The Last of Cubism: French Artists at the World’s Fair, 1937, Part Two

French Artists at the World’s Fair

The Last of Cubism, Part Two

Although the 1925 exposition, the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts, introduced a style for modern design, later known as “art deco,” was enormously successful, unlike other exhibitions, no significant building was left behind. No Palais du Trocadéro from 1878, no Eiffel Tower from 1889, no Grand Palais from 1900–nothing more than a pleasant memory of showing the world that France still dominated in the visual arts. When the planning began for the next world’s fair, scheduled for 1936, but delayed until 1937, architecture was of primary concern. This fair, like its predecessors, had to leave behind a significant legacy. However, the theme for the exposition–modernity–proved to be challenging, raising the question: was France ready for modern architecture? At first, the architects summoned to compete in the early 1930s thought ambitiously, in terms of urban renewal, with the hope of extending and updating the infamous Haussmannization of Paris, which began in the 1860s. The Swiss architect Le Corbusier, long a resident of Paris and famous, was disqualified from the competition because he missed the deadline and submitted his proposal with his name on it–a violation of the rules. According to Rika Devos and Alexander Ortenberg in their book, Architecture of Great Expositions 1937-1959: Messages of Peace, Images of War, Corbusier wanted to shift the discussion away from a modern “style” to a modern “way of life” that would center on the home itself and how modern people lived in modern ways. In that same year, 1933, the architect would publish Ville Radieuse in which he wrote, “The city of today is a dying thing because its planning is not in the proportion of geometrical one fourth. The result of a true geometrical layout is repetition, The result of repetition is a standard. The perfect form.” The competition moved on without considering his question of life in a modern city and the idea of demolishing large sections of Paris was scaled down and the venerable architect Auguste Perret was given the task of coming up with a solution.

The Old Trocadéro, aerial view, taken in 1900

Perret wanted to do some tearing down of his own and he, too, dreamed of being Haussmann. “Yes, I pull down the Trocadéro, the sad remains of the 1878 exhibition. Yes, I eliminate the barracks of the École Militaire, which block the fine Gabriel façade. And this is what I replace them with: the Trocadéro become a Palais where all the large museums scattered about in Paris are centralized.” Everything seemed on track, but a year later in 1934, fascist riots disturbed the city and the exhibition was canceled. Artists and architects protested and managed to get the exposition back on track, but without the ambitious plans for urban renewal. Available space would be repurposed and all of the exciting ideas for modern architecture of glass and steel boiled down to rebuilding Perret’s original target: the Trocadéro. But a new name rose to the top: Jacques Carlu.

The old Trocadéro consisted of a central building, rather exotic eclectic roundish structure, flanked by a pair of curving wings, rather like St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. There had been plans to disguise this “belly” of the structure with a concealing container that was more “modern,” and there were ideas of demolition. The French immediately became protective of the Trocadéro. As Julia Kostova, author of Spectacles of Modernity: Anxiety and Contradiction at the Interwar Paris Fair of 1925, 1931, and 1937, said, “While not liking the old Troca in the first place, Paris was not ready to let go of it, bespeaking the disquiet modernity inspired. This sharply critical response further problematized France’s relationship to its past and its attitude toward modernity.” The architect proposed to “preserve a part from the old structure but to clad it with marble, and to gut out and renovate the other part.” While the Place de Trocadéro was named after a famous battle with Spain in 1832, the Palais de Chaillot was named after a medieval town of the same name.

Palais de Chaillot, aerial view

Carlu opted for a conservative course. He demolished the central rotundity and replaced with two separated classical buildings that connected to the curved collonades and visually opened the space. Julia Kostova explained, “..the visual regime proposed by the esplanade of the Palais de Chaillot embodied a particular French worldview that served to obfuscate France’s loss of dominance by visually reestablishing hegemony; in other words, not only was French hegemony not at an end, but it was plainly on view at the exposition. This view fostered an image of France as stable, coherent, technologically progressive, happy and free of conflict, inclusive of its provinces and colonies under the banner of the peaceful republic.”

The Exposition did not open until 1937 but historian Jay Winter in his book Dreams of Peace and Freedom: Utopian Moments in the Twentieth Century noted that the city covered up for the delay by pairing 1937 to 1837 when the first train traveled between Paris and Saint-Germain, and 1637 when Descartes published his Discours sur la méthode. To celebrate the triumph of science, the ashes of the philosopher were transferred to the Pantheon in the closing ceremonies. The classicism of the new Palais de Chaillot and its tentative attempts at renewal made the gesture of the rejected architect, Le Corbusier, all the more significant in that modernity and the modern in architecture never materialized at the Fair of 1937. Aside from the renewal of the Trocadéro, France did not produce any major modern buildings and most of the pavilions were scattered across the fairgrounds and only a few, such as the Palace of Discovery survived.

The visionary architect, Le Corbusier, partnering with Pierre Jeanneret, wanted to stage an alternative exhibition called the “International Exhibition of Modern Dwelling,” a proposal for the city of the future built in part by demolishing most of the remaining historical Paris, an idea that failed to attract investors. Fortunately for history, the grand scheme was boiled down to a large tent that became a large book with images–blueprints and images and explanatory texts–that presented the architect’s hopes of a future that would never come. According to Romy Golan’s article, “Paris: A Cardboard Promenade,” the

“large, simple, tent-like structure of wood, steel, and brightly colored canvas, anchored by highly visible metal cables. (The idea of using water-resistant canvas apparently came from his cousin and frequent collaborator, Pierre Jeanneret, who had recently experimented with temporary structures for the Communist Party’s Fête de l’Humanité.) As Le Corbusier later noted with pride, his structure was rejected by the exposition’s authorities as non-architecture and was omitted from both official publications..the Temps Nouveaux pavilion was dominated by photomurals, it included, in a typical Corbusian gesture toward unadulterated creativity, a number of children’s paintings..Le Corbusier deployed every type of imagery at his disposal to make his point, juxtaposing aerial views of the Roman Coliseum with arrays of Gothic spires jumbled with those of American skyscrapers and his own (“Cartesian”) high-rises, men and women at work in city streets, in fields, and in domestic interiors, mingling with blow-ups of Brueghel paintings, medieval prints, diagrams, newspaper cartoons, and caricatures. Rather than offering an encyclopedic overview of urbanism, he provided what he called a sampling (the French word is “échantillonage”) of the possibilities offered by modern urbanism, and left it to the viewer to pull together the necessary threads. It was a creative take on the pedestrian “timeline..”

Le Corbusier. Photomural for the Pavillon des Temps Nouveaux (1937)

In a play on Corbusier’s famous phrase that a house was “a machine for living,” historian Ivan Shumkov called the tent, “a machine for transforming the visitors by initiating them in the new doctrines of architecture and urbanism..” The largest photomurals displayed in Corbusier’s remarkable tent were blown up photomontages that took up large expanses and dominated the more didactic content. As shall be noted in the next article on the French artists at the Fair, Fernand Léger also used photomontage in his murals. In fact, in order to give them employment during the Depression, the French artists were called upon to decorate the nation’s buildings with murals, providing them with a nice income for their work. As Arthur Chandler explained in 1988,

“..some of the most renowned French artists of the period – painters Robert and Sonia Delauny, Albert Gleizes, sculptors Henri Bouchard and Alfred Janniot– staved off starvation with government commissions. But there was a subtle price attached to this patronage: modern painting and sculpture at the Exposition Internationale were reduced to the status of architectural embellishment. First the superiors, then the equals of industrialists, artist had now fallen to the level of plaster molding manufacturers and furniture decorators..The official book of the exposition, Le Livre d’Or, significantly makes no mention of the names of the artists who painted the murals. After all, why mention them, unless one also mentioned the designers of cowcatchers or pull-down compartment beds?”

The next post will discuss the work of the Delaunays on their murals at the 1937 Fair.

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.

Thank you.

[email protected]

The Last of Cubism: French Artists at the World’s Fair, 1937, Part One

French Artists at the World’s Fair

The Last of Cubism, Part One

In 1929, the French Chamber of Deputies, fresh off their success with the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts of 1925 decided to repeat the fair in a decade. However, by 1936, the world had changed, stalked by a lingering and seemingly surmountable Depression and haunted by Fascism, so that the theme of decorative art seemed inappropriate. After much debate and a year’s delay, the vague theme of “art and technology” was selected. The Bauhaus had been closed in 1933, and, with its demise, the union between the two seemed to end and now art and technology were separated. When the International Exposition of Arts and Technics in Modern Life opened in May of 1937, it was very close to the end of the world. The year 1937 was studded with portents for the dark future that diplomats were struggling to stave off. When Franklin Roosevelt was inaugurated in January, he acknowledged the death grip of the stubborn Depression by stating that fully one-third of America was “ill-housed, ill-clad, and ill-nourished.” A few days later, in a similar vein, Heinrich Himmler reported that 8000 prisoners were in camps for political dissidents all over Germany. And at the end of January, Hitler announced that Germany was withdrawing from the Treaty of Versailles and all of its demands, and in April he said that if a nation was of one mind then all it needed was one political party.

Fascism was on the march. In Spain, the forces of General Francisco Franco were inflated by the air forces of Germany and Italy, which, as a practice run for engagements to come, put Operation Rügen in motion and bombed Guernica on April 26. They would be joined the next month by German Condor Legion Fighter Group, arriving for the coup de gras to the Republic. The day before on the 6th of May, the airship, the Hindenburg, blew up at Lakehurst, New Jersey. In the summer, Japan invaded China and in Germany, the Nazis put on one of the last large art exhibitions, one for “German art” and one for “Degenerate Art.” The rest of the year was dominated by the long and brutal war between the Japanese and the Chinese, culminating in the Rape of Nanking on December 13. By the time the fair closed, its purpose rang hollow and ironic: “The objective is to be a meeting place for harmony and peace by not only striving to promote economic exchange between peoples but also the exchange of ideas and friendship.”

Phare du Monde (1937) unbuilt

Meanwhile, in Paris, the city had to pretend that Spain was joined the pantheon of Fascism, uniting with Germany and Italy, Nazis and Blackshirts, and had to turn away from China being beaten to its knees by the ascendant Japanese Empire. The year 1937 was supposed to be a celebration of technological advances since the famously modern Exposition Universelle in 1889. Gustave Eiffel had explained that his famous tower, built for the occasion, symbolizednot only the art of the modern engineer, but also the century of Industry and Science in which we are living, and for which the way was prepared by the great scientific movement of the eighteenth century and by the Revolution of 1789, to which this monument will be built as an expression of France’s gratitude.” The long title that was given in 1937, “The Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne,” did not mean to be ironic, but everywhere new battleships were being commissioned and modern bi-planes were practicing bombing runs, suggesting the victory of technology given over to war. The French authorities put forward a serious plan to erect a new tower, called the Phare du Monde or, the optimistically titled, Lighthouse of the World, which was to be twice as tall as the Eiffel Tower. Despite its name, this lighthouse was dedicated to the automotive industry in France and apparently one could drive up a spiral road winding around this concrete structure to the restaurant on top. Not surprisingly, the building was not completed. However, other national pavilions were finished on schedule and bristled with political messages.

Pablo Picasso. Guernica (1937)

The Spanish Pavilion, one of the last acts of the Republican government and the first and only pavilion the Spanish Republic would have in a world’s fair, was designed by Josep Lluís Sert who asked his friends, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró and Alexander Calder to decorate the interior. The pavilion opened seven weeks late and was not on the official map and few paid any attention to the important work of art inside. Picasso’s response to the bombing of Guernica is the best-remembered work of art for the entire world’s fair that year. But at the time, few understood the significance of the mural, Guernica, and the government was disappointed at the offering. The Reaper, a mural executed in situ by Miró, is forgotten perhaps because it disappeared on the way home to Valencia. Along with his red mobile, symbolizing the Republic, Calder’s Mercury Fountain, which pumped mercury survived and can be seen–behind protective glass–in Barcelona. Writing in Cahiers d’Art, defended Picasso’s painting: “These visionary forms have an evocative power greater than shapes drawn with every realistic detail. They challenge people to truly comprehend the effects of their actions.”

And then there were the Soviet and German pavilions, staring at each other across the Jardins du Trocadéro: two truly horrible erections of totalitarian architectural madness, predicting horrors to come. The architect, Albert Speer predicted, Our architectural works should also speak to the conscience of a future Germany centuries from now.” Somehow Speer had come across the secret plans of the Soviet architect, Boris Iofan, and, when he realized the possible impact of Vera Mukhina’s Worker and Kolkhoz Woman, he countered with an eagle surmounting a swastika topping his edifice. In an article on these dueling buildings, Paul Garson remarked that the German intelligence service had interpreted the Soviet sculptures as “symbolizing a Soviet invasion of Germany.” In his March 2017 article.”Clash of Ideology at the Paris Expo,” Garson continued, “Both building designs were also windowless, with no light either entering or escaping, the visitors sealed within and subject to whatever sounds and sights awaited them. Both pavilions appeared sepulchral in form and atmosphere, although not so intended by their designers, at least consciously.” Today, it seems impossible that such blatantly officious buildings were ever imagined, much less built, but ample film footage of the event, including shots of these architectural monstrosities, exists today. I stress the aggression of the twin totalitarian towers for two reasons: first, it would be Mukhina’s ordinary men and women who would eventually defeat an empty ideology, symbolized by Speer. And the second reason for emphasis would be the work of French artists in the French pavilions, all of which speak in a different voice, one of hope and optimism, bright colors and jaunty designs. And these works of art can be seen, with hindsight, as a picture of a nation that has its head in the sand–of a nation that will be no match for the relentless ambitions of the Nazis, who, in three years time, would march down the Avenue des ChampsÉlysées. In 1937, the two buildings functioned as giant advertising billboards, selling two extremes of totalitarian solutions to the world’s problems—military might or a workers’ paradise. France, mired in anti-Semitism and class warfare combined with ideological rifts, was, like the Eiffel Tower, standing helplessly in the middle.

Post Card showing the German Pavilion on the left facing the Soviet Pavilion on the right, with the Eiffel Tower in between (1937)

The French government was far less efficient in building its own structures, mainly because French workers did what French workers always do when faced with the opportunity to embarrass the ruling class–they went on strike. After years of class warfare–between 1934 and 1936 there were over one thousand demonstrations of some kind–the children and grandchildren of the Communards were slow to complete the commissioned structures. France had been torn between fascism and communism and the Third Republic attempted to find a middle path but the exposition as a whole became a site of nationalistic propaganda. Faced with the sophisticated forces of Germany and the Soviet Union, the host nation felt compelled to present “la Firme France.” The French contributions to their own exposition seem, in hindsight, naïve and doomed in their determined optimism.

