Indépendants could be seen a very large work of Jean Metzinger's - L'Oiseau BleuL'Equipe de Cardiff from Robert Delaunay; two important canvasses from Léger; still lifes and L'Homme au Café from Juan Gris; enthusiastic new work from La Fresnaye and from Marcoussis, and from others again; and finally, from myself, Les Joueurs de Football.

Again, to the Salon d'Automne of 1913 - a salon in which Cubism was now the predominating tendency - Metzinger sent the great picture called En Bâteau, La Fresnaye La Conquête de l'Air, myself Les Bâteaux de Pêche and La Ville et le Fleuve. If the first moment of surprise had passed by, the interest Cubism excited was as great as ever. The anger and the enthusiasm had not changed sides, our enemies held to their guns. It is enough for proof to read the diatribes of Louis Vauxcelles in Gil Blas for that year,1913, and the panegyrics of Guillaume Apollinaire in L'Intransigeant.

Finally, to finish off this pre-war period, it only remains for me to mention the last Salon des Indépendants of 1914, where we continued to show important works, among them those of Robert Delaunay - Disques Simultanés, which I will talk about in a moment.

What has happened to the works I have just been quoting? Most of them can be found in museums and collections in Germany. The rest are scattered. There are some in France, others in America, in Russia, in Spain - circumstances have not allowed us to keep track of them. So, since, by the all-powerful will of commerce which has become master of the world, they are unable to appear regularly in the public sales, they have been forgotten or ignored. How interesting it would be to bring them together some day, to show them once again to the public! The passage of the years would allow us a better understanding of them, and thus of the history of modern painting. They would soon put back into their proper place the parasites by whom it has, for the moment, been falsified.