Picasso and Parade, Making Art during Wartime, Part Two

Making Parade. Ballet réaliste (1917)

Pablo Picasso during the Great War

Part Two

When Guillaume Apollinaire (1888-1918) scribbled the word, “Surrealism” on his program for the new ballet, Parade (1917), on May 18, 1917, he added a new word to the art dictionary. He later included a substantive definition, of sorts: “When man wanted to imitate walking, he invented the wheel, which does not look like a leg. Without knowing it, he was a Surrealist.” The poet liked the term and all that it implied and used the terminology again for his own play of the same year, Les Mamelles de Tiresias. As his biographer Wayne Andrews explained, Apollinaire himself had origins one could describe only a surreal. His mother was Russian but his father was mysterious and unknown, but he may have been “the illegitimate son of the duke of Reichstadt, the only child or Napoléon I and Marie-Louise of Austria.” His mother Angelica took Guillaume and his brother, also of unknown origins to Monte Carlo with her latest lover, who later took his makeshift family to Belgium. When the mother and children were abandoned, they left then spa hotel without paying the bill and, when they arrived in Paris, the police promptly arrested them. The charges were eventually dropped and Wilhelm Albert Włodzimierz Apolinary Kostrowicki, now Guillaume Apollinaire, a budding poet, worked as a bank clerk, a pornographer and author of Mirely (1900), and a tutor. By 1911 he was established as an art critic and as a poet but somehow he was entangled in the theft of the Mona Lisa, because he had stolen two Iberian heads from the Louvre as gifts for his friend Pablo Picasso, who wisely returned the sculptures to the museum. Apollinaire briefly went to jail and Picasso pretended not to know the light-fingered poet.

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Their friendship recovered from this rather strange setback, and the two misfit, one Russian and one Spanish, artists in Paris remained friends to the end, which sadly came soon. Guillaume Apollinaire weakened by a head wound, died of influenza in November of 1918. In his article, “I Seem to be at a Great Feast: the War Pomes of Guillaume Apollinaire,” TonyHoagland, described the odd circumstances of his being struck by stray shrapnel: “In March 1916, while reading a Paris newspaper in the trench, he was struck by a flying piece of shrapnel that pierced his helmet. He realized he had been wounded only when blood dripped onto his paper. The shrapnel was extracted, but his condition complicated; he was trepanned at a battlefield hospital and eventually sent back to Paris.” Thanks to this event, Apollinaire could return to his former career as poet and critic and could be present at the performance of Parade at the Théâtre de Châtelet that May evening in time to view a new art form. The ballet Parade combined disparate musical tendencies, clashing but totally au courante, a jarring experience described by Christopher Schiff as “a compromise of French theatrical music and Futurist noise.”

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The unlikely concoction, a mash-up of avant-garde impulses in art and music, Parade was Picasso’s opportunity to get out of a Paris, darkened by a lingering war, and to test himself in a new discipline, theater. The performance, for which Picasso did the theater curtain or the rideau rouge, the costumes and the sets, established him as a contradiction in terms, a successful avant-garde artist. Before the Great War, the avant-garde artists in Paris lived precariously, dependent upon a few art dealers willing to attempt to sell their wares. The most famous or infamous Cubists in Paris were the Salon Cubists, who did handsome paintings, colorful interpretations of the late works of Paul Cézanne. Long scorned by art history, which officially labeled them as “minor Cubists,” these artists were, in fact the ones who carried the burden of the outrage of Cubism through their public exhibitions, while Picasso and his partner, Georges Braque, were able to work in their studios in private, supported by their German art dealer, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. To the mainstream art audience which frequented the Salon des Indépendents and the Salon d’Automne, Picasso and Braque were better known through their reputations for being advanced than for their actual works. But when the Great War began in August 1914, Picasso abruptly lost his German dealer and his German clientele. As was discussed in the previous post, he was forced to find Parisian support, but perhaps most importantly, the artist, a Spaniard, did not have to serve in the military. While the lives and careers of the other avant-garde artists were interrupted–indeed, some of these artists never came home–Picasso, protected by his nationality, was able to continue to develop his art.

Moving fluidly to a tamed and commercial version of Cubism, Picasso redefined himself as a more marketable artist to his Parisian dealer, Léonce Rosenberg. But parallel to the new conservative and decorative turn in his Cubism, Picasso was experimenting with a return to an Ingres-like classicism, signaling that he was bored with Cubism and wanted to move on. One could make a case that Parade is the last great statement on Cubism from Pablo Picasso and that it is his farewell to his former life, before he began a new stage for his career. The Ballet Russes was no stranger to scandalous ballets and it might be suspected that impresario Sergei Diaghilev used the occasional whiff of frisson as counter punctual shocks to his more conventional performances. Dressed as a Harlequin, Jean Cocteau had approached the famous Cubist artist Pablo Picasso paying homage to Picasso’s recent painting in hopes of assembling a truly avant-garde group of artists to attract the attention of Diaghilev. Cocteau wanted his own scandal, and, apparently, so did the composer Eric Satie, who was his co-creator of Parade. The ballet, on the strength of a one page script, would be put together in Rome.

Given the nationality of the Ballet Russes, its leaders and its dancers, it was impossible to return to Russia, and, for the duration of the War, the company was exiled, so to speak, in Rome. When Picasso, not a great traveler, arrived in the city, he was thirty five years old, ready to settle down as a married and respectable artist. However, his most recent liaisons, after the death of Eva, were not exactly women of virtue. Instead Gaby Lespinasse and Irène Lagut, culled from the ranks of artists’ mistresses, loved him and left him, moving on to other destinies. It was by chance that Picasso found himself in Rome, without a current lover, and was offered an opportunity to marry beyond his station, something artists seldom managed to do. Always open to new women, Picasso set his sights on one of the dancers, Olga Khokhlova, the daughter of a colonel, an engineer for the Russian railroad. As John Richardson, Picasso’s premier biographer noted, Olga was a “lady” to be courted, wooed and wed, in a proper fashion, because, as the author said, she was “unbearable.” In the midst of flirting with Olga, Picasso had to learn how to be a set designer. Most of his Cubist paintings were of modest size, following his larger earlier works, such as Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907). By 1915, the size of his paintings again increased as did the intensity of the color, but the art of working for a viewer who would be close the the work was quite different from creating costumes, for example, that had to be read at a distance. The gifted costume and set designer, Léon Bakst, of an entirely different generation and state of mind from Picasso, nevertheless taught him which colors worked best on stage.

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Picasso and his assistants, working on the theater curtain

Picasso also worked with the young second-generation Futurists, Enrico Prampolini and Fortunate Depero, who would become Fascist artist of aeropittura after the War. Their decorative and graphic combination of Cubism and Futurism, easy to read and suitable for mass audiences, gave Picasso an idea of the fate of avant-garde art in the future but also suggested a way to capture the attention of the resistant ballet goers. Indeed, one can find traces of Futurism in Parade. When Futurism was first introduced in Paris in 1912, the Italian entry into the avant-garde stakes, was summarily rejected by the Cubists. But in Picasso’s work for the ballet, Futurism, far more than the rather staid and static Cubism, was better suited to the energetic circus theme.

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According to Roland Penrose, Picasso had always been receptive to Futurism and was fond of Boccioni who, by the time, he was in Rome, had died in battle. Between tours of Rome and Naples, viewing works of ancient and classical and Renaissance art that would inform his work of the 1920s, Picasso began to make Parade his own, boldly changing Cocteau’s ideas, including stripping spoken dialogue in favor of pantomime. He added three Managers and a Horse, challenging the poet at every turn. Picasso took over the curtain that was to be closed during a rather long prelude composed by Satie, realizing that it had to be more interesting than Cocteau’s ideas that the drape be emblazoned with the names of the performers, like a still in a film. Indeed the entire ballet is an homage to popular culture, the circus and the music hall, vaudeville, Wild West shows and even American silent films, especially those of Charlie Chaplin.

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Satie wove in ordinary songs sung by everyone, popular ragtime, all punctuated by unexpected noises, trains, dynamos, planes. Picasso was fascinated by puppet shows and street theater in Italy, particularly in Naples, and began including local Italian elements. As Satie, his collaborator in thwarting Cocteau, wrote, “Parade is changing, for the better, behind Cocteau! Picasso has ideas that please me better than those our Jean! And Cocteau doesn’t know it!” Of course, Cocteau did not remain in the dark and came to accept Picasso’s perspective on his libretto which, to be truthful, really rested upon the vision of Picasso.

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The now-famous curtain was a case in point. When the ballet finally opened in Paris at the Théâtre du Châtelet, in May, the news from the Western front was terrible. The battles of the Somme and Verdun had caused massive casualties and France was bleeding young men, as an entire generation was being wiped out. In such an atmosphere, the audience, already hostile to Cubism and to Picasso, expected to be disrespected and confronted with a style they had been taught to hate. Due to the nationality of Cubism’s dealer, Kahnweiler and his main clients, Cubism was thought of as not French, but German, and the audience in wartime were bristling in anticipation. But the rideau surprised and calmed them. The great drop of cloth recalled a French circus poster, referenced Edgar Degas, Georges Seurat, and Toulouse Lautrec, who were on the verge of being acceptable to mainstream culture mavens. Instead of a Cubist assault, the audience was treated to a fairy tale version of an enchanted circus, like the Cirque Médrano, something loved and remembered from their childhoods. In fact, Parade, as the name suggested, was inspired by the fête foraine, an annual event in which a group of circus performers would execute a few short scenes, according to musicologist Nancy Perloff, on a platform or small stage, a parade. Although this kind of entertainment was long extinct, it had survived in the form of advertising and the word “parade” implied a spectacle, a concept that inspired Cocteau, Satie and Picasso. So at first, the audience could enjoy a comforting nostalgia, the faint perfume of the past.

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However, once the curtain rose, Cubism, accompanied by Satie’s now lively music, laced with modern sounds, such as typewriters and refrains borrowed from jazz, appears. The three Managers, so large they constituted moving scenery, asserted themselves. The ballet dancers inside were miserable, and the audience, outraged at the Cubist designs, found their worst fears realized. Shouts of “Go back to Berlin” and accusations of “Shirkers” and “Draft dodgers” rocked the theater. Massine’s deliberately awkward choreography did little to calm the outraged reactions, and the audience threw oranges.

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When Apollinaire rose in his sky blue uniform, his head bandaged in the honor of France and pleaded for calm, some order was restored. The plot itself was simple: a Chinese magician, a young America girl, inspired by Mary Pickford, and an acrobat from the Rose period, street performers, worked onto boulevard to lure the public into the circus.

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The Managers, with skyscrapers on their heads, were their exploiters and the villains of the piece. For Cocteau, the meaning was symbolic, for the audience the meaning was lost in the presence of the dreaded Cubism, for the critics, Parade was shark meat and they spiritedly attacked in a pack. Satie, who had been slapped by a member of the audience, was accused of bochisme (being German) and his exchanges with his critics resulted in lawsuits that bankrupted him.

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The accusations of being a traitor to France were unjust for Satie’s music included and consisted of the sounds of modern Paris itself. As Barbara L. Kelly noted inMusic and Ultra-modernism in France: A Fragile Consensus, 1913-1939,

Parade confirmed Satie’s central role as a harbinger of the new. It marked a shift in musical priorities from a focus on sonority and exoticism to a search for inspiration in the mainly Parisian everyday. In common with many of his peers, the ballet also represents a move away from narrative towards abstraction, a tendency that was becoming increasingly important in the dramatic ventures of Stravinsky and Diaghilev..

Of course, in time, Parade would become recognized as one of the great avant-garde ballets of the twentieth century, a classic, the first Cubist theatrical event, but on the 18th of May, 1917, once again, only Apollinaire was capable of rising to the defense of the collision between fine art and popular culture, France and America, sophisticated music and ordinary sound, poetry and farce, delivered in the spirit of the new visual invention, film. As he wrote for L’excelsior, contemplating his own notes on the program, about the idea of “surrealism,” which he understood in terms of a Gesamtkunstwerk, or a new realism:

From this new alliance, for until now stage sets and costumes on one said and the choreographer on the other side had only a sham bond between them, there has come about, in Parade, a kind of super-realism (sur-réalisme), in which I see the starting point of a series of manifestations of this new spirit (esprit nouveau), which, finding today the opportunity to reveal itself, will not fail to deuce the elite, and which promises to modify arts and manners from top to bottom for the wold’s delight, since it is only common sense to wish that arts and manners reach at least to the same height as scientific and industrial progress.

The result was a layering of literature, painting, dance, and music, each coming from a different sphere, far removed from the traditions of classic ballet. Parade dragged dance into the modern world, laid the foundation for artists like John Cage to reconsider the role of noise, and provided Picasso with the caché in world of the Right Bank. He was now a suitable match for the highly ranked Olga. For Picasso, Parade had served its purpose.

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The bad reviews, the elimination of the ballet from the repertoire of the Ballet Russes, Satie’s quarrels with his detractors were mere backdrops to his eventual marriage to Olga and his entrance into bourgeoisie life. Apollinaire died two days before the Armistice, and Parade would be revived in 1920. According to Mary E. Davis in Classic Chic: Music, Fashion, and Modernism, Americans loved Parade and, even after its disastrous Parisian premier, the young nation responded positively to a ballet that displayed such unabashed love of American culture. Unlike his former partner, Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso emerged from the War, a prominent artist, ready to preside over the post-war art world, an old master before he was forty. His dealer was Paul Rosenberg, who found him and his elegant wife suitable lodgings in the rue de la Boëtie. By the end of the War, the Spanish avant-garde artist had found his place in Paris at last.

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Podcast 59: Pablo Picasso and the Making of the Art Market

Pablo Picasso, Part One

Although we accept Picasso as one of the great artists of the twentieth century, he was not born a famous artist, he was “made.” This podcast discusses the role of the Great War and the creation of the post-war market in buying and selling avant-garde art. In order to be successful, Picasso had to be polished as an artist and Cubism had to be tamed as an art market suitable for collectors.

 

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Abstract Expressionism: The Field of Cultural Production

The Historical Context of Abstract Expressionism

The historical context of Abstract Expressionism can perhaps best be mapped out according to the theories of Pierre Bourdieu who coined the phrase “the field of cultural production.” What was the “field” which “produced” the culture of Abstract Expressionism? One should also add the thinking of Giesele Freund who wrote of the “preparedness” or the “readiness” of society for photography. Abstract Expressionism marks the shift of Modern Art away from Paris and towards New York, the movement of the avant-garde from Europe to America. New York, as Serge Guilbault remarked, “stole the idea of modern art.” The theft of modern art was the result of the preparedness of the artists in New York City in the 1940s to take advantage of the shift of the field of cultural production from the Old World to the New.

First, European politics stymied and stifled the free circulation of avant-garde art around the continent. Fascism in Italy in the 1920s, Nazism in Germany in the 1930s and their totalitarian control of art was prefaced by the crushing of the vanguard Russian artists in the Soviet Union. Totalitarian regimes cannot tolerate freedom in the arts and a political party that seeks absolute power will always move against the artists first. Major sources of art making and art thinking were shut down and many of the artists impacted simply packed up and left. Many artists came to America, bringing with them ideas of art theory and concepts of art practice to provincial shores.

Second, even in Paris, where there was open acceptance of avant-garde art, the art market had a dampening effect upon the development of new and innovative ideas. The time between the wars in Paris was a conservative one, an era of consolidation of the pre-War avant-garde movements. Fauvism, Cubism, Futurism, et al. were now “historical” movements and their leaders were now Old Masters. A tendency towards a conservative approach to art evidenced itself very early on, during the Great War, in the work of Picasso. After the war the mood was one of “Return to Order” and restoring all that was classical in French art in The School of Paris. Nostalgic conservatism after a devastating war is a common reaction and would be exemplified by the Ingres-esque classicism of Amedeo Modigliani. After post-War economic recovery, French collectors were eagerly flocking to the revived and expanded art market. The dealers sold their clients “a Picasso,” or “a Matisse,” art done in the characteristic styles of the masters, but tamed down. A case in point is Picasso’s 1921 Three Musicians, which is a painted collage, in other words, not innovative mixed media, but a conservative and salable painting.

Surrealism emerged in 1924 out of the ashes of the last provocative avant-garde movement, Dada. Conservative Surrealism was an inward looking movement that possessed no particular stylistic “look,” but was a placeholder for the avant-garde. In contrast to the pre-war avant-garde movements which were stylistic change, Surrealism produced not so much new styles as new approaches to the process of making art, such as automatic writing. Another historical footnote worth noting was the fact that the history of pre-War avant-garde movements was largely written by the art dealers, such as Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler and Léonce Rosenberg, thus legitimating their art and elevating the price. During the Nazi occupation of Paris, avant-garde artists either sought safety in America—-Chagall, who was Jewish, moved to New York—-or were forced to keep a low and safe profile in France to survive the Nazi occupation.

Third, European artists immigrated to America over the course of ten years. Some of these artists, such as the Bauhaus architects, Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, and Mies van der Rohe, simply moved their practices to the American cities of New York and Chicago. The coming of the Bauhaus architects to the United States paved the way for the International Style that would characterize architecture after the Second World War. Indeed, Modernist architecture was a case in point of how inhospitable Europe had become to avant-garde architects. While those in Russia were doomed to produce mostly “paper architecture” or models, other architects concentrated on domestic architecture, such as Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye and the De Stijl architect Gerrit Reitveld’s Schröder House in the 1920s. Thwarted by wars and oppression, Modernist architecture finally found itself in great works of public and corporate works only after the Second World War. The Seagram Building by Mies van der Rohe in New York was the achievement of the prosperous Fifties in America.

But architects weren’t the only Europeans to seek safe haven. Even as Hitler was moving into power in Germany, Hans Hofmann was moving out to become an art teacher in New York in the winter and Providencetown in the summer. Bauhaus faculty members, Josef and Anni Albers, found themselves at the famous Black Mountain College where they taught the next generation who would overtake the Abstract Expressionist artists. Piet Mondrian, who had fled Holland for London, had to leave London for New York, where he died in 1945. The American Dada photographer, Man Ray, came home and spent the next eleven years in Los Angeles. These artists were joined by intellectuals, such as Hannah Arendt and Theodor Adorno, who changed the climate and the quality of American thinking during the Second World War.

Fourth, the presence of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City was of great significance in educating American artists on European avant-garde art. Since Alfred Stieglitz had closed down his gallery, 291, in 1916, there had been no reliable gathering point were artists could see the cutting edge art of Europe. And then MoMA opened in 1929, headed by Alfred Barr. Barr ended the somewhat specious relationship between the dealers and the museums: dealers would organize and mount shows in museums, giving their art greater legitimacy, and subsequently raising the prices. Like Christ in the Temple with the Moneychangers, Barr barred such practices and art was set apart from commerce. The look of MoMA, the “pure” White Cube, gave the museum of modern art a sanctified air, where art and commercialism did not consort. Most importantly, Barr was able to bring in avant-garde European art in a series of shows that would be hard to mount in many European countries. It could be argued that, thought these important exhibitions, American artists had better access to this new art than did European artists, particularly those who were stranded in totalitarian countries.

Fifth, American artists were being brought together as never before during the Thirties. Government programs employed artists as either easel artists or as mural artists for public buildings, granting them the status of professionals. Many artists were able to take advantage of these employment programs, others, such as Willem de Kooning, who was not in American legally, or Newman, who had political qualms, did not take part. Whether or not one participated or not, the result of the government programs was to bring artists together, to create an artist community that included art critics, such as Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg. This community was ready to hear the new ideas of the European émigré artists and intellectuals. Greenberg learned studio talk at the feet of Hofmann who gave his American audiences a synthesis of Cubist and Expressionist art theories.

Although in the post-war, art history glossed over the art commissioned by the New Deal, the murals and photographs and easel painting stirred up creativity and provided challenges to American artists. In contrast the European artists who were essentially running in place, American artists were keeping active, forced into the innovation demanded by new conditions. Sensing an opportunity, Americans watched closely as nation by nation, territory by territory, Europe shut art down. American artists respected European art, but many felt that the avant-garde movements were played out. The best artists were old and long past their prime. Surrealism was already twenty years old, for instance. No new generation had emerged in Europe.

Sixth, Americans wanted to go beyond European art, but the question was how? Painters in New York wanted to create a new avant-garde art that was uniquely “American,” being robust, reflective of the greatness of the nation. The local artists liked the all-over effects of Cézanne and Mondrian, but found the easel art small and confining. Mondrian, especially, seemed “effeminate” in the precise preciousness of his meditative approach to painting. The New Yorkers were interested in the concept of the powers of the unconscious mind, suggested by Surrealism, but did not like the realistic dream paintings or Freudian theory. They did, however, appreciate the freedom from convention that the practice of écriture automatique or automatic writing could give to artists.

The promise of the all-over effect expanded beyond the portable easel painting could be fulfilled by mural painting, as practiced and taught by the Mexican muralists. The Mexican muralists were highly political and highly specific and many of them had an unfortunate track record of having their murals defaced: Rivera by the Rockefellers in New York and Siqueros by Christine Sterling in Los Angeles. Wary of political content, the American artists preferred the universality of message combined with an impressive scale found in Picasso’s Guernica, temporarily housed at MoMA.

Seventh, as can be seen, it is as important to take note of what the younger generation of American artists rejected. In addition to the Communist statements of the Mexican painters and the dream content of the Surrealists, American artists did not want to continue the nationalistic art of the Regionalist artists, such as Benton and Wood, nor did they want to continue the political art of the Social Realists, such as Ben Shahn and the other Depression artists. During the Depression and the Second World War, much art was dedicated to propaganda which promoted the benefits of the New Deal and then the need to support the War. The new artists appreciated abstract art, and, indeed there was an active group of abstract artists, the American Abstract Artists, but theirs was an old-fashioned abstraction of European formalism. The American artists coming into maturity in New York wanted a new kind of abstraction.

And, last, there was one factor, seldom emphasized but often mentioned in passing—the age of the Abstract Expressionist artists. They were all middle-aged men who had been developing their painting techniques and styles for years, working in obscurity. Unlike their European counterparts, the painters of the New York School had uninterrupted careers, untouched by political oppression or war. When America was drawn into World War II in 1941, these men were too old or too unfit or too ineligible to serve in the Armed Forces. While younger men went to war, sacrificing their careers and sometimes their lives for their county, the Abstract Expressionists were able to remain in the safety of New York City.

These crucial war years were the very years that preceded their individual styles, which would emerge in the fifties. When peace returned, the New York artists had benefited from a period of maturation that placed them at the forefront of the art world. Much of Europe was in ruins, and the European artists had to endure a period of rebuilding and restoration. In contrast, the American artists had to wait only for the emergence of a professional gallery scene that could support their ambitions. In ten years, it had become apparent that New York had inherited the idea of Modern Art.

What did the American artists in New York City want? They wanted to take over the reins of avant-garde Modernist art. They wanted to make modernist art American. The artists, who would form (loosely) the New York School in the Fifties, were ready, they were prepared. The field of cultural production had shifted to the East Coast of America. The result would be Abstract Expressionism.

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Phases of Cubism: Analytic Cubism

ANALYTIC CUBISM

One could ask the question, when did “Cubism” begin? Some art historians consider a single painting of 1907, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, as the beginning. But that would be assuming that Picasso was the most important Cubist artist. The problem with that assumption is that the artist never considered Les Demoiselles d’Avignon to be finished and kept the work rolled up under his bed until he sold it in the 1920s to the collector, fashion designer, Jacques Doucet. The painting was exhibited publicly only once in 1916 (during the Great War) until the 1920s and was purchased in 1929 for the new Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

The idea that “Cubism” began with a painting that was unfinished and private was an anachronistic concept. Historically, “Cubism” as a word referring to an artistic movement did not appear in print until around 1910 and was used in reference of the Salon Cubists. But if one agrees with the position of art historians that Picasso and Barque were the instigators and innovators of Cubism, then the year 1907 is a good year to begin. If nothing else, 1907 is a good year because it is by this year that Fauvism is definitively over and a brief period of movement towards the next avant-garde idea begins.

Proto-Cubism: 1907-1910

This early formative period, from 1907 to 1910 includes Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and Braque’s reaction to the painting, Grand Nu. During this period, Braque broke with Fauvism and veered towards Paul Cézanne. Picasso assimilated the twin influences of African tribal art (sculpture) and the legacy of Cézanne. In 1907 Picasso produced the culmination of his interest in tribal art, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, a key work during this period. The painting was shown to a few close friends, including his new friend, Georges Braque, who responded with a work of his own, the Grand Nu, which was heavily indebted to Matisse, indicating his Fauvist roots. Nevertheless Braque abruptly dropped out of the waning Fauve movement and cast his lot with Picasso. Picasso and Braque were in painterly sync by 1908.

Having completed their experiments with other styles and influences, they settled into their final project: extending the logic of Cézanne. Both Braque and Picasso produced very Cézannesque landscapes, Picasso at Horta del Ebro in Spain and Braque at Cézanne’s only painting grounds of L’Estaque. Picasso’s paintings still reflect the colors he favored in 1906, the ochres and siennas seen in Two Women and the Portrait of Gertrude Stein. Braque, however, had assimilated not just Cézanne’s advice to the younger painter, Emile Bernard, to reduce forms to basic geometric shapes but also his dark colors, subdued blues and greens. It was these latter paintings, shown at Berthe Weil’s gallery in 1908, that prompted the quick-witted critic, Louis Vauxcelles, to remark on Braque’s “little cubes.” Like Impression and Fauvism, the beginning of “Cubism” was a derogatory one.

Analytic Cubism: 1910-1912

The paintings of 1908 and 1909 were transitional works, many of which were landscapes crowded with buildings that seem to climb up tall hills. These works were reminiscent of the paintings Paul Cézanne did with Camille Pissarro in the 1860s and allowed the young artists to use the geometric forms of the built environment to experiment with fragmenting forms. By 1910, the artists had moved indoors to work in a more controlled studio environment. A few figures and a few portraits come out of the next phase but the painters seemed to find the still life best suited for their experiments. By this time, the artists had discarded color in order to explore the logic of form in space. If human vision is mobile and if the viewer’s position in space changes over time, then the problem is how the artist can convey multiple perspectives on a flat two dimensional surface. The task Picasso and Braque assigned to themselves was nothing less than creating a new visual language in the visual arts.

In a period is called “heroic” and “hermetic,” by art historians, the new language was fully formed. Analytic Cubism can be unreadable, hence “hermetic,” because this language is so unfamiliar. Accustomed to the language of the Renaissance, one has to learn how to “read” Cubism. The characteristics of Analytic Cubism include a monochromatic reduced palette, restricted to Cézannian colors: ochres for the planes, black for the contours and white for the stippling on the surface. From time to time, green will be used, but more and more sparingly. Close examination of canvases reveals underpainting of a variety of colors, suggesting a decision to eliminate a variety of colors in favor of developing a complex variation of shades within a very narrow range of choice.

Why reduce the palette? On one level, we see many artists at this period moving towards “Cézannian” ochres and greens, such as, Raoul Dufy, another former Fauve. On the other hand, the Salon Cubists, on the whole were far more willing to use bright colors than Picasso and Braque. The Salon Cubists always used color and during the transition period between Analytic and Synthetic Cubism, Picasso and Braque were able to return to the use of color, but only after then had reintroduced it through the auspices of the advertising appropriated for collage.

Analytic Cubism was more than an homage to Cézanne, compared to the more direct relationship enjoyed by the Salon Cubists with the old master. By reducing the palette, Picasso and Braque were able to paint in colors or tones, which were neutral in their associations. Red and blue, for example, are colors with “moods,” yellow might be associated with an object, such as a lemon or the sun. The suggestion of mood or object through colors could lead to ideas of theme or narrative or of symbolism—something Picasso and Braque avoided in order to concentrate to the formal experimentation of their paintings.

Picasso did portraits, of art dealers, such as Ambroise Vollard, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, and Wilhelm Uhde; and paintings of unspecified people, such as the reappearing moustached Poet. Braque painted a range of “types” both male and female but, for the most part, stayed away from portraiture. Males are identified in terms of nationality or occupation; women are simply women. However, Picasso and Braque did include a kind of “iconography” in their works—studio paraphernalia, which included anything from palettes to traditional still life studies—café mementos, which included cards, glasses, bottles, and the newspapers customers read while eating and drinking.

This studio based and personal range of subject matter was in contrast to the Salon Cubists who were looking at the objects of the modern world—airplanes and cars and even the Eiffel Tower. The interior subjects show a narrow range of objects depicted—from hollow containers to odd bits and pieces of Victorian ornamentation, such as woodworking and tassels. The exterior subjects, the landscapes, selected were characterized by the natural site’s propensity to “pile up”—that is views which were inherently high, blocking off distant vistas: factory buildings and the smokestacks, mountains and trees. In their own way, the works of Picasso and Braque contain a mini record of the life of a French artist: small journeys from studio to café and a vacation exodus to southern landscapes that were quite restricted and very traditional, still very Cézanne.

During the “hermetic” period of Analytic Cubism, Picasso and Braque restricted the space of their works as rigorously as they restricted the subject matter and color. More and more, they marked the limits of the shallow shell of space they have constructed for their objects, In Violin and Palette (1910), Braque painted a trompe l’oeil nail and hung a palette on the wall. The nail that cast a shadow indicated: “here, this is the limit of the space, the end of depth.” In Ma Jolie (1911), Picasso painted letters “Ma Jolie,” on the surface of the canvas. When he detached the subject from object, the lettering marked the limit of the projection of the picture plane. Working as a team, the artists borrowed Cézanne’s approach of uniting the surface. The passage, wherein the colors “slip” from point to point across the canvas, escaping from their traditional confinement in any one object, now became overall, drifting into an unmeasured space. Picasso and Braque also broke the contours of their objects, forcing space to weave in and out among objects and between planes.

The Renaissance restriction of one point perspective, interrogated discretely by Cézanne, was ruptured completely by Picasso and Braque. Objects were displayed not in one place, in one time, in one space, within one light source, but from many vantage points. If an object was seen from many points of view, then it was also seen in many different spaces; and as one moved from space to space, from place to place, one also moved in time; as one moved in space and time, the light source also varies. None of this movement was painted or illustrated literally, but suggested conceptually by the broken contours of the objects and the highlights of white paint, which do not respond to any one source.

The type of object depicted is “signed” to the viewer through a system of “clues,” such as the poet’s “moustache” and the violin’s strings, all floating in the monochromatic void flickering with shifting light sources. But there were problems in Analytic Cubism. Color was avoided, and could not be solved until the next phase. Edges also became a concern as the objects clustered around in an ovoid shape. How should the space surrounding the objects be treated if the objects were in multiple spaces and places and times? How does one denote multiple spaces, without objects? Should this space be filled with fragments of the objects it contained, or should space remain empty and ambiguous and un-measurable?

As Picasso and Braque’s analytic painting approached the edges the questions became acute and the density of the work remains traditionally centered and thins out at the edges. Oval shapes were somehow easier to deal with than rectangles and Cubism was noteworthy for the number of works in this unusual shape. It is obvious that the questions, which Cézanne asked: what kind of “space” does one construct when Renaissance space becomes too limited? would lead to the answer of pure abstraction.

Picasso and Braque did not want to travel this road, in contrast to, for example, the Orphists, the Delaunays and Kupka, who plunged into “pure painting” and into abstraction. The objects depicted in Analytic Cubism came to be more and more fragmented, splintering over the surface of the painting, more and more difficult to read. Their grip on reality had become too tenuous and Picasso and Braque stumbled, apparently somewhat independently of one another, upon a solution to the inevitable move into abstraction—a solution called Synthetic Cubism.

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The Cubists: Artists and Writers

THE CUBISTS AND THEIR CIRCLE

Today Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Georges Braque (1882-1963) are considered to be the “True Cubists,” to borrow a phrase from art historian, Edward Fry. But at the time Cubism was famous or infamous with the Parisian public, from 1910 to 1914, “Cubism” meant the Salon Cubists. To the art audience, the “Cubists” were those artists who showed and exhibited publicly in the large Salon exhibitions in Paris and in other European capitals. Because these were the artists who exhibited, those were the artists and the art works referred to when the art reviews were published in the mainstream press.

To the writers in the know and to the avant-garde artists, Picasso was the acknowledged leader of Cubism and possible source of inspiration for the Salon Cubists, with Braque being a shadowy figure, mentioned only occasionally by the art press. Protected by their art dealer, the German expatriate, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1884-1979), Braque and Picasso were supported financially and were able to work out their own version of “Cubism” in the privacy of their individual studios and display the results privately in Kahnweiler’s unadvertised gallery, far from the madding crowds of the Salons.

Who were the Salon Cubists? These artists, some sculptors but mostly painters, were a varied and complex group, strongly influenced byPaul Cézanne and dedicated to producing an avant-garde art which also maintained the French tradition of structure, clarity, logic, balance and classicism, as seen in French art from Poussin to Chardin. These artists were not really interested in so-called “primitive art,” nor do they go through the phases or periods of Cubism as Picasso and Braque did. They cannot be said to have had an Analytic Period or a Synthetic Period, and these artists did not have a great interest in collage, developed by the “true Cubists.” Thoroughly conventional and bourgeois, they lived in the suburbs around Paris, Purteaux and Corbevoie. Only Jean Metzinger (1883-1956) lived in the more bohemian environs of Montmartre, near Picasso and Braque.

The extent of the interchanges and mutual influence between the Salon Cubists and the “True Cubists” is difficult to determine. Albert Gleizes (1881-1953), Metzinger’s co-author of Du Cubisme, published 1912, did not meet Picasso until 1911, for example. By then, public or Salon Cubism was well underway. Nevertheless, it is good to remember that avant-garde art, by this time, had become an international phenomenon and avant-garde was exhibited and exchanged globally. These artists were in close touch with the Futurist artists and Russian art collectors were in contact with Picasso and Braque. French art traveled to other capitals in Europe and the Futurists chose to make their biggest splash in Paris. The 1913 Armory Show in New York rocked New York City, rattling the sensibilities of the provincials. Despite the rapid diffusion of ideas and styles, groups of artists and individual artists, can be clearly distinguished, for each maintained his/her national or personal characteristics.

The Artists

The Salon Cubists included Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger, who based their version of Cubism upon the ideas of Cézanne, which the authors of Du Cubisme understood as examining that which was seen through multiple points in time and space. Like the Cubists who showed in the Salons, they were not adverse to color. In fact, the so-called Orphists, Robert Delaunay, Sonia Terk-Delaunay, Frank Kupka, and, sometimes Francis Picabia based their brightly colored art on the notion that color, like music, could transcend into abstraction.

The grouping of the Salon Cubists, such as, Andre Lhote, Auguste Hebrin, Louis Marcoussis, and Roger de la Fresnaye (1885-1925) and Marie Laurencin, etc. into sub groups was imaginary and artificial, the product of the art critic, Guillaume Apollinarie. Fernand Léger showed publicly for a time and then, with the Spanish follower of Picasso, Juan Gris, later became part of Kahnweiler’s group of Cubists. Completing the Cubists who showed in the Salons were the Duchamp Family, the painter, Jacques Villon, the sculptor, Raymond Duchamp-Villon (who died in the Great War) and Marcel Duchamp, who stopped painting in 1913, and the painter, Suzanne Duchamp.

Historians will later accord Léger and Gris a place of prominence in Cubism, largely due to Kahnweiler’s historical account of “his true Cubists” in Der Weg zum Kübismus. (The Rise of Cubism, 1915). It should be noted that Kahnweiler was reluctant to include “his” artists with the Salon Cubists and was very negative towards the very word, “Cubism.” During the peak years of Cubism, 1910-1914, the number of “Cubists” was substantial; after the Great War, the artists were ranked as “major” or “minor.” This ranking was done after the fact by the first historians of Cubism who were art dealers supporting the artists in their stables.

Art Critics

Like the art world itself, the circles of art writers was divided among the conservative and the radical and those in between. During the early Twentieth Century, the close ties between avant-garde artists and writers, forged in the previous century, persisted. And, as before, the art critics were also serious poets and novelists in their own right. The artists and writers were a close-knit community and the writers supported “their” artists in newspapers and journals. Often the writer would publish art reviews in mainstream newspapers with a general art audience and then write more substantive commentary for the journals, often short-lived petites revues.

Adventurous small publishers were willing to take a chance and even produce books on controversial art. It is important to note that the contents of these early writings, published before the Great War, were usually generalized, referring mostly to the Salon Cubists. After the War, these books were re-read and interpreted from the standpoint of a post-War re-evaluation of the Cubist artists. Readers tended to assume, incorrectly, that the writers were discussing Picasso and Braque, but these primary sources need to be read carefully, for those two artists were seldom directly discussed.

“Cubism” usually designated the public Salon manifestations of Cubist art, created by the Salon Cubists. Those who supported Cubism and who wrote important early books on these artists include the poets, Guillaume Apollinaire, André Salmon, and Maurice Raynal. The well-known critic-biographer, André Warnod, also weighed in, writing in Comedia. Other critics, such as Louis Vauxcelles and Arsène Alexandre, spoke against Cubism but were important supporters of Post-Impressionists, a group of artists still relatively unknown to the art audience, and favored art from non-Western countries. The main site of Cubism in America, where avant-garde art had a small audience and collector base, was the vanguard gallery owned by the photographer, Alfred Stieglitz. The legendary 291 hosted the cutting edge art from Paris and the gallery’s publication, Camera Work, published some of the first writings of Gertrude Stein, discussing Matisse.

Shortly before Apollinaire published The Cubist Painters in 1913, Gelizes and Metzinger published On Cubism in 1912. André Salmon, the poet-critic who had written of the mysterious painting, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and was a strong supporter of Picasso, wrote Young French Painting, also in 1913. In her 2006 book on Cubism, Anne Ganteführer-Trier, stated that Picasso was concerned that Salmon was neglectful of Braque. “He treats you with great injustice,” Picasso wrote to his partner. Perhaps of less interest to Picasso was the book written in 1914 by the American author, Arthur Jerome Eddy, Cubism and Post-Impressionism. With the exception of the writings of Apollinaire, who reproduced black and white photographs of Cubist