Raoul Dufy. La Fée Electricité or the Electricity Fairy at the Palace of Discovery (1937)

When electricity was introduced to the streets of Paris in those last delirious years before the Great War, the people were delighted and enchanted. Some twenty years, electricity was commonplace, lighting streets and powering vacuum cleaners. Raoul Dufy was given a formidable challenge when his sponsor, the Compagnie parisienne de Distribution d’Electricité, the company that organized all the electricity for the city, presented him with the concave back wall of the Palais de la Lumière et de l’Electricité, another building by the formidable architect, Robert Mallet-Stevens. A former Fauve artist whose specialty was charm, Dufy was the last artist to execute anything scientific and he retreated to the realms of enchantment and turned electricity into a delightful fairy tale. According to the Museum of Modern Art in Paris,

“..the story of The Electricity Fairy was based on De Rerum natura by Lucretius. In this composition measuring 10m x 60m, he works from right to left on two main themes, the history and applications of electricity, from the earliest observations right up to the most modern technical achievements. The upper part shows a changing landscape across which are dotted some of the painter’s favourite themes: yachts, flocks of birds, a threshing machine and a Bastille Day ball. Portraits of 110 great scientists and inventors who have contributed to the development of electricity are arranged across the lower half. Blending mythology and allegory with historical fact and technological description, Dufy plays on the contrast between opposites – the gods of Olympus in the centre of the work and the power plant generators linked by Zeus’s thunderbolts; primordial nature and architecture; works, days and modern machines. In formal terms also, hot colours contrast with cold, with the dominant colours being clearly differentiated by zone. This dual narrative thread is resolved in an apotheosis as Iris, the messenger of the gods and daughter of Electra flies through the light above an orchestra and the capital cities of the world disseminating all the colours of the spectrum.

Raoul Dufy. The Electricity Fairy in the Musée d’art moderne de la ville de Paris, the East Wing of the Palais de Tokyo

And for those unfamiliar with the poem by Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, it begins:

Mother of Rome, delight of Gods and men,
Dear Venus that beneath the gliding stars
Makest to teem the many-voyaged main
And fruitful lands- for all of living things
Through thee alone are evermore conceived,
Through thee are risen to visit the great sun-
Before thee, Goddess, and thy coming on,
Flee stormy wind and massy cloud away,
For thee the daedal Earth bears scented flowers,
For thee waters of the unvexed deep
Smile, and the hollows of the serene sky
Glow with diffused radiance for thee!

In his book, Dreams of Peace and Freedom: Utopian Moments in the Twentieth Century, Jay Winter wrote that

This work of art may be the largest painting in history, measuring in total over 200 feet long and 32 feet high..Dufy accepted the challenge of producing it within a year. And this is precisely what he did, with the assistance of his brother Jean Dufy and André Robert. Dufy listened to scientists; visited workshops, generators, and factories; and then proceeded to paint 250 panels on the subject of electricity. These panels were assembled in a hanger in the Paris suburb of Saint Ouen and were produced with such efficiency that–unlike many other elements of the world’s fair—the ensemble actually was ready for the opening exhibition..Entering the pavilion, the visitors came upon a 20 foot long electrical sparking current, joining two copper spirals; here was the longest continuous electrical current of its kind in the world. This gigantic display was only a prelude to what visitors saw at the heart of the building. Entering a huge hall painted black, they confronted Dufy’s mural on the “spirit of electricity,” a spectacularly colorful and illuminated mural. The majesty of science was there in all its splendor.

A sense of the vast scale of the mural can be seen in contemporary videos of the work, which is one of fantasy and escapism. Somehow, Dufy magically waved a wand and wished away the lurking militarism and the confrontational ideologies poised against each other elsewhere on the fair grounds. Naïve or willfully ignorant and disengaged or comforting in its evocations of fairies, the mural summed up the contradictions of Paris in the 1930s–looking backwards without looking inwards.

The discussion of the artists at the 1937 Fair continues in the next post.

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.

Thank you.

[email protected]

The Delaunays, Robert and Sonia, Between the Wars

The Delaunays and Modern Life

Paris Between the Wars,

In 1889, the year that France celebrated the centenary of the Revolution, is best known for the shock of the new tower rising from the Champs de Mars, the Eiffel Tower, but that year was also the year that the first steps were taken to electrify Paris. Today Paris is known as “the city of light,” but as the nation of France approached the twentieth century, it was suddenly realized that the capital city was falling behind other European nations in adopting the latest in lighting technology–electricity. Writing in 1911, A. N. Holcombe noted that not until the Opéra Comique burned down did the officials awaken to continuing danger of using gas for public buildings. The article of 1911, “The Electric Lighting System of Paris,” is as boring and straightforward as the title, detailing the long process of installing a new means of illuminating the city, from putting “underground conduits and wiring” in place to deciding what fixed price should be charged and determining how the private companies undertaking the enterprise should be compensated in relation to the capital investments made by the state. By 1907, the year of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, the public had accepted the switch (so to speak) from gas to electric and the demand for installation far exceeded the speed of the companies, which, being private, needed more investment funds. The tangled tale involved how the government should deal with private for-profit companies serving the public and how both entities should deal with labor.

Sonia Delaunay. Electric Prisms (1914)

A. N. Holcombe’s article in the Political Science Quarterly noted that when all the companies were merged into one company, the Paris Electricity Supply Company, capitalized by the city was given an exclusive contract that would begin in 1914 and extend to 1940. The city-owned the plant(s) and the company was given access to “the exclusive use of the property.” What is interesting about this article, now over one hundred years old, is that, in its own dry fashion, illustrates how new and novel public electric lighting would have been in the Paris of Robert Delaunay and Sonia Terk-Delaunay, artists who were dazzled and enchanted by this burst of modernity. In the evenings before the Great War, the newly married couple would stroll down the Boulevard St Michel where the new lights were providing a sharp brilliance, blindingly radiant in comparison to the mellow glow of gas. She remembered, “Halos were making colors and shadows turn and vibrate around us, as if unidentified objects were falling from the sky, friendly and crazy.”

Sonia Delaunay. Electric Prisms (1913)

In her interesting article on the impact of electric lights on artists, Christine Poggi wrote that when the street lights were installed on the Boulevard St. Michel were installed just before 1913 both Delaunays made sketches of the people of Paris, drawn to the novel sight, congregating under the bright lights. “The new arc lights can be viewed as one of the modernizing effects of Haussmannization, in which expansive new boulevards, among them the Boulevard St. Michel, cut through the narrow streets of old Paris, opening them to greater circulation and the production of new forms of visuality and spectacle. As Wolfgang Schivelbusch observes, arc lights were like small sums with a spectrum similar to that of daylight. In contrast to the gas lamps they replaced, they were extraordinarily bright and could not be looked at directly. As a result, they had to be fixed much higher on posts, where they were out of view. For those entering one of the places illuminated by arc lights from a dim, gas-lit side street, the transition could be dramatic. Delaunay’s memoir evoke her experience of the modernity of the site, the brilliant color and disorienting spatial effects created by the arc lights inducing a sense of ‘madness.'”

I liked electricity. Public lighting was a novelty. At night, during our walks, we entered the era of light, arm-in-arm. Rendez-vous at the St. Michel fountain. The municipality had substitued electric lamps for the old gas lights. The “Boul Mich,” highway to a new world fascinated me. We would go and admire the neighborhood show. The halos amde the colors and shadows swirl and vibrate around us as if unidentified objects were falling from the sky, beckoning our madness.

But, at the beginning of the twentieth century, the blossoming of electric street lights, marching from neighborhood to boulevard, was not the only modern innovation that captured their attention. Elsewhere, far away, an extraordinary railway–the Trans-Siberian Railway–was being completed in Eastern Russia. Alarmed by the moves by China to build a railroad up to the Eastern borders of Russia, Tsar Alexander III began the project–intended to protect the Russian Empire from any Chinese incursion–in 1890. The father wrote to his son, “I desire you to lay the first stone at Vladivostok for the construction of the Ussuri line, forming part of the Siberian Railway, which is to be carried at the cost of the state and under direction of the government. Your participation in the achievement of this work will be a testimony to My ardent desire to facilitate the communications between Siberia and the other countries of the empire, and to manifest My extreme anxiety to secure the peaceful prosperity of this country.” His heir Nicholas I finished the “Great Siberian Way”, as it was called, twelve years later, and the completion of this major route of trade and transportation was arguably the finest of his few achievements. The Railway stretched from Moscow to Vladivostok but it was built on the cheap and during the 1903 war with Japan, the rails failed and the system sagged and collapsed with the Empire itself. In a little-known footnote to history, just before the Russian Revolution installed a Soviet system of a worker controlled Communist state, it was the most capitalistic nation in the world, the United States of America that sent in workers and engineers in 1917 to help the fledgling Provisional Government to repair the Railway and re-built all 5,772 miles correctly. Even today, the prospect of riding nearly six thousand miles on a famous railroad is tempting and in the early twentieth century, the journey was a luxurious one–if one had the money. Certainly, the feat of modern engineering fired the imagination of the Russian poet Blaise Cendrars, who wrote Prose on the Trans-Siberian Railway and of Little Jehanne of France, a long folded expanse of text designed and decorated by his friend Sonia Terk-Delaunay. Produced through a combination of Linotype printing and the use of colored stencils (pochoir), this is a truly remarkable poem because its sheer size and length mimics the long railway itself. Because we usually see this “poem” as a small colorful illustration in a book, the explanation of the Tate Museum about the impressive size of this work of art is helpful:

(The poem was) produced in Paris in 1913 and published by Cendrars’s own self-financed publishing house, Éditions des Hommes Nouveaux (New Man Publishing). The text and artwork was printed on a single sheet of paper, folded accordion-style to form the twenty-two panels. When unfolded it is two metres tall. The original print run was intended to be 150 copies, which, if laid end to end, would be the same height as the Eiffel Tower, however only sixty editions were printed. Due to its large scale, Prose on the Trans-Siberian Railway only functions as a readable book when it is fully open. Prose on the Trans-Siberian Railway stages the unification of text and image and is a key example of the ‘simultaneisme’ (simultaneous theory) developed by Delaunay with her husband, fellow artist Robert Delaunay…Delaunay’s artwork was not an illustration of Cendrars’s narrative, but a visual equivalent, intended to be seen in unison. She transcribed the poem in colours, as she heard it being read out..

In this wonderful stream of consciousness poem, the narrator travels which his companion, Jehanne, described “a young proletarian,” who keeps asking: “Blaise, tell me, are we far from Montmartre?” And the poet answers: “For pity’s sake, come here and I’ll tell you a story Come into my bed/Come to my heart/I’m going to tell you a story..” In the Delaunay couple, we have two artists who celebrate the modern innovations of the new century with their art. In fact, in this poem, Cendrars, who lived in Paris, wrote of the impact of electric lights. “Is raining electric globes/Montrouge Gare de l’Est Métro Nord-Sud ferries on the Seine world/Everything is halo/Depth.” The text was done in four different typographies with upper and lower case, in four colors–green, blue, red and orange. The design keeps the story unfolding, leading from “page” to “page” as sixteen-year-old Blaise tells the story of his experiences in 1905 on the Railway.

Sonia Delaunay and Blaise Cendrers.

Prose on the Trans-Siberian Railway and of Little Jehanne of France (1913)

In her article, “Mass, Pack, and Mob,” Poggi made the interesting observation that, after the War, “this quasi-abstract approach to depicting the city, and of the masses that inhabit it, would come to seem outdated, even decadent.” Post-war artists, she observed were interested in the “politically organized crowd” in contrast to “modern spectacle and entertainment.” But the Delaunays were not in Paris after the War. They had fled to Spain and from there to Portugal where they lived the war years. The Revolution put an end to Sonia’s Russian income, and she, the practical one in the family, opened a chain of shops, from Bilbao, Madrid and Barcelona, which sold her fabrics and her fashions, all designed by her, using patterns and colors inspired by her paintings. The couple stayed in the Iberian Peninsula for seven years before they returned to Paris. By the mid-twenties, Paris was in the midst of Les Années folles and the pre-war rivalry Robert had felt for Pablo Picasso was long ago and far away, in another time. According to Histoires de Paris,

Dès son arrivée dans la capitale, l’écrivain américain Henry Miller écrira : « La première chose qu’on remarque, à Paris, c’est que le sexe est dans l’air. Où qu’on aille, quoi qu’on fasse, on trouve d’ordinaire une femme à côté de soi. Les femmes sont partout, comme les fleurs.

For Sonia, these flower-like women were her target audience and she began her business anew in a city mad for new fashions. Unlike Robert, who had to reestablish himself, she had a place in the post-war world through her designs. As her biographer, Axel Madsen, wrote,

Sonia’s flair for adventuresome decorating, theater costume and book design, led her to adapt her bold color compositions, geometric designs, and swirling patterns to abstract dress designs. The result was a style that was different, a fashion that was decidedly avant-garde. This kind of haute couture could only be worn–and appreciated–by women who wanted to be noticed. Her clientele, therefore, included women who were known for their character and eccentricity, actresses and rich foreigners. To wear SoniaDelaunay was not, like wearing Chanel, to adopt a “look.” It was to make a statement.

Sonia was the main source of income for the couple who held court in their Paris apartment which was both decorated by painted poems by their friends and visited by the new Surrealist community. But their evenings and their dinner parties were not exclusively French. The Delaunays, in contrast to the rest of Paris, were happy to entertain Germans, including the Bauhaus architects. For Robert, the Bauhaus idea of joining art and industry was simpatico and for Sonia, the poems on the walls made their way into her architectonic dresses. In his book, Sonia Delaunay: Artist of the Lost Generation, Madsen reported on how the couple went from being hounded by bill collectors to being well-to-do, once they were established. They owned a dashing car, a Talbot, and were among the first artists in the 1920s to possess a telephone and own a radio. But this was on her earnings.

Sonia Terk-Delaunay’s designs for cars and clothes

In 1925, Art Deco was introduced to the French and to the world in an exhibition, the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts, from which the new Style Moderne took its name. Art Deco, the preferred name, was introduced later, but in 1925, it became clear that the Cubism that had dominated before the War had become an applied art, incorporated into design after the War. Given the male-dominated character of the group, the fact that Sonia Terk-Delaunay took the heady concepts of Orphism and Simultaneity and made these terms buzz words for fashion. There was a simultaneous car, a simultaneous dress, coat, shoes and so on, popularizing Cubism at its most scientific and most esoteric, making the style into a luxury consumer good.

Simultaneous Dresses in 1925

It was the 1925 exhibition that made her reputation while Robert was still trying to find his artistic feet. Apparently, Robert’s first post-war exhibition in 1922 at the Galerie Paul Guillaume was not successful, but he began a new series on the Eiffel Tower. Two years later, Delaunay returned to another pre-war theme, athletics, in his Runner paintings, which were far more conservative than the earlier paintings he did before the War. It seems that Robert, who was never inclined towards hard work, preferred to drive his fancy Talbot and entertain his friends to contributing to the family income. When the Delaunays needed money, he would make or sell art, and the paintings of the twenties and thirties were reiterations on his previous themes.

Robert Delaunay. Runners (1924-26)

However, in 1937, Robert Delaunay, in collaboration with his now famous wife, Sonia, got a chance to shine, one more time. He was invited to do the murals for the Palais des Chemins de Fer and Palais de l’Air at the Paris World’s Fair. Here the preoccupations of decades for the couple–the fast trains, the Trans-Siberian Railway and the glamor of air travel, going back to Louis Blériot–came to fruition. The World’s Fair was a futile gesture of hope in a Europe sinking back into another world war. The next and last post on the partnership between the leading art couple between the wars will concentrate on their murals in the Pavillon de l’aviation in Paris.

Robert Delaunay. Disques reliefs (1936)

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.

Thank you.

[email protected]

Post-War Cubism in Paris, Part Four

Cubism After Cubism

Part Two: Orphism Between the Wars

At 4:35 a.m on a chill and cloudy day in July, on the 25th day of the year 1909, a daring French aviator Louis Blériot (1872-1936), took off in an airplane of his own making, rising above Calais on the coast and pointed the nose of the aircraft towards England. Below were the cold and choppy waters of the English Channel, above was a sullen sky. This pilot was no ordinary flier; a former seller of headlamps for trucks, he was the head of his own company, Recherches Aeronautiques Louis Bleriot, and had succeeded in constructing the first engine powered monoplane. This plane, the Blériot VII, soared aloft in 1907 and even performed the first U-turn in the air. The plane that headed across the Channel was the “Number XI,” a design of ash, wires, and canvas, lacking instruments, even a compass. The plane, powered by twenty-five mechanical horses, was totally open, the pilot was operating the petals with an injured foot, because as an English magazine explained, “M. Blériot used to tumble with his machine with almost monotonous persistency.” Yet, despite the accident of the day before, the flyer, in pursuit of a £1ooo prize offered by the Daily Mail, seized a brief moment of calm in a windy season, described by the reporter as, “Taking the week-end as a whole, it has been one of the windiest periods of a particularly unsettled summer, and the previous day had in particular seemed hopeless for any cross-Channel flight.” Half way across the Channel, Blériot lost his bearings and kept his course, and traveling at somewhere between forty and fifty miles per hour arrived at a grassy field in Dover less than forty minutes later. As the magazine article summed up an hour of inexactness: “Accounts differ as to the exact moment of departure and descent, and as a matter of fact it is doubtful if any reliable timing was made since M. Blériot started without a watch as well as without a compass.” The man who had been named “le roi de la casse” had succeeded, winning a victory not just for himself but for his airplane company and the idea of flying safely across great and perilous distances. But Blériot gave as well as received of his fame: according to the Zenith watch company, “With his Zenith on his wrist, he took off aboard the Blériot XI, a frail ‘bird’ featuring a wooden frame and parchment-like wings.” Later the aviator said, “I am extremely satisfied with the Zenith watch, which I use regularly, and cannot recommend it highly enough to people in search of precision.” Such is the imprecision of history–watch or no watch–but it is worth nothing that the disputed watch exists today and was a wristwatch, a fashion for men that would become widespread during the Great War. In 1914, Blériot’s would produce the famous S.P.A.D., the fighter plane flown by the French, the Britsh and the Americans.

Promotional Card for Blériot’s Flight

Despite the definitely undashing droopy mustache sported by the pilot, Blériot’s flight across the English Channel in 1909 was the entry of France into the twentieth century and made the nation as important as America in the development of aviation. The French people could add yet another milestone in their march into modernity, first, they had built to Eiffel Tower and then they had conquered the formidable Channel. However, modern art took little note of the airplane except for the Cubist painter Robert Delaunay (1885-1941), the prophet of Orphism and the harbinger of Simultaneity. Delaunay was fascinated with modern life and its machines. Delaunay and his wife Sonia Terk-Delaunay (1885-1979) were associated with the Cubists, a radical art movement, but Cubism was less interested in looking out and responding to the modern urban life swirling around, and was, as a movement, was concerned with the concepts of painting. In other words, Cubism was art about art. Far more than any Cubist, before or after the War, Robert Delaunay used his developing style to attempt to capture twentieth-century life and its modernity. His study of an urban environment transformed by technology and the impact of the machine marked his art before and after the Great War. While the Cubist who were being supported by Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso were shut up in their respective studios, making art based upon their atelier experiments. Indeed, whether with the so-called Analytic and Synthetic phases (named years after the War), the subject matter is usually one of interior settings, arranged for portraits and still lives, with the artists rarely venturing outside. The Salon Cubists explored the possibilities of expanding the implications of Paul Cézanne’s late work, continuing the traditions of art, basing their experiments upon historical subject matter. As with Picasso and Braque, the Cubists who exhibited publically were very conservative in their content, a choice that, for the most part, many of these artists continued after the Great War. Indeed, it has been noted that that most daring of artistic experiments, after the War Cubism, retreated and returned to “order.” Meanwhile, Robert Delaunay and Sonia Terk-Delaunay were out and about, exploring Paris and taking note of its events and activities, now a hallmark of a twentieth-century city.

Postcard of Blériot’s famous plane, shown flying over Paris,

Eiffel Tower in the distance, similar to Delaunay’s paintings

For the Delaunays, the question was always how to balance the strong pull of abstraction with the sheer material factuality of what they were representing. Theoretically, Robert Delaunay attempted to explain this shifting of his art between what seemed to be total abstraction and recognizable motifs of modernity with the term “simultaneity” referring to the mind’s ability to observe, remember, and react to stimulation of the sights, sounds, smells and dizzying array of perspectives, swerving from high to low and swaying from side to side. Far from being spare and intellectual in his theories, Delaunay always seemed to have painted with joy and excitement, ebullient in his pleasure in all things modern, and, for him, simultaneity was symbolized by his use of contrasting colors. Simultaneity, he asserted was “…a certain combination of colors, in harmonic contrast with each other, can reproduce the movement of light.” The idea of simultaneity can be seen as the juxtaposition of image of modernity, the Eiffel Tower, the famous plane of Louis Blériot, the Cardiff rugby team, and the Ferris wheel–engineering, flight, and sports–all modern phenomenon brought together by Delaunay. The airplanes and the Eiffel Tower are clearly rendered and easily recognizable, while their swirling propellors are repeated again and again by Delaunay’s favorite motif, the disk or the circle, broken by contrasting colors. These colors, colliding within the swirl, would cause vibrations of human vision, activating the retina, simulating the pulsating speed of modernity itself.

Robert Delaunay. Homage to Blériot (1913)

Robert Delaunay. Equipe de Cardiff (1913)

Delaunay’s ideas for new art was based upon an old and famous book by Michel-Eugène Chevreul, who was the director of the dyeing for Gobelins Manufacture. Published in 1839, historian Georges Roque gives it entire title as: On the law of simultaneous contrast of colors and on its applications to…, followed by an impressive list of all the fields to which this law can be applied, including tapestry, of course, but also painting, carpets, clothing, horticulture, stained glass windows, and so on..Its English title was The Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colours and their Application to the Arts. In his 2011 article, “Chevreul’s Color Theory and Its Consequences for Artists,” Roque quoted the chemist as writing, “In the case where the eye sees at the same time two contiguous colors, they will appear as dissimilar as possible, both in their optical composition and in the strength of their color..Is in this sense we say: that Red is complementary to Green, and vice versa; That Orange is complementary to Blue, and vice versa, That Greenish-Yellow is complementary to Violet, and vice versa That Indigo is complementary to Orange-Yellow, and vice versa.”

Delaunay, according to Roque, was an avid reader of Chevreul, and, like Delacroix and Seurat and Signac before him, followed his theories closely and made them his own. Delaunay wrote, … the multiple dimensions [of a painting] form groups, which are opposed or neutralized, color being a measure of vibration of such or such intensity, given its neighborhood and its surface, in relation to all the other colors. Such vibration of an orange, placed in the composition next to a yellow— these two colors being placed almost side by side on the color diagram— their vibrations being therefore very close, vibrate very quickly. If, in the composition, there is a violet blue, this violet blue will form a vibration with the yellow orange: a much slower movement..” The artist was aware of Chevreul’s idea of “mixed contrast” or lingering afterimages left by one color upon another. As the scientist explained,
The distinction of simultaneous and successive contrast renders it easy to comprehend a phenomenon which we may call the mixed contrast; because it results from the fact of the eye, having seen for a time a certain colour, acquiring an aptitude to see for another period the complementary of that colour, and also a new colour, presented to it by an exterior object; the sensation then perceived is that which results from this new colour and the complementary of the first..” As Roque wrote, “..the contrast of complementary colors was used by Delaunay as a starting point to structure pure color relationships in his compositions, and as an attempt to infuse his paintings with the actual vibrations light. The optical properties of color vibrations were an excellent way of focusing, no longer on the object but on sensations produced by color vibration in the eye of the beholder. What has been said for Delaunay holds true, too, for color music and the first attempts at abstract color movies. The problems that confronted their creators were similar but included time: how to organize color combinations in order to achieve harmony through time? Here the central concept was that of mixed contrast, which Chevreul defined as follows: The distinction of simultaneous and successive contrast renders it easy to comprehend a phenomenon which we may call the mixed contrast; because it results from the fact of the eye, having seen for a time a certain colour, acquiring an aptitude to see for another period the complementary of that colour, and also a new colour, presented to it by an exterior object; the sensation then perceived is that which results from this new colour and the complementary of the first. Indeed, it was crucial for music color as well as abstract color movies to take into account the afterimages produced by persistence of vision and to use them as a syntactic way of structuring the successive sequence of colors.”

We, writers, painters, sculptors, architects and passionate devotees of the hitherto untouched beauty of Paris, protest with all our strength, with all our indignation in the name of slighted French taste, against the erection…of this useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower…To bring our arguments home, imagine for a moment a giddy, ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a gigantic black smokestack, crushing under its barbaric bulk Notre Dame, the Tour Saint-Jacques, the Louvre, the Dome of les Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe, all of our humiliated monuments will disappear in this ghastly dream. And for twenty years…we shall see stretching like a blot of ink the hateful shadow of the hateful column of bolted sheet metal..

As tall and sturdy as the Tower was, it was intended to be torn down after twenty years, in 1909, but its height made it useful as a radio transmission tower, since 1898; and it was judged to be too valuable to be without. Five years later, as the Germans moved closer and closer to Paris during the battle of the Marne, signals sent from the Tower blocked German radios and hindered what had seemed a relentless advance. But, even before the War, young inhabitants of Paris, like Delaunay, the Eiffel Tower was the symbol of Paris as the capital of all things modern. When contrasting the rendition of the Eiffel Tower by Georges Seurat in the year it was completed, 1889, to the series by Delaunay from 1909 to 1912, it is clear that Seurat regarded the structure from respectful distance, rendering it static and frozen in its prison of points, while Delaunay, who studied the Tower for years, though of the monument to a revolution to be in constant motion.

Georges Seurat. Eiffel Tower (1889) Robert Delaunay. Eiffel Tower (1909) Red Eiffel Tower (1911)

Delaunay’s relationship to Eiffel’s achievement began in 1909 with a Cézannesquelike version of Seurat’s distant observation, but as his ideas concerning Cubism and simultaneity evolved, the artist activated the experience of the viewer when confronted with such a building. The Tower is viewed from above below, in sunshine and in shadow, from an open window to a view towards the expanse of the Champ-de-Mars. The Red Tower, as Delaunay called the steel structure, shared the sky with the aviator Louis Blériot, in Homage to Blériot in 1914, served as a backdrop to the poet Philippe Souplaut in 1922. The 1924 version of the Tower is more stable and is far away from Cubism but the vantage point, the bird’s eye view, is the artist’s attempt to wrestle with the inhuman scale of the steel erection.

In 2015 the Centre Pompidou presented the exhibition, Robert Delaunay: “Rythmes sans fin,” one hundred years after the artist established his signature image, circles of color, throbbing and pulsating, according to the scientific theories of Chevreul. As will be discussed in the next post, the post-war paintings of Robert Delaunay were quite large, large for the 1930s, amplifying and expanding the studies of color he did on a smaller scale before the War. The circular motif, a recurring theme throughout his career, was not, as is often assumed, an abstract composition but a study of the effect of electric lights installed in Paris–an event explored in the concluding chapter on this artist.

Robert Delaunay. Manège de cochons (1922)

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.

Thank you.

[email protected]

Post-War Cubism in Paris, Part Three

Cubism After Cubism

Part One: Theories of Pre-War Orphism

Before the Great War, there were camps occupying various terrains within the art movement called “Cubism.” The name, as is well-known, was a bon mot coming either from Henri Matisse or Louis Vauxcelles, both startled by a suite of 1908 paintings by Georges Barque, containing a tumbling of ochre “cubes.” The term “Cubism” was more descriptive and dismissive than a formal designation, but, as words have a habit of doing, the catchy term stuck. When art history began its serious writing of the age of Cubism, several decisions were made in terms of delineation of the topic. Constructing from the standpoint of hindsight and from the site of New York City, where Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) wound up, hanging in the Museum of Modern Art, art historians marked the “beginning” of “Cubism” from that one large painting and situated “Cubism” within the art of Pablo Picasso and his partner Georges Braque. Everything and everyone else was labeled as “minor,” leaving a substantial amount of works thought of as “Cubist” in their own time stranded outside of their own history. Only slowly has an accurate picture of Cubism begun to emerge in the past twenty years, mostly in the form of monographs and the occasional retrospective of long-forgotten artists. Juan Gris and Fernand Léger managed to capture some historical attention but solid works about the other Cubist artists are few and sparse. In addition, there has been but fleeting attention paid to the very real differences between Picasso and Braque and their colleagues who exhibited in the public salons. Critical interpretations made of the movement during the pre-war period used the term “Cubism” broadly and inclusively, referring obliquely to the fact that two of the important artists were unavailable for public viewing on the scale of a salon. An exception to that rule was Orphism, partitioned off from the Salon Cubists by a strong inclination towards abstraction and from Picasso and Braque by the deep study of color. One of the major defenders of Cubism, Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918), singled out Orphism for separate discussion–one of the few times a critic attempted to make distinctions among the large numbers of practicing “Cubists.”

Robert Delaunay. Champs de Mars. La Tour rouge (1911)

As a historian of the poetic and critical works of Apollinaire, Timothy Matthews pointed out in Reading Apollinaire: Theories of Poetic Language (1987), the poet was deeply concerned with modernism or with modernity and its conditions of dynamism and speed and change. His deep awareness of the unprecedented nature of twentieth-century society in the urban city of Paris fueled his early engagement with Italian Futurism. In other words, far more than Picasso and Braque, the Futurists were engaged with the cultural conditions, political and economic, of their time. These artists, in common with the modern poets, such as Apollinaire, were searching for and developing an appropriate visual language for an era of fast cars, soaring airplanes and tall buildings. In 1913, Apollinaire published Meditations esthétiques which was subtitled Les Peintres cubistes. As Laurence Campa explained in Le Monde diplomatique , Apollinaire wrote, “‘I like the art of to-day because I love light above all things, and all men above all love light, they have invented fire.’ This light Apollinaire finds in the canvases of Delaunay, especially in the series of Windows, a stunning spectacle which gives rise to the poem of the same name, Les Fenêtres, as a kaleidoscope of words: From red to green all yellow is dying.'”

Robert Delaunay. Simultaneous Windows on the City (1912)

This small eloquent book was more of a work of poetry or poetic prose than a work of art criticism or an attempt to explain Cubism. Apollinaire, as was mentioned earlier, used painting as a surrogate for poetry, thinking of advanced poets and artists as partners in the quest to bend conventional language for the needs of modernism. In an uncharacteristically clear paragraph, he wrote,

The picture will inevitably exist. The vision will be complete, complete and its infinite, instead of marking an imperfection, will only bring out the relationship of a new creature to a new creator and nothing else.Otherwise, there will be no unity, and the relations which the various points of the canvas will have with different geniuses, with different objects, with different lights, will show only a multiplicity of disparities without harmony.

Apollinaire continued, in Meditations esthétiques,

Verisimilitude is no longer important, for everything is sacrificed by the artist to the truths, to the necessities of a higher nature which he supposes without discovering. The subject no longer counts or counts. We thus proceed towards an entirely new art, which will be to painting, as we have hitherto envisioned, what music is to literature. It will be pure painting, just as music is pure literature. The music-lover experiences, on hearing a concert, a joy of a different order from the joy he experiences in listening to natural sounds like the murmur of a stream, the crash of a torrent, the whistling of the wind In a forest, or the harmonies of human language founded on reason and not on aesthetics. Modern art generally rejects most of the means of pleasing put into practice by the great artists of the past.

This passage is a succinct description of Orphism. But in the following passage, the issue of Cubism as Orphism become muddied, for the poet inexplicably inserted Picasso in a random sentence that was interesting but had nothing to do with the comparison he was making between color and music:

Young painters in extreme schools have the secret goal of painting pure. This is an entirely new plastic art. It is only at its beginning and is not yet as abstract as it wishes to be. Most new painters do well mathematics without knowing it, but they have not yet abandoned nature that they patiently question for this purpose that it teaches them the road of life. A Picasso studies an object as a surgeon dissects a corpse. This art of pure painting, if it succeeds in emerging entirely from the old painting, will not necessarily cause the disappearance of the latter, any more than the development of music has caused the disappearance of the different literary genres, Nor has the pungency of tobacco replaced the taste of food.

Later on in the book, Apollinaire arrived at the concept of the fourth dimension, which, by the time he was writing, was no longer a concern for Braque and Picasso who had back away from abstraction in favor of the materiality of mixed media. Painters have been led naturally and, so to speak, by intuition, to concern themselves with new possible measures of the extent which in the language of the modern workshops all were referred to collectively and briefly by the term of the fourth dimension. In reading this early book, written in the midst of swirling ideas about painting and poetry, one becomes aware of the struggle on the part of Apollinaire to organize what he was both seeing in studios and what he was trying to execute with his own poetry. This book is often quoted in part, the parts that seem to describe Cubism, but those sections are spare and intermittent. In between, certain lucid passages, Apollinaire meditated—as he said he was—upon the arts, music, poetry and painting and the need for a new aesthetic or definition or purpose. Trying to distinguish among the various manifestations of Cubism, he divided the movement (strangely) into parts, only one of which had any currency as of the writing of the book: “‘Orphic cubism’ is the other great trend of modern painting. It is the art of painting new ensembles with elements borrowed not from the visual reality, but entirely created by the artist and endowed by him with a powerful reality. The works of the Orphic artists must simultaneously present a pure aesthetic approval, a construction that falls under the senses and a sublime meaning, that is, the subject. It is pure art.”

Robert Delaunay. Homage to Bleriot (1914)

The main point of this passage is “pure art,” which within the Orphism of Robert Delaunay, refers to the concept of “simultaneity.” For poets and painters, the term “simultaneity” indicating a combination of association and memory and spontaneous visual and cognitive experiences emerged to explain the endeavors of Robert Delaunay (1885-1941), a Parisian artist, and his associates before the Great War. Matthews quoted Apollinaire as writing that modern painting turned away from its traditional task of copying nature and moved towards plastic means of expressing–not Renaissance solutions to mimesis–but painting as an independent activity in and of itself: “the autonomy of the artistic artefact.” As Apollinaire said, “We must forget exterior reality and our knowledge of it in order to create the new dimensions, the order and extent of which will be discovered by our artistic sensibility in relation to the world of plastic creation.” By 1912 and 1913, the poet became deeply involved with the work Delaunay, who had begun the long process of conceptualizing and theorizing the aims of his own paintings in relation to the other prominent artists exhibiting in Paris. Delaunay understood what the Cubists, whether Picasso and Braque in their studios or Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger in the Salons, were attempting to convey–an expansion of dimensions from two and the illusion of three to the insistence upon a fourth dimension: the passage of time itself and its imprint on experience and memory rendered conceptually on a flat canvas.

Georges Braque. Still Life with Clarinet (Bottle and Clarinet) (1911)

But Delaunay seemed to want to also “respond to a present expressed in transformational technology.” Although it would be tempting to stop at this point because Delaunay was involved in his Ville series, incorporating the modern sights of Paris, from the old Eiffel Tower, now recognized as “new,” to biplanes, zipping through the clouds above, his intentions were much deeper than a mere representation of modern life and all of its novelties. Matthews explained,

This desire is articulated in relation to the urban environment and the urban experience, and to the iconography of the technologized world of mass communication. This involvement with movement and with the experience of modernity, combined with Delaunay’s Orphism as a reaction against a certain austerity and impersonality in Cubism. It is argued that this reaction forms the initial impetus in Delaunay’s desire to develop Cubism more radically and to extend the scope of art in the post-representational era. Even Delaunay’s approach is taken purely as a reaction against Cubist ‘austerity,’ what becomes increasingly explicit in Delaunay’s approach is a concentration on color–a desire to reverse the Cubist tendency to exclude this plastic element from its productions. But to respond to Delaunay’s contribution in terms of a rejection of the Cubist ‘analytical’ style is to suggest that all original and creative art is fundamentally anti-conceptual.” According to Matthews, Delaunay “seems to have regarded Cubist productions as a necessary destruction of the restrictions exercised by perspective. For Delaunay, Cubism provided a definitive rejection of Classical forms.

What Delaunay focused on, starting in 1912 and continuing after the war in his writings in 1924, was the key weakness of Cubism as practiced by Picasso, Braque, and even the Salon Cubists, was their concentration on the object itself and the “breaking up” or “fragmentation” of the object from a singular focal point. In other words, the Cubist artists trapped themselves within perspective, replacing one system with another, but still mired in the terms of the Renaissance. “Ainsi le cubisme croyant apporter un nouveau langage–expressif–ne faisait qu’apporter une modification extériure dans un système qu’il n’abolisait pas–mais qu’il soutenait: l’introduction de pluisiers points de vue d’un object sur la toile ressortissait de la même vision sinon complétée.” Delaunay also dismissed Futurism, locating its fundamental weakness, that of imitating speed and simultaneity, rather than expressing these modern qualities in a plastic manner. For Delaunay, the approach to capturing the uniqueness of modernity sould be simultaneity as manifested through color. Color, like music, is abstract, is a language in its own right. Furthermore, color can be freed from its Renaissance task of imitation of nature and can explore its inherent plastic possibilities.

Matthews stated, “It is though, for Delaunay, the canvas is experience–of identity, of the present. The reading it demands of the viewer and the painter, its manipulation of the displacement that constitutes the relation of color to light, efface the contours of the painting itself..each painting is experience, it contrasts represent the pursuit of contrast and difference, the sensation of light and the ‘otherness’ of time. Thus, with the paintings of Delaunay, color is the fact and process of transition, meaning that the canvas itself become experience. As Apollinaire explained it, for Delaunay the basic condition of color is its complementary color; and, because the existence of red, for example, is conditional upon its opposite color, green, the colors cannot be separated. If they cannot be thought of as separate, colors, plural, can only be material perception or experience. It can be assumed that, at some point, Delauany went beyond his 1912-1913 quarrel with Analytic Cubism and Futurism and continued developing his own independent theories about color in painting and the problem of painting modernity. Picasso and Braque gave up monochrome painting between 1912 and 1914 in favor of experimenting with collage and pasted paper and neither of the artists returned to the incomprehensible hermetic monochromatic Cubism of their early years. Robert Delaunay and Apollinaire apparently took their stands on modern art and its competing styles and approaches far more seriously than either Braque of Picasso, for the two allies parted company over Apollinaire’s reluctance to dismiss Futurism entirely, while Delaunay rejected Futurism completely.

Robert Delaunay. Disque simultané (1912)

In his 1982 book, The Structure of Modernist Poetry, Theo Hermans noted that Apollinaire, in effect, separated Orphism from the rest of Cubism by linking it to Impressionism and post-Impressionism, which studied color as light and color in terms of contrast respectively. Orphism abandoned mimesis for the purity of contrasting colors and, according to Hermans, Apollinaire understood Orphism to be the natural successor to Cubism because simultanism was the “ultimate goal” of avant-garde art. As Hermans said, correctly, “Apollinaire’s comments on the Cubist painters are to be approached with some caution,” and noted that the poet “defended the new painters out of a sense of solidarity rather than conviction; his interest also shifted fairly from Cubism proper to Robert Delaunay’s Orphism.” The author noted that the artists were not particularly impressed with Apollinaire’s book, “a book which is often more lyrical than informataive on the subject of Cubism.” When Apollinaire

..turns to Delaunay’s Orphism as the attainment of the desired ‘peinture pure,’ all references to geometricism are indeed dropped; and, since he describes Orphism in terms of ‘lyricism plastique’ and ‘peinture poétique,’ the central opposition between Cubism and Orphism appears to revolve around the contrast ‘cerberal’ (implying schematization and geometricism) versus ‘lyrical’ (implying totality of perception and harmony of contrasts..)..In Apollinaire’s view, the striving towards ‘pure painting’ which motivates the artists of the new generation implies, at a first stage, the ‘reduction to essentials’ and the preoccupation with ‘conceptual reality’ found in Cubism. This means in turn that, as the painter’s attention shifts from visual perception to the complexities of multiple viewpoints and to the sysematic composition of the painting itself, the external object or model loses its significance and becomes merely pictorial material to be taken apart and re-arranged..The next step in the evolution then, is represented by Orphism, which appears to be basically a further elaboration–in Delaunay’s case leading eventually to fully nonfigurative painting–of the principle of analytical multiplicity towards simultaneity of vision, combined with a more pronounced emphasis on the final product as a harmonious and purely pictorial composition of color contrasts. The instantaneous perception of totality is thus substituted for systematic analysis, and color harmonies take the place of linear construction..The ‘purity’ of Orphism lies in its superior ‘creative’ aspect..In the articles of the years 1913 and 1914 he goes still further in championing Orphism, presenting it as the successor to Cubism..The Cubists’ clear-cut geometric shapes have no place in Delaunay’s Orphism, which..operates almost exclusively with color contrasts and the pictorial harmony resulting from such contrasts..Delaunay concentrates on light, and, as he puts it ‘Light in Nature creates the movement of colors.’ Movement can be reproduced ‘by the rapport of odd elements,’ and this constitutes ‘Rhythmic Simultaneity,’ or ‘harmony, the rhythm of colors.’ The Orphist’s primaraya concern is with the total (as opposed to the ‘analytical’ in the Cubist sense) and simultaneous perception of a dynamic reality, with what Delaunay also calls ‘the synchornic movement (simultaneity) of light which is the only reality..Since the Orphist work of art consists in the pictorial presentation of such as simultaneous and dynamic multiciplicity, it will resist the intrusion of ‘descriptive’ or ‘literary’ elements.o

Obviously, Delaunay was intent on staking out his own place and was making claims for his own art and that of his two allies, Sonia Terk-Delaunay (1885-1975) and František Kupka (1871-1957). And for a time, Guillaume Apollinaire was his ally and was an interpreter (and often the mouthpiece) of the painter’s philosophy. Although the poet and painter ultimately parted company, they were not to be reconciled. The Great War began, scattering the artists, sending Delaunay and his wife Sonia Terk-Delaunay to the neutral nations of Spain and Portugal to wait out the War. Apollinaire served in the War, was wounded, and ultimately died of this wound. It is the death of this poet and interpreter of art that leaves behind one of the many blank spaces of unfinished throughts and unwritten words that that would never be consummated. It was left up to Delaunay to carry on his crusade for pure painting, but after the War, the art world had changed and the Orphists were left without their previous foils. But they were on their own ground, uncontested, and post-war Orphism carried on, only to be interrupted again by the Second World War. In the decades after 1950, the art histories of Cubism would be written, shifting out Orphism except for a passing mention. Only in the 1980s were here attempt, notably within literary circles, that the Cubist painters who were not Picasso would be given their due. In the years between the wars, Robert and Sonia Delaunay continued Orphism, now separated from Cubism, as an art of modern life, which will be discussed in the next post.

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.

Thank you.

[email protected]

Post-War Cubism in Paris, Part Two

Cubism After Cubism

Paris Coming to Order, Part Two

There was a second life for Cubism after the Great War. This lingering phase, a further development of an important art style was carried on by the so-called “Salon Cubistes,” who, although they had been away at War, were still famous to the art public, due to their participation in public salons. In the Salon d’Automne, they were scandalous dissidents and horrifying innovators; in the Salon des Indépendants, they were heroes, braving the scorn of critics. When they returned to Paris, one by one, these artists learned that the dominant painters were now Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, both of whom had remained in the city during the war, developing independent styles. Although Pablo Picasso (1871-1973) had taken off in his own many new directions, these former Salon Cubists sought to extend Cubism, now a historical and hence, lucrative art movement. The art scene in Paris had changed and, in the wake of the war, the Salon exhibitions were not the only game in town. The artist-dealer system, used so successfully by Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, began to become a major factor. But the players on the market were new.

When War was declared, German national and Cubist dealer to Braque and Picasso, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1884-1979), was in Switzerland and was unable to return to France. Now that Kahnweiler was an enemy alien, his goods, his paintings, his property—Cubism itself–were sequestered by the French government, and his artists were left without support. Léonce Rosenberg (1879-1947), who collected modern art because it gave him pleasure and because he believed in what he called “l’effort moderne,” took Kahnweiler’s place as the supporter of Cubism. Rosenberg came from a distinguished family of art dealers, which stretched back to the nineteenth century. His father, Alexander (1842-1913), as did most of the art dealers of that century, specialized in the Old Masters, which is why his oldest son, Léonce, was educated in the history of art in European cities and in New York. After studying in London, Berlin, Antwerp and Vienna, he returned take his place in the business. By his side was his younger brother Paul (1881-1959). At the turn of the century, the père Rosenberg had added Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists to his stable. When their father died in 1913, the brothers inherited the gallery and divided the concerns of the enterprise between them. Léonce opened a new avenue for the Rosenberg establishment–contemporary art in his new gallery “Haute Europe”–specializing in the most cutting edged of Cubism. Even before the Great War broke out, there was a competition between the Rosenbergs and Kahnweiler, who was loath to play one buyer off another to get a higher price. According to his granddaughter, Anne Sinclair, Paul handled the nineteenth century and Old Masters part of the business but sold the historical works with an eye towards avant-garde art. As Sinclair relates in My Grandfather’s Gallery: A Family Memoir of Art and War, “When Léger came to him and said, “Paul Rosenberg gives me twice what you do,” Kahnweiler replied, “Very well, then, go to Rosenberg.”

Pablo Picasso. Portrait of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1910)

But Kahnweiler was less sanguine about the activities of the Rosenbergs after the War. The War had destroyed his art business, cutting him off from his lucrative markets in eastern Europe and Russia. By the end of 1914, according to historian Michael Fitzgerald, Kahnweiler, without his business and his products, was unable to honor his contract with Picasso. After the War, the French government had many Picassos that Kahnweiler had not paid for and the artist had severed ties with his former dealer. When Kahnweiler returned to Paris, it was to a gallery emptied by the French government; and he was forced to make a new start without his core of pre-war artists, who were all now valuable cultural producers. As Sinclair wrote, referring to Kahnweiler: “He was probably angry and hurt about the behavior of Paul’s brother Léonce, who had attracted the cubist painters to his gallery while Kahnweiler was exiled in Switzerland during the First World War. Besides, Léonce’s reputation was tarnished by the fact that he had agreed, during the 1920s, to be an expert consultant in the liquidation of Kahnweiler’s property, which had been confiscated by the French because of his German citizenship.” But it was not just Kahnweiler who was disturbed by the actions of the French government.The artists whose work was part of the four sales that were held to dispose of a huge quantity of pre-war avant-garde works, “belonging” to a German national. Art historian John Richardson, the premier biographer of Picasso, discussed the repercussions of this event upon the art world and the artists. These auctions took place in 1921. By this time, Picasso was well into his classical phase and, with his new wife, the daughter of a Russian general, the artist was ensconced into a bourgeois existence, complete with servants. Since he had been, from very early on, part of the marketing of modernism, the packaging of which, as the historian Michael Fitzerald has pointed out, was the making of modern art, Picasso kept a close watch on exchanges within the art world. Kahnweiler’s was not the only sequestered collection up for sale: the properties of German dealers Wilhelm Uhde and Richard Goetz were also on view.

Jean Metzinger. Portrait of Léonce Rosenberg (1924)

As Richardson wrote in A Life of Picasso, “Since over half his cubist output was at stake, Picasso had fought to have the sequestration set aside. He had expected to recover at least the items for which Kahnweiler never paid, but now he had lost hope. Braque, Derain, Léger, and Vlaminck, who work had also been sequestered, were more optimistic than Picasso. As French citizens who had served their country, they felt entitled to preferential treatment: however, the world situation worked against them. Germany was so slow in paying the reparations stipulated by the Treaty of Versailles that the French government decided to convert all the assets they had been able to confiscate for cash. There would be no exceptions.” Richardson was not kind in his assessment of the Rosenberg brothers and their conduct during the series of sales. Noting that “Léonce had managed to get himself appointed expert adviser for the auctions..This, he said, would guarantee the success of the sales and put cubism back on the map as an ongoing movement..This unscrupulous man wanted to prevent Kahnweiler from recovering his prewar stock so that he could crown himself king of Cubism. Paul Rosenberg tacitly supported his brother. The dismemberment of cubism would be to his advantage. However, he was far too canny to appear to have had a hand in things and be tarred with the same brush as Léonce. By flooding the market with the cream of cubism, he effectively devalued it and earned the contempt and distrust of the painters he claimed to be promoting. As Kahnweiler foresaw, the auctions would be a disaster, the prices for paintings by the major cubists would not appreciate for another twenty years.”

Pablo Picasso. Portrait of Paul Rosenberg (1918)

The clash between the artists and the dealers would become a classic one, pitting makers, who cared about their art against businessmen, who cared about profits. There is no doubt that the brothers supported the Cubist painters with the hope of a handsome return on their investment. Richardson’s trenchant account of the auctions should be balanced by the unflagging support from Léonce, who, even though he was in the French army, kept tending to his Cubist artists during the War. As Fitzgerald noted in Making Modernism: Picasso and the Creation of the Market for Twentieth-century Art, even by 1919 there was still little faith in the value of Cubism when Rosenberg was selling modern art at his gallery on rue de la Baume. “Indeed, during 1915 and 1916, Rosenberg was almost the only person, who bought from Picasso and the other Cubists.” In fact, the author quoted an account of that period from Rosenberg himself, “..Picasso and a mutual friend revealed to me the deprivation that many Cubists found themselves in–abandoned by their dealer, a German–and the hostility and general indifference amid which they lived, and they fired my interest in taking a hand the destinies of a school of painting that deserved all of my efforts. I promised to found, immediately after my demobilization, ‘L’Effort Moderne.’ In the meantime, during the entire duration of the war and even when mobilized, I subsidized, by continuous purchases, the entire Cubist movement.” Clearly, this is a self-serving statement but it is, in the basic facts, quite true.

Bulletin for L’Effort Moderne, edited by Léonce Rosenberg, 1924

Therefore, for no reason other than a dedication to modern art, Rosenberg signed the German dealer’s artists, with the exception of Picasso and Braque, and continued the exhibition and promotion of Cubism during and after the war. Expecting to reap the rewards of handling Cubism at some point, Rosenberg crafted a new vision of Cubism, seeing it not as a unique style developed by a group of artists influenced by Paul Cézanne, but as part of a new and modern way of thinking that was manifested well beyond the fine arts. This modern world based upon the machine was revealed in a world view that appeared in posters and in advertising, popular culture, and fine art, becoming the visual language of its time. In Rosenberg’s interpretation, Cubism changed, disentangling itself from complex ideas of mobile perspective and becoming more flat and colorful, a strong design that could be moved from painting to advertising even to fashion and architecture. Cubism became the “house style” of Rosenberg’s gallery, “L’Effort modern” and the focus of his publication, Bulletin de l’Effort Moderne, but, despite the strong support from Léonce, Picasso waited to commit until 1918, when he joined Paul Rosenberg, the brother of Léonce. Perennially suspicious of dealers, Picasso had been cautious around Léonce and resisted the dealer’s efforts to bully him into joining the Cubist stable. The final straw seems to have been the refusal of Léonce to support Picasso’s work for Parade (1917). A year later Picasso and Matisse had a joint exhibition at the Galerie Paul Guillaume, but in 1919, Picasso repaid his debt to Léonce and had a large show at the L’Effort moderne. In these early years, just after the War, the status of Cubism was still in doubt. Were there too many copyists? Had the style become too familiar, too academic, too stale? Writing in 1988, Robert Jensen explained Picasso’s position as an avant-garde artist, “The chief paradox of avant-gardism..is that it takes its identity from opposing that which it most relies on: the trade in art.” And, according to Fitzgerald, Rosenberg described Picasso’s attitude towards commerce and the “relations of the artist and dealer as a “class struggle:” “Le marchand–voilà l’ennemi.” In his article, “The Avant-Garde and the Trade in Art,” Jensen wrote, “As the triumphant avant-gardist, who believes he has killed off all his rival, Picasso eventually dismissed the primacy of style over the artist.” In the author quoted Picasso as saying in 1923: “If the subjects I have wanted to express have suggested different ways of expression I have never hesitated to adopt them.” Author Malcolm Gee pointed out his 1979 article, “The Avant-Garde Order and the Art Market, 1916-23,” that when the poet Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) formulated his famous “Recall to Order,” he did so “under the aegis of Picasso’s use of ‘style,’ and the attempts by the editors of L’Espirit Nouveau to codify the achievements of Cubism to place them in a well-defined ‘classical’ tradition in French painting can be seen as part and parcel of a general tendency at this time to assert the values of discipline, reason, and tradition in the arts..”

Pablo Picasso. Harlequin (1915)

It should be pointed out that as early as 1915, Picasso had signaled his retreat from Cubism with his return to a figure of his early years, the Harlequin. By 1918, Picasso was effectively no longer producing Cubist works and would not have fitted into the plans of Léonce. Paul, however, had a broader mission and could incorporate Picasso’s ever-changing directions. It was time for Picasso to move on with his post-war career and his alliance with Paul Rosenberg was a shift away from his Cubist past and into his independent future. Just as Léonce had been a dealer in antiquities, Paul Rosenberg had been a dealer of Impressionism and recognized the coming respectability of Cubism as a collector’s item, even before the infamous auctions of 1921. Although Paul handled other Cubist artists, he was the main support for Picasso, and the artist lived next door to his dealer whose gallery was at 21 rue de la Boétie. Once the Rosenberg brothers had become the dealers for Cubism, the task, which they both seemed to have realized, was now to make of Cubism something historical and valuable. As the art markets returned to post-war stability in the 1920s, Cubism was experiencing an afterglow. The next task was to make the case for the importance of Cubism.

Paul Rosenberg’s Gallery with art by Picasso and Marie Laurencin

The pre-war discourse on Cubism had been written by artists, such as Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger, and by art critics, like Guillaume Apollinaire. This pre-war body of work was from the perspective of those who were “present at the creation.” For all intents and purposes, their task had been twofold: to legitimate Cubism and to place it in the mainstream of the history of French art. Now that the movement had been founded and had become part of the fabric of French culture, it was possible to build on this foundation, which had presented the case for Cubism as being “classical,” not radical or aberrant. After the War, Cubism was defined as that which was quintessentially modern, related to the new machine in its logic and rational construction, understood as being “classical.” In other words, the rationality and logic of machine technology could be compared to the logic of classical French tradition in the arts and a post-war congruency was fused. Due to its intellectualism and because of the tireless efforts of its early interpreters to link it to French tradition, Cubism was now worthy of being historicized. The exhibitions at the respective Rosenberg galleries were often accompanied by small catalogs that had the accumulated effect of accruing both financial and symbolic capital to the artists and to the movement. Thus, was Cubism moved from the ranks of the disruptive “isms” to the status of “important” art, readying itself for the art historians.

Catalog for exhibition of Picasso’s Drawings at Paul Rosenberg’s Gallery in 1918

Like many of the artists showed by Rosenberg at L’Effort moderne, history has not been kind to the Salon Cubists, who have been neglected in favor of an emphasis on Picasso. The next post will discuss these post-Cubist Cubist artists in Paris between the Wars.

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.

Thank you.

[email protected]

Post-War Cubism in Paris, Part One

Cubism After Cubism

Paris Coming to Order, Part One

What happened to Cubism? Before the Great War broke out, the movement seemed to be dominant, even hegemonic in Paris, but after the War was over, Cubism was history. In other words, the Great War nothing would ever be the same, the culture had been moved, as if by a gigantic quake, out of the lingering nineteenth century. By 1918, almost twenty years too late, the shock of the modern pushed the decade into the early twentieth century. While the larger culture, the wider society adapted to the presence of technology and accelerated change, accepting the present and even the uncertain future, the art world in Paris turned inward and went backward and became conservative. The rising poet Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) coined a term that became the phrase for the retreat that characterized the 1920s in Paris. He called for a rappel à l’ordre, or a recall to order, a return to the order of classicism in his 1923 book Le Rappel à lordre. As early as 1920, Cocteau discovered, while reading the poets. who lived before Baudelaire’s profound transformation of poetry, the virtues of rhyming, simplicity, and figuration rather than Symbolist evocation. Working with his creative partner, Raymond Radiguet (1903-1923), the poet sought to create a timeless style. The couple began a short-lived magazine Le Coq in 1920 and the goal of the six issues was a “return” to the past in reaction to the post-war fascination with the “machine.” “Return to Poetry. Disappearance of the Skyscraper. Reappearance of the Rose” was their slogan.

Jean Cocteau. Self-Portrait in A Letter To Paul Valéry (1924)

The “return to order,” sometimes termed the “recall to order,” was based upon the confused conviction on the part of the public that Cubism itself was German. The anti-Cubist wave was intensified during the War and, after the War, Cubism was stranded on the hill of anti-German sentiments. Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) himself appeared to be adjusting to the new current and during the War, moved away from Cubism. The avant-garde artists held what historian Larry Witham termed “a patriotic exhibition” in 1916. As he pointed out in Picasso and the Chess Player: Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, and the Battle for the Soul of Modern Art, although the former art audience was largely uninterested in art and consumed with the War itself, the exhibition “The Modern Art in France,” was notable for the first public appearance of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907). Those few who attended the show were uninterested in this now-famous work. After the war, the anti-Cubism sentiment was symptomatic of and part of a larger push towards conservative politics and Cocteau fashioned himself as “right wing.” While Cocteau was an odd messenger for conservativism— in 1915, he ingratiated himself to Picasso by dressing like a Harlequin for a studio visit—by 1920 he was a notorious and rebellious poet, whose demand for a “return” to poetic traditions summed up the post-war mood. After every war, there is always a sentiment of longing and nostalgia for the familiarity of the past before the world was irrevocably altered, and Cocteau’s sentiments seemed to be a recipe for healing. Based upon logic and order and rational thinking, the classicism of which he spoke was considered distinctly and uniquely French, the kind of classicism familiar in the Baroque paintings of Poussin.

Fernand Léger. Three Women (1921-2)

During the war, the Cubist artist Fernand Léger (1881-1955) had served in the engineering corps on the front at Verdun, where he was gassed. Hospitalized for two years, he worked through his battlefield traumas with art, which became more figurative and more conservative to graphically convey the horrors of the battlefield. In her book, When Paris Sizzled: The 1920s Paris of Hemingway, Chanel, Cocteau, Cole Porter, Josephine Baker, and Their Friends, Mary McAuliffe wrote of this artist and his mood at the end of the War:

“Peace,” the painter Fernand Léger exultantly wrote his good friend, the painter André Mare. Léger had been severely gassed while serving at Verdun, and Mare was badly wounded on the Picardy front while camouflaging artillery with Cubist designs. “Finally,” Léger went on, “after four long years, exasperated, keyed-up, depersonalized man opens his eyes, takes a look, relaxes and rediscovers life, gripped by a wild desire to dance, let off steam, scream, at long last stand upright, shout, scream and squander.” Keenly attuned to the moment, he added, “A hurricane of life forces fills the world.”

By 1920, a calm seems to have descended upon Léger who smoothed the waters of his early agitated Cubism with a new and elegant classicism. The most famous work of this new direction was Le Grand Dejeuner of 1921, a direct homage to Ingres and the French tradition of the grande nu. Constructed on a frankly expressed grid, the painting is stilled and rational, imposing order upon a complex and cluttered modern interior where three inexplicably naked women are having lunch. The work of a wounded veteran recovering from battle, this painting exemplified Léger’s return to order and society’s slow settling into a period of peace following a time of turmoil. Picasso, however, was not impressed with this strange combination of the classical with the new Machine Aesthetic, and, almost as if he was frozen in transition, did very little painting during the War. Picasso was not alone and there were allies in Rome. As Charlene Spretnak related in The Spiritual Dynamic in Modern Art: Art History Reconsidered, 1800 to the Present, Mario Broglio, a painter, began a magazine of “plastic values” called Valori plastici in Rome. Broglio demanded a return to realism, figuration, the timeless topics of still lives and landscapes based in the timelessness of classicism. The classicism referred to was literally a resumption of the antique classical art of the Greco-Roman tradition and Witham noted Picasso’s friendship with Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978), the Italian Metaphysical artist. Their friendship had begun before the War while the Italian artist was living and working in Paris and resumed during the War when de Chirico returned, after escaping the clutches of the Italian army. The “returns” to classicism were, of course, different in France than in Italy. In Italy the term “valori plastici” meant exactly how it translates–“plastic values” referring the strong forms of the early Italian Renaissance, such as those of Giotto. If the reaction against the avant-garde in Paris was a rejection of Cubism and pre-war disorder, in Rome, the abandonment of Futurism was a refusal to accept the eclectic historicism and diluted and misused classicism of the Vittorio Emanuele wedding cake at the heart of Rome and the disorderly avant-garde art that sought to replace the past.

Giorgio de Chirico. The Soothsayer’s Recompense (1913)

Picasso’s move to classicism began as a slow turning away from Cubism even before the War, and it is generally conceded that Picasso and Braque were leaving atelier experimentation behind in favor of a version of Cubism that was more “decorative.” The last few months of their partnership was marked by a series of paintings that were delightfully dotted and frankly charming, in a rococo fashion. This final flourish of their partnership predicted that the real future of the second stage of Cubism would be the realization of its decorative potentials, played out in Art Deco. In 1917, Picasso began the exploration of Cubism as design or an applied art when he joined the group of outstanding performing artists participating in a revolutionary wartime production of the Ballets Russes in Rome. Presented by Sergei Diaghilev, based on a story by Jean Cocteau, with music by Eric Satie and choreography by Léonid Messine, Parade was a modern ballet made remarkable by Picasso’s set designs, his extraordinary stage curtain, and his inventive costumes. The Harlequin, once part of his Rose Period, returned as a building as if to announce a rethinking and the artist’s embarkation on a new style. Set in Paris, Parade was Picasso’s final farewell to Cubism, and his definitive parting from Braque, who was operating a machine gun on the Western Front. The costumes of the characters, human and animal, were Cubist collages manifested in three dimensions and set in motion. The revolutionary and whimsical play debuted on May 18, 1917, Théâtre de Châtelet and at a loss for words, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire termed the performance “surrealist.” For Picasso, Parade was a way out of Cubism, for the Salon Cubists, this new direction towards design was a way back into Cubism—Cubism could become an applied art.

Pablo Picasso. The American Manager (1917)

Before the war Cubism had been divided into parts: those artists who showed in the public salons, the Salon d’Automne and the Salon des Indépendants, and were therefore called the “Salon Cubists;” and Picasso and Braque who used their dealer, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler to sell directly to clients, usually in Germany or Russia. The Salon Cubists and Kahnweiler’s artists, whom he insisted were not “Cubists,” were separated from their colleagues by where they showed their art. Braque and Picasso showed in Kahnweiler’s small gallery and the Salon Cubists, as the name implies, exhibited in the large sprawling salons open to the public. Thanks to the ample newspaper coverage that accompanied the Salon d’Automne and the Salon des Indepenéants, in the pre-war years, the Salon Cubists were famous, even heroes, standing firm against critical disdain and public protest, but the War scattered them to the four winds. Fernand Léger and Georges Braque (1882-1963) both served in the French Army, engaged in active combat, while many of their colleagues were in the camouflage corps. Albert Gleizes served for one year and then spent the rest of the war in New York City where he joined Marcel Duchamp, who had earlier taken himself out of the art game. Duchamp’s brother, Raymond Duchamp-Villon was in the military and died of blood poisoning at the end of the war. His other brother, Jacques Villon, whose real name was Gaston Duchamp, also served in the army, as did Jean Metzinger. However, Henri le Fauconnier went to Holland and waited for the conflict to end, staying in the neutral nation well beyond the end of the War. Two major artists remained in Paris, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Like Juan Gris, who also remained in place, Picasso was from Spain and therefore outside the reach of the French draft. Matisse was simply too old for service. These artists continued their work, enjoying an uninterrupted stretch of creative development. Both Picasso and Matisse moved beyond Cubism and Fauvism, running ahead of the artists who were away at war. When the War was over, their former colleagues had to pick up their careers and put their lives back together, and they did so in the shadows of Picasso and Matisse, now major artists, stars who now outranked them and had moved on to new ideas. Picasso and Léger away from Cubism signaled the return to the order of classicism, while the Salon Cubists sought to revive pre-war Cubism and make it respectable. The route the rebirth of Cubism was a monetary one.

Georges Braque. The Round Table (1929)

The end of the war meant that the previous dissension over avant-garde art was now a settled matter and the once-unfamiliar art had acquired value. The idea that innovative art was valuable in the financial sense gave rise to a healthy art market in Paris after the War, and this was the real order that settled over the art world. Art should appeal to the now willing collectors, who wanted to invest in the avant-garde, but what they wanted was the work of a major artist that was recognizable, in other words, the signature style should be present, but what was disruptive before the war needed to be tamed for this growing audience. For the returning Cubist artists, modern art was Cubism and they carried on as they had before the War. Their stance may have seemed regressive, but their post-war Cubism continued with what was now a historical style. Their efforts were, in effect, a “return to order.” To return to order, post-war Cubism had to become more “classical” or more conservative to appeal to new patrons. When Georges Braque returned to the Parisian art scene, it was after serving on the front, being gravely wounded, and after undergoing a long recovery. The partnership with Picasso was broken, simply because the two men could no longer share their experiences. Their lives had gone in two different directions. The Cubism of Picasso and Braque no longer existed. While Picasso turned to the classical and conservative in the 1920s and Braque settled on a variation of Cubist collage, painting the elements instead of pasting paper on a support. As if seeking comfort in the familiar, for the rest of his life Braque painted endless variations on the still life on the guéridon, a small circular top table. It was Braque along with the Salon Cubists who inherited Cubism and carried it on to its new destiny in the years between the Wars. But this rescue was not the work of the artists on their own; they had the able help of the Rosenberg brothers–Paul and Léonce–the art dealers who knew how to market the past and make historical art valuable again.

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.

Thank you.

[email protected]

Mies van der Rohe: Machine Age Architecture in Stuttgart

The Weissenhof Experiment in Stuttgart

Neues Bauen in 1927

The Nazis, newly in power and early simmering with racist hatred for all things un-German, didn’t know what to make of the shining white city on the hill. So utterly alien to the fascists was the blinding bright geometry of the houses and apartment buildings that they could only cast about to find the most insulting comparison possible–something not European, something “primitive,” something like an “Arab village.” Driven by their overriding desire for Teutonic authenticity, the political party that left no occasion to ridicule modernism unmarked, distributed a postcard of the new architecture. Sponsored by the Deutscher Werkbund, the Weissenhof, a showcase for the efforts and talents of Europe’s most advanced builders was ridiculed in a deliberately misreading of the simplicity, characterizing clarity as ignorance. The project, headed by architect Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969), was marked as undesirable and the Nazis would not forget the affront of the Weissenhof settlement. They had to wait only a few years for the pleasure of closing the Bauhaus, headed by Mies by 1933 and had plans for the Weissenhof which they purchased. Revenge was sweet but brief for the Nazis. Considered a significant landmark in Modernist architecture, the project in Stuttgart was subjected to numerous indignities under the regime of Adolf Hitler. Towards the end of the Second World War, the Weissenhof was partially destroyed during the Second World War. Today, the site is considered a World Heritage, its buildings are being slowly restored, the vision of their creators shining through and beyond the dark memories of Nazi projects. It is saying a great deal to note that the functionalist moment for Nazi architecture–its high point of innovation–was the concentration camp, the built environment that was an assembly line of industrial murder, while the Weissenhof was a more modest achievement, an experiment in building modern housing for middle and lower class people.

The Nazi incursion into the Weissenhof: Arabs photomontaged into the streets of Stuttgart

Mies van der Rohe had experienced enough architectural success to realize that in order to transcend his humble beginnings from a working class family, he had to change his name. His new appellation had to be more suited to his elevated status. His real name was Maria Ludwig Michael Mies, a perfectly sensible designation, but avant-garde artists, such as Le Corbusier, often changed their names or gave themselves specific designations, so the stonemason’s son began to reinvent himself. Taking his mother’s last name, Rohe as his last name, he switched his original last name to his first name, Mies, giving the “e” an umlaut: ë, so the word would be pronounced “mee-ess.” The “van” and the “der” was pure Dutch and suggested some kind of vague nobility, reminiscent of the German “von,” adding an air of international distinction. And thus “Mies,” as he was commonly known, was born, as new as the architecture he designed. By the Twenties, Mies was a chancer, a comer in architectural circles, well known in Europe and in Germany. He was part of every significant organization in modern architecture, from the Deutscher Werkbund to the group of ten Berlin architects, known as The Ring, all dedicated to the promotion of the tenets of New Objectivity to architecture. The program, such as it was, for Neues Bauen was relatively simple–functionalism and straightforward matter of fact forms, determined by construction methods and technological advances. Hovering behind the scenes, off stage, was Adolf Loos (1870-1933) of Vienna, whose book, Ornament and Crime (1910), provided the manifesto for New Architecture, which would be stripped of ornament and decoration, and emphasize the unadorned “surface” of a geometrically formed block-like structure. But the road to Modernism was not as straightforward as the design itself.

Aerial View of Weissenhof

After the Great War, architecture in Germany was highly politicized, torn between progressive socialist parties that dreamed of utopian cities in the service of the working class and the more traditional contingent that wanted to honor historical precedents, i.e., middle-class domestic needs. With hindsight, the conceptual link between socialism and modernism could be juxtaposed by the Nazis to years of post-war class unrest and demonstrations in the streets. To the nervous bourgeois, the idea that the built environment could structure society was an alarming one and that perception would ultimately derail modernism in Nazi Germany. Take for example the Dächerkrieg (or Roof War) discussed in January 2017 by Jeff Reuben of Atlas Obscura, who wrote,

Sharp observers will notice something strange about the attractive residences lining Am Fischtal, a bucolic street in the Zehlendorf section of Berlin. On one side, the buildings have flat roofs, while on the other they are pitched: a situation that is less architectural happenstance than the result of a so-called “roof war,” waged in the Weimar Republic and which embodied many of the deeper conflicts that roiled Germany in the years before the Nazis came to power..The two sides met on Am Fischtal, which today survives as a literal and figurative monument to the Weimar Republic’s increasing political divide. The flat roof residences came first, part of a housing development built by a leftist housing cooperative between 1926 and 1932 known as Onkel Toms Hütte, or Uncle Tom’s Cabin, an unlikely moniker borrowed from a nearby tavern which was named after the Harriet Beecher Stowe novel. Across the street, GAGFAH, a housing cooperative supported by conservative white collar unions, built their response in 1928: a community called Fischtalgrund, which consists of 30 buildings with 120 housing units. The roofs, of course, were pitched.

Roofs at War

The Roof War roiled Berlin for four years, from 1924 when architect Bruno Taut, part of The Ring group, was hired and designed flat roofs, to the completion of the dueling dwellings in 1928. Today the rows of contending houses face each other across the street, co-existing in the peace of history. At the time, however, feelings ran too high to attribute the emotions of the opponents to their attitudes towards roofs–the roof was politicized and its slant or lack thereof symbolized a power struggle between left and right. But in the mid-1920s, the forces of the pitched roofs seemed to be fighting a rear-guard battle. Modern architecture appeared to be not just the style of the present but the approach that would also mold the future. The financial situation of the Weimar Republic was at last on a firm footing, America had come through with some aid thanks to the Dawes Plan, and municipalities, convinced of the need to build new urban housing for a new world, now had to means and the will to follow through. Enter Neues Bauen. At last, the new Germany could be built and, in 1927, with the most famous of the inter-war experiments, the city of Stuttgart would be crowned by the “village” (siedlung) of white buildings (weissenhof). The Weissenhofsiedlung was more than a village, it was an exhibition, a showcase for new building techniques, new technological advances in structure, and a strong statement about how people could live in a modern world.

The Weissenhofsiedlung

Presiding over the Weissenhofsiedlung, Mies van der Rohe, who would later become the last head of the Bauhaus, was the vice-president of the sponsoring agent, the Deutscher Werkbund. Mies was the obvious choice to head the project. The proposed site was the top of a hill overlooking the city where a group of buildings would rise on a curved plateau according to the master plan configured by the director. Offending local architects of the somewhat provincial city, Mies appointed sixteen other architects, all modernists, true, but within that designation, he selected architects more or less purist about the rigors of modernism, with a span of generations. To his credit, Mies allowed each architect to design with freedom, stating, “In order to permit each one as much freedom as possible to execute his ideas, I have set neither guidelines nor given programmatic orientation,” as long as his rules of flat roofs and white as the color of all the buildings and, of course, no ornamentation, were followed. He also determined where each building would be sited, giving himself the place of pride–dead center and at the top of the hill–for his own apartment block. As a generous gesture, Mies gave the French architect Le Corbusier (1887-1965) first choice as to where his house would be placed. In his 2002 article, “Re-covering Mies van der Rohe’s Weissenhof: The Ultimate Surface,” Mark Stankard noted that the architect designed according to the the concept of “rationality” and standardization that led to typification. Like all modernist architects of the period, the artists of the Weissenhof thought in terms of mass housing, where personal statements and non-rational shapes would be inappropriate for prefabricated and predetermined building materials. As Stankard pointed out, while Mies posited the need for Typisierung (the formation of a repeatable type), he allowed for “freedom of usage.” As he said in 1926, “The exterior shell of things, the crystallization of life processes remains standing..and exerts its influence long after its kernel has been hollowed out.” The distinction between inside and outside, the domestic and private and the public and exterior facing aspect of a building was one that Loos had written about at some length. The public face of the modernist building was a series of sharp-edged blocks, free of decoration, painted while and undisturbed by errant roofs, but the interior of these shells, the space Loos considered to be “female,” could be personalized by the owner. In his apartment block, Mies adopted another practice of Loos: the notion of the back of the home as facing a private garden, contrasting nature–private, facing inward–to culture–the unrelenting white wall, rising as a barrier, protecting the owners from the eyes on the street.

Mies van der Rohe. Apartment Building (1927)

The inversion of the Weissenhof, in all its innovation, was, in its time, a prime example of the “shock of the new,” a term popularized by art critic, Robert Hughes. The Great War had interrupted the development of modern architecture, which had been well underway before 1914. The idea of Machine Age architecture, or functionalism, was a credo that can be dated from the practice of Peter Behrens (1886-1940) and his apprentices, which included Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, and Le Corbusier. In his book The Master Builders: Le Corbusier, Mies Van Der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright, historian Peter Blake explained that with his famous AEG factory building, Behrens ushered the modern era of architecture as function. As Blake noted, “Corbu and the others were driven to utilitarianism in building, because the doors to polite architecture were closed to them..The important thing to these men was the development of a new aesthetic language, and specifically, a language that could be used to deal with the problems of today. In utilitarian buildings and products, they found the aesthetic vocabulary–cubes, spheres, cylinders, cones, and so forth.” But for the early years of the twentieth century, the architecture of the Machine was more of a dream than a reality. As Blake stated, there were only two modern buildings in Germany when the War broke out. The first and the one that is still extant is the Fagus Factory (1911) by Walter Gropius (1883-1969) and his partner, Walter Meyer, in Bonn. A factory with a curtain wall of glass, the shoe last factory, was an advance, in terms of modernity, upon Behrens’ Turbine Factory (1908). Sadly the curtain walled building Gropius designed for the Cologne exhibition of the Deutscher Werkbund was destroyed during the War, but its precedent loomed large in the architectural community.

Walter Gropius. Werkbund Model factory building, Cologne, 1914

The impact of Gropius upon the German architects was enormous, destroying the lingering of the influences of the exuberant modernism of the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), who was far too fond of decoration. After the War, there was a pause in building as Germany recovered, gathered its collective soul and began to move forward. The German artists now had to permission and the financial opportunity to build Machine Age architecture. To the public, unaware of the architectural dialogue which had been thriving for a decade, the Weissenhof project would have been a revelation. The city of Stuttgart, ignoring its local traditionalists, decided to take a modern direction in its Die Wohnung (The Home) Exhibition of 1927. The apartment block of Mies loomed above the works of the other architects, presiding, as it were, over the “colony,” a group of buildings he regarded as “Medieval” in its clustering. The exterior of his horizontal building was uninterrupted, and Mies kept the horizontal ribbon of windows flat to the wall, denying the entryways any emphasis that might break the purity of the line of the flat white wall. In contrast to the unforgiving obdurate exterior, the interior of the building was free and undetermined. His “freedom of usage” could exist, because he used a steel frame for the first time to construct his apartment building, filling in the frame with masonry blocks, covering all these materials with white plaster.

Mies van der Rohe’s ribbon windows

Therefore, the steel structure carried the load, and there was no need for interior load bearing walls. Mies was able to open up the inside space and configure it as an open plan, free of obstructions. Frank Lloyd Wright was one of the first to open up living spaces, eliminating the enclosed and specialized rooms beloved by Victorians. But Wright used fixed interior partitions, with placement decided by himself alone. Sensitive to the Art Nouveau concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk, Wright designed the interior space, from stained glass windows to the furniture himself. Thinking of the blueprint as his blank canvas, Wright would often nail the chairs and tables to the floor. Mies gave up the total control of the private space and left decisions to the owners’ needs. Borrowing an idea from the Dutch Gerrit Rietveld (1888-1964), he installed movable partitions, allowing the resident to shape rooms and spaces as he or she needed. “As you know,” he said, “I intend to try out the most varied plans in this apartment house. For the time being, I am building only the outside and common walls, and inside each apartment only the two piers that support the ceiling. All the rest is to be as free as it possibly can be.” Although much of this pre-war work was still in the experimental stages, Mies had expressed a philosophy of Neues Wohnen or New Living. Because of the plumbing and wiring demands, only the bathroom and kitchen and elevators shaft were fixed on site. Although the other architects in the Weissenhof were tasked with installing furniture in their homes, Mies designed only two areas in his free plan, once again suggesting to the viewer the endless possibilities for furnishings that were personal choices. As Carsten Krohn noted, the apartment building was deceptively fragile, writing in Mies van der Rohe – The Built Work that “Without maintenance and renovation, the building would today be a ruin.” Plaster, rather than stucco, would always be a problem, white walls in a city experiencing pollution would be rarely clean, and, as was pointed out in the discussion on the homes of the Masters at the Bauhaus, the glazed walls let in cold air and the heat of the summer.

Mies van der Rohe interior with furniture by the Brothers Rasch

As soon as the Nazis assumed power in Germany, the thirty-three houses and sixty-three apartments were under threat and the innovative and significant work architects from Germany, France, Holland, Belgium and Austria barely escaped Hitler’s wrath. Writing in 1984 on the occasion of the project’s renovation, James M. Markham said, “In 1933, the year of the Nazi seizure of power, a counterdemonstration project of wood houses with gabled roofs was built nearby. The Nazis announced plans to raze the Weissenhof settlement and its creators slipped into the safety of exile in America and elsewhere.” In 1939, the city of Stuttgart sold the complex to the Nazi who planned to raze the structures and replace them with army barracks. Markham continued, “..the Luftwaffe established an antiaircraft battery on the strategically located hill. A military hospital for infectious diseases was also installed in a four- story apartment block designed by Mies van der Rohe. Allied bombing raids in 1945 destroyed about 40 percent of the settlement.” And the roof wars continued, even after World War II. The architects had intended the flat roofs to be used as gardens, intensifying the experience of terracing that was so consequential to the Weissenhof. However, as Markham pointed out in The New York Times, the inhabitants continued to have problems with the roof lines: “In the hungry postwar years, roaming bands plundered the settlement, stripping its wiring and removing its doors for firewood. As Germany began to rebuild, Everyman did finally settle in Weissenhof. The young West German state placed railroad and customs employees in its apartments. But some of them rebelled against the clean simplicities of the Bauhaus creations, putting pitched roofs on buildings of Behrens, Ludwig Hilbersheimer, and Hans Poelzig. Roof apartments were stuck on top of the double-family house designed by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret.”

During the exhibition in 1927, half a million visitors streamed into Stuttgart to see the novel housing complex. Today there is a handful of surviving buildings which have been restored and pilgrims still come and pay homage to the Weissenhofsiedlung.

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.

Thank you.

[email protected]

Walter Gropius: The Masters’ Houses of the Bauhaus

MASTERS’ HOUSES

Walter Gropius, Junkerswerke, and Modern Architecture

Today the architecture of Walter Gropius (1883-1969) and his series of Bauhaus designed domestic dwellings for the Masters, the “Meisterhäuser,” at the art school are considered jewels in the crown of the modern built environment. But for the majority of their lives, these homes and the Bauhaus building itself existed in hostile territory. Less than ten years after the distinctive houses were completed in 1926, the Nazis closed the Dessau Bauhaus in 1932. The Nazis disapproved of modernism in the arts and favored a heavy-handed faux Neoclassicism in architecture, thus the white cubes of the seven pioneering buildings did not please the sensibilities of the followers of Hitler. The city of Dessau, now the owner of the famous Bauhaus building and the cluster of faculty housing, all designed by Gropius, rented the homes until 1939 when the Second World War began. But turning the masters’ unique modern white cubes over to unsympathetic tenants was not the end of the travails suffered by the concrete structures. The city subsequently sold the houses to the Junkers Works, a more careful and concerned owner, which had had a long and mutually satisfying union with the school. It was a former student, Marcel Breuer, who probably sought out Junkerswerke, which crafted metal shapes in steel. Inspired by curved bicycle handlebars, Breuer wanted to bend the base of his new chair from metal, foregoing straight wooden legs. If the proper industrial process could be created, his chair could cantilever and balance itself. In 1925 Breuer worked in the factory, tutored by Karl Körner, a locksmith, who taught him the craft of metalworking. His tubular steel chair, the Cassily, could be produced only by special bending machines, available at Junkers, and was the first of his many furniture designs utilizing curved metal.

By 1926, as a result of the partnership forged between Junkers and the Bauhaus, the school and the industrial manufacturer began a number of projects together, including a set of homes for the Bauhaus Masters. As part of his goal of fusing art with industry through modern design, Gropius arranged for the factory to install a series of what were termed new “thermotechnical” units in the new homes in order to model modern housing and modern living in an “organic” symbiosis. According to the Junkers factory website, the internal luxury items included wall ventilators, “gas appliances such as hot water flow-type calorifiers, gas stoves and gas ovens.” Such experimental conveniences, after the years of deprivation during the Great War, were from the future. The Bauhaus Masters’ Houses were, therefore, test houses, maintained by Junkers technicians, who not only made sure the modern equipment was functioning properly but also tested for technological performance. The association between Junkers and the Bauhaus extended to a rather odd building called the Pump Room or “house.” In Germany, a “pump house” or Trinkhalle is a refreshment stand, and as part of the general modernization of Dessau, a number of these stands were planned and constructed throughout the city. The Pump House with a Bauhaus connection was a modification of the wall built by Walter Gropius around his own residence. Although the austere white wall afforded the Gropius couple privacy, it also had the effect of blocking the view to an eighteenth-century estate built by the princes of Saxony with a Georgium, an English-style landscape garden, complete with fake Roman ruins. This cluster of elegant buildings, a guest house (Fremdenhaus), an Iconic temple (Monopteros) and the Flower House (Blumengartenhaus), all set in the lovely garden, were a strong contrast the white blocks designed by Gropius. His successor at the Bauhaus, Mies van der Rohe solved the problem of the blank white wall by inserting a window into the side on the corner of Ziebigker Strasse and Ebertallee, floating a roof over the opening for shading. By the simple means of breaking through the wall, a conceptual line of sight to the historical gartenriech was restored. Shortly after the Pump House was completed, the Nazis took over and the Bauhaus houses were sold to the Junkerswerke. Sadly, the only building in Dessau designed by Mies was demolished in 1970.

Mies van der Rohe. The Pump House (1932)

Junkers, headed by Dr. Hugo Junkers (1859-1935), was an aircraft and engineering works, specializing in the manufacture of steel and airplanes, thus immediately came under the control of the Nazis, who considered the staff to be full of communists and Jews. Junkers himself was arrested was exiled. He died in 1935, never knowing that his aircraft, bearing his name, would bomb Guernica two years later. According to the article, “Bauhaus, Brown Coal and Iron Giants,” Peter Marcuse, by 1932, the faculty and students had been driven from the Bauhaus in Dessau and retreated to their last stand in Berlin. Meanwhile, the Bauhaus building was turned into a girls’ school, where young women could study Kinder, Kirche und Küche, and then men moved in and the facility was transformed into a training center for Nazi officials. The school also provided offices and work space for Junkers personnel and their drafting operations. Even Albert Speer had a construction office on the premises. During the Second World War, Dessau lost three-fifths of its buildings to allied bombing and the masterwork of Gropius himself, the Bauhaus building, was badly damaged on March 7, 1945, right at the end of the War. As the headquarters for an important aircraft manufacturer, Junkers, the town was naturally targeted and almost was almost completely destroyed. In its ruined state, the site and what was left of the building was used as a camp, first for prisoners of war and then for refugees. After the War, ownership of eastern Germany and the town of Dessau was transferred to the Soviets, another regime that disliked anything European and avant-garde.

The Original Bauhaus on its opening day, December 4, 1926

But the communist regime showed more respect for the idea of the Bauhaus than the Nazis who had their own artistic agenda. Immediately after the War, the Bauhaus archives were transferred to Berlin and a new building was commissioned to house the materials. The architect was none other than Walter Gropius. During 1946 to 1948, there were attempts to restore the building. However, unlike West Germany, East Germany did not have the resources to rebuild and it was not until 1961 that another restoration took place, followed by another phase in 1965. In 1974 the building became an official cultural monument, inspiring a yet another restoration in 1976. After the Wall came down, Germany was reunited, and the Bauhaus underwent its final and definitive restoration, a ten-year project, completed in 2002. The Masters’ Houses, being ancillary to the main building, did not have the iconic status of the school, but these houses, in their own way, were unique experiments in living. Collaborating with Junkers, Gropius was re-thinking what the modern home should be like and how modern people should inhabit it. He mused that “the organism of a house evolves from the course of events that have predated it. in a house it is the functions of living, sleeping, bathing, cooking, eating that inevitably give the whole design of the house its form… the design is not there for its own sake, it arises alone from the nature of the building, from the function it should fulfill.”

The forest-like environment for the Masters’ Houses

When the mayor of Dessau, Fritz Hesse, asked the Bauhaus to take residence in his industrial city, part of his promise was not only land for the school but also a site for faculty housing. The city provided Burgkühnauer Allee, quite close to the school itself, in a wooded and quiet area. In this tiny forest, Gropius designed a large free-standing home for himself and three double houses, paired and attached, for the Masters. The group of homes was built in a year, using mass produced materials, such as concrete blocks. Gropius was experimenting with the idea of prefabricated construction–not yet possible–with the post-war housing shortage in mind. The concept of the “large scale building set” can be best viewed in the masters’ homes, which were equal in size, but each structure was a variation on the basic cube, giving the cluster of modern architecture variation and rhythm, ruled by simplicity. As Gilbert Lupfer and Paul Sigel noted in their 2004 book, Gropius. 1883-1969. The Promoter of New Form, “Thus the Houses for the Bauhaus Masters served as a practical experiment with Gropius’s building block principle (Baukasten im Großen)..The building block principle was meant to allow, depending on the number and the needs of the inhabitants, for the assembly of different ‘machines for living.'” Gropius explained, “All six of these houses are the same but different in the impression they make. Simplification through multiplication means quicker, cheaper building.”

The Director’s Home of Walter Gropius

In the end, there were seven homes in all, but the home of the director had a few added features. As the home of the Director, the Gropius building was large, had a garage and rooms for servants’ quarters, all surrounded by a tall white wall. In the kitchen, there was, compliment of Junkerswerkes, a hot water pressure spray. Such a spray would be a standard feature in any home today, but in 1926, such an item would have been a novelty. The Bauhaus-designed furniture in this home included a sofa that opened up and converted to a bed. Next door to Gropius, László Moholy-Nagy, his right-hand man, lived with his wife, the Bauhaus photographer Lucia Moholy. Lyonel Feininger and his wife and two children occupied the other half of the joined homes. The next duo was occupied by Georg Muche and Oskar Schlemmer and their families. Completing the triumvirate of Masters’ Houses, long time friends and close collaborators, Vassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee abutted one another. The Gropius designed buildings, based upon cubes, were simple, flat-roofed, white faced and marked only by the large black framed windows, touched with markings of bright primary colors. The equality of each duplex was guaranteed by simply rotating the design for the first segment and then building the second half at a ninety-degree angle.

Muche-Schlemmer House with an external restoration that retained internal changes done to the homes by subsequent owners

In northern Europe, large expanses of glass, which, at that time, could not be double-paned, would be quite cold. In the winter, these beautiful homes were uncomfortable and the open rooms needed to be warmed by some form of space heaters. Feininger used a coal stove, while Klee and Kandinsky demanded a refund for their heating bills from the city of Dessau. In the summer, the temperatures swung in the other direction and the sun streamed in through the glazed walls, baking the unfortunate inhabitants. These open spaces were the studios where the artists worked, with all the other rooms arranged around the central ateliers. There were even rooftop terraces where the artist could sunbathe in warm weather. The interiors of each home were different. Only Gropius and Moholy-Nagy used Bauhaus designed exclusively, and other Masters brought their own furniture with them. As lovely and as advanced in avant-garde modernist design, the Masters’ Houses were hard to maintain and, in their own way, were fragile, requiring constant upkeep. Although the homes were demanding of their residents, the artists, in turn, attempted to impose their will upon these experiments in modern living.

Interior colors

Klee and Kandinsky used their white-walled homes as blank canvases for the color experiments, painting their interior spaces in almost two hundred colors, an abandonment of the austerity preferred by Gropius that came to light only upon restoration. All of the homes used built-in closets, wardrobes, and cabinets, eliminating the need for all but the most basic furniture. Nevertheless, the Kandinsky home mixed the famous “Vassily chairs” with their own old-fashioned Russian furnishings. For all their exterior simplicity, the luxury of these houses was quite at odds with the Marxist sympathies of the inhabitants. Nevertheless, the original faculty and those who followed them, enjoyed living in these novel experiments in domestic living, but the coming of the Nazis and then the Second World War scattered the Masters, who would never return.

A photograph of the modified Masters’ Houses before restoration

The now hostile city of Dessau, hewing the Nazi line, instructed the new owner, Junkerswerke, to eradicate the “alien” architectural style from the structures, stating that “the outer form of these houses should now be changed so that the alien building forms are removed from the town’s appearance.” There is little indication that the leaders of the industry were interested in altering the homes, after all, Junkers himself was banished by the Nazis and the corporation had better things to concern themselves with. However, the occupants themselves organically altered the houses to suit their more middle class needs and bourgeois expectations. They bricked up the huge and drafty windows, threw up partition walls to enclose the open spaces, added chimneys, and, over time, the original cubes were swallowed up by modifications. And then came the bombings. The Gropius home was completely destroyed down to its foundation and the Moholy-Nagy section of the duplex next door was severely damaged and torn down. For years, no one was concerned about the lost work of a distinguished architect, and what was left of the complex was rented out and allowed to deteriorate. The Feininger home became a doctor’s office. Finally, after the Fall of the Wall, the architectural importance of the Masters’ Houses was recognized and restoration began in the early 1990s.

The Klee-Kandinsky Houses

As indicated by the cautious restorations of the Masters’ Houses, recovering the iconic exteriors while retaining interior modifications, the role of history and the meaning of the lost “original” becomes an exchange. The Bauhaus building and the homes of the Masters, as we see them now, are not the original buildings; they are replicas. Philosophical questions arise when considering how to respect the entire history of a building: does one restore/rebuild a replica or does one respect a past, no matter how checkered, and allow historical alterations to remain? The questions are really ones of authenticity versus honoring the original intent of the architect, which are actually, in this case, at odds with one another. To solve these genuinely unsolvable problems, the final restorations of the destroyed home for Gropius and the Moholy-Nagy section of the duplex were reconciled as “ghost houses” in 2014. As Connor Walker explains in Arch Daily, “Rather than restore the buildings to their original appearance, the renovation architects reconstructed the meisterhäuser to re-emphasize the spartan qualities that were championed by Bauhaus Modernists. In addition, the windows of both houses were covered in an opaque wash, giving them an ethereal appearance.” Described as “minimalist arrangement of geometric shapes” by Alyn Griffiths in Dezeen, the “ghosts” of the destroyed homes were reinterpreted by Bruno Fioretti Marquez. The result is a novel solution, resulting in a new building that is both material and immaterial, a memory and a reality, an homage and reconstruction, and, above all, a healing of architectural wounds.

Bruno Fioretti Marquez. Ghost of the Walter Gropius House (2914)

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.

Thank you.

[email protected]

Art of the Weimar Republic: The German People as Subjects, Part Two

PORTRAITURE REBORN

George Grosz as “Hanswurst”

Even thought Dada dissolved in Berlin and the Dada perpetrators went their separate ways, one of the former members, George Grosz (1893-1959) never lost his disgust for Germany and for the German people. His art and his autobiography indicate little joy or satisfaction in his post-war life. Grosz did not celebrate his good fortune at surviving the Great War intact and unharmed, instead, he railed against those who profited from going to war–the industrialists–and those who supported the drive to conflict–the clergy and the press–without considering the ramifications. Grosz turned his baleful eye towards to German people who had blindly stumbled into a disaster that destroyed their honor. A left-wing artists, he considered Germans ugly, fat and stupid, turning away from the very real social issues confronting the Weimar Republic and giving in to the decadent pleasures made possible by a relaxing of Wilhemine restrictions. The targets of George Grosz are the “ordinary Germans,” the average bourgeois man, who is more likely than not to be involved in some kind of nefarious business deal, and his female companions, usually the lowest of prostitutes. Both are carriers of corruption and are metaphors for the internal rot within the German heart.

Nowhere does his horror for the sights and scenes he witnessed on the streets of Berlin rise to the fore than in George Grosz’s masterwork, Ecce Homo. This scathing series of eighty-four prints in color and in black and white was published by Malik-Verlag in 1923. The press founded by Grosz and John Heartfield became the target for more than one lawsuit over the merciless art of Grosz, who, along with Heartfield were the two most single-minded and remorseless critics of the pretensions of the Weimar Republic. Ecce Homo left no pillar of German society untouched; in the eyes of Grosz all were guilty and all were implicated in the ugly war and its aftermath. From its earliest days, the Weimar Republic had grappled with revolutions, a political coup, economic upheaval, dissident complaints on the left and right, and was, therefore, short tempered when it came to disturbing the peace. And George Grosz was a deliberate disturber and a serial disturber. The prints had short descriptions–two or three words–indicating that Grosz was speaking to an audience of fellow Germans, probably Berliners, who would recognize his “types” of immoral humanity, as the people they passed on the streets. The title, Ecce Homo, suggested a Biblical seriousness to the collection of prints, with a reference to the Suffering Christ, dragged before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, beaten and whipped and publically humiliated, crowned with a circle of mocking thorns. Thus, the question is raised–who is the Christ that is referred to? It is known that the phrase “ecce homo” means “Behold, the man!” both words and a gesture from Pilate, who appealed to the mob baying for a death. It is unclear, however, what Pilate meant. Was he mocking the would-be god who suffered like a mortal human or was he pleading with the crowd to show some pity and some mercy towards a harmless misguided country boy who had come to the big city with outsized ideas? Historically speaking, it is unlikely such a drama took place, for the Roman Empire routinely crucified any subject who, in any way, threatened its power. The Empire ruled through terror and terror is not effective unless it is complete and sweeps up all in its path, from major political opposition to minor Jewish men claiming to be a “son of God.”

Albrecht Dürer. Ecce Homo: The Presentation of Christ (1498)

The meaning of Ecce Homo in the work of George Grosz was more than likely related, not to the Bible, but to Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), whose autobiography was titled Ecce Homo. Neither Nietzsche nor Grosz takes the role of Pilate, and, under Nietzsche, for whom God is dead, the idea of “behold, the man” shifted from a man who is suffering to a man who disrupted the status quo. In section 25 of The Gay Science, Nietzsche wrote with his characteristic exaggerations and flourishes,

Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly, “I seek God! I seek God!”… “Whither is God?” he cried. “I shall tell you. We have killed him – you and I. All of us are his murderers.”.. “ God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.”

Nietzsche and his nihilism inspired the Dada artists in Zurich and in Berlin to accept a wartime loss of faith and hope. But Nietzsche himself regarded the realization that God was dead, except in the minds of traditionalists, could be liberating. The individual had no purpose, no reason for being: he or she simply exists without teleology or direction. No longer living for a “greater good,” the person is both innocent and liberated, beholding to no values and owning no morals, except those that one chooses to accept or to create. In other words, the philosopher embraced life, a life freed from belief systems that had once constructed and constrained it. Nietzsche rejected all that was morbid or obsessed with death and suffering and embraced the spirit of joy or Dionysus, the emotional and the alternative to reason. According to Ray Furness in his introduction to Nietzsche’s three works, Twilight of the Idols with the Antichrist and Ecce Homo, Ecce Homo was written in three weeks in 1888. In effect, the philosopher is saying “look at me” “behold” and claims to be the fool whose carnivalesque literary antics disrupt the foundations of German culture and philosophical reason. Nietzsche is some kind of holy fool, who refuses to be a saint or someone who thoughtless goes along with the received wisdom and adds to the blinding of society to its true nature. He is an outsider, a jester, and the fool, suggesting that these performers and certain child-like figures are the truth tellers of society. There is an inversion in Nietzsche that harkens back to Ecce Homo, suggesting that the powerless have the power of revelation and that the powerful can never reveal and are, therefore, powerless.

When George Grosz decided to do a series of prints, he was not only taking advantage of modern mass media and the possibilities of wide distribution he was also following the tradition of printmaking that was quintessentially German. Borrowing from Durer and Schongauer and even from his immediate predecessors, the Expressionists from Dresden, Grosz found the medium of printmaking to be an answer to the religious images of the Renaissance artists and the hopeful hedonism of the young Die Brücke artists. In an interesting presentation for the Tate Museum in 2010, Christine Battersby wrote “The Sublime Object ‘Behold the Buffon:’ Dada, Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo and the Sublime.” The “buffoon” she referred to is a character from German theater, not the high or artistic theater but the Teutonic equivalent of vaudeville. This character was named “Hanswurst,” a low peasant character, a Medieval buffoon, named after a sausage. In her article, “Fools Festooned with Foods,” Henriette Kassay-Schuster wrote that Hanswurst was the counterpart to Pickelhering come from the carnival culture. The Sausage, freely eaten before Lent must give way to the Herring during the season of waiting and fasting. Thus sausage and herring were “typical carnival foods” and were on the “side of excess and pleasure.” Hanswurst possessed a “Bakhtinian grotesque body” and embodiment of the “temptations of the flesh.” “Hanswurst manifests in the emergent seventeenth-century professional German theater as a specific German adaptation of Italian performance traditions, channeled through the theater style of the professional commedia dell’arte ensembles.” As Kassay-Schuster pointed out in the 2016 book, Food and Theatre on the World Stage, “Hanswurst” is a combination of a first name and a cheap and common food, and that “obscenities (both verbal and physical), acrobatics, physical comedy, and musical interludes” were the key ingredients that made improvisational comedy of this character so popular in presenting “man as animal.”

By the eighteenth century, “Hanswurst” “gained a very specific profile..As he is largely known today, in his brightly colored peasant clothing consisting of the trademark baggy yellow trousers, red suspenders, red jacket, and pointy green hat, offset by a white ruff, a broad leather belt, and the signature wooden sword.” It was the Austrian performers who pioneered the character and passed the buffoon on to the German culture, which also had a fifteenth-century folk tradition of the “Hanswurst” caricature that made the Austrian theatrical creation familiar and easy to assimilate. One hundred years later, Nietzsche wrote in Ecce Homo: “I have a terrible fear that one day I will be pronounced holy. I do not want to be a holy man; sooner even a buffoon (Hanswurst).–Perhaps I am a buffoon.” In his book, No Hamlets: German Shakespeare from Friedrich Nietzsche to Carl Schmitt, Andreas Höfele suggested that the buffoon is a role, played by both Hamlet and Nietzsche as a sort of disguise, concealing their ultimate goals. Hanswurst and suffering are combined with cynicism. Höfele noted that Nietzsche wrote that Ecce Homo was a kind of “cynicism that will make history.”

George Grosz. “In Memory of Richard Wagner.” Ecce Homo (1923)

As Battersby noted, “Hanswurst was a licensed fool who spoke ironically and openly about contemporary affairs.” George Grosz, she stated, “positions himself as a Hanswurst and a counter to the wounded Christ.” In the series of prints, Grosz referred directly to Nietzsche twice, in the Plate “Dämmerung” (Twilight) and to their shared hatred of Wagnerian nationalism and German militarism in the Plate “In Memory of Richard Wagner.” Battersby called “Grosz’s portfolio” “a vicious satire on Germany society, German militarism, and the hypocrisy (especially the sexually driven duplicity) that was acted out on the city streets of Berlin during these years.” She quoted Grosz himself as saying, “All moral codes were abandoned.” Towards the end of her article, which is reprinted as a condensation on the website of the Tate Museum, Battersby remarked that Grosz did not share the affirmation of life that enlivened Nietzsche and his exuberant prose. Instead when he viewed the people of the streets and their public lives, Grosz asked, “What do I see?…only unkempt, fat, deformed, incredibly ugly men and (above all) women, degenerate creatures (although a fat, red, plump, lazy man is here considered to be a ‘stately gentleman’), with bad juices (from beer) and hips that are too fat and short…”

George Grosz. “Dämmerung” (Twilight) Ecce Homo (1923)

Grosz was making art at a very different time in German life–after a humiliating defeat. But the state of German society was far worse than a mere military defeat. Also defeated, as I pointed out in earlier posts, was German Kultur, their sense of identity, of being special, of having a mission born of ethnic superiority. Kultur was discredited and lay in ruins and ashes, like the battlefields where it died. Left without moral and ethnic guides, the Germans acted out, abandoning, as Grosz observed, their Kultur. The 1972 film, Cabaret, based upon Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories (Goodbye to Berlin and Mr. Norris Changes Trains) (1945), the main character, Sally Bowles, an American expatriate adrift in Berlin, sang, “Life is a cabaret, my friend, life is a cabaret.” The director and choreographer, Bob Fosse, studied George Grosz and Otto Dix for their iconic images, raided their art and inserted their portraits and their colors into the scenes in the “Kit Kat Klub,” surely a play on KKK. The cabaret is the theatrical version of the carnival, a season in the year when society is given permission to relax and give free rein to their deviant impulses. Those days are a period of inversion: the high are brought low through satire and the low are elevated as the fools and the jesters who are given official and customary permission to speak out about the injustices in society and to point out the faults of the rulers. One of the great scenes in Cabaret is a spontaneous gesture from Joel Gray, the Oscar-winning “Master of Ceremonies,” who was referring a female mud-wrestling contest at the cabaret. The actor dipped into the mud and fittingly swiped his upper lip with mud, mocking Hitler’s mustache, a gesture allowed, briefly, at the lawless domain of the cabaret, the carnival. It is no accident that Adolf Hitler swept through Berlin with a fascistic and authoritarian broom, wiping away all of the establishments where the carnival was in full swing.

But in 1923, Ecce Homo is an illustrated guide to what was an inverted social system, where the war profiteer and the prostitute, the immoral survivors climbed triumphantly from the wreckage. Grosz depicted himself on the cover, suggestively turning his fedora into the hat of the holy fool or the buffoon “Hanswurst’s “pointy green hat.” In a color print featuring Grosz as the disgusted observer, the green is made clear. From his vantage point as the Dada artist who recoiled from his fellow Germans, George Grosz paradoxically produced the definitive group portrait of the Weimar Republic. As he himself wrote of the Republic, “All this had to end with an awful crash. It was a completely negative world, with gaily colored froth on top that many people mistook for the true, the happy Germany before the eruption of the new barbarism. Foreigners who visited us at that time were easily fooled by the apparent light-hearted, whirring fun on the surface, by the nightlife and the so-called freedom and flowering of the arts. But that was really nothing more than froth. Right under that short-lived, lively surface of the shimmering swamp were fratricide and general discord, and regiments were being formed for the final reckoning. Germany seemed to be splitting into two parts that hated each other, as in the saga of the Nibelungs. And we knew all that; or at least we had forebodings.”

The Weimar Republic dragged Grosz into court, accusing him of defaming the German military and of distributing pornography. Although certain plates were destroyed, Grosz and Malik Verlag were eventually acquitted. By 1932, an ascendant Hitler and the Nazis had already taken notice of the acerbic qualities of the artist and, being an excellent observer of his fellow human beings, George Grosz took his family and they all left for America, where he would be teaching at the Art Students’ League in New York City. Grosz would not return to his native Germany until 1959, where he died five weeks later.

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.

Thank you.

[email protected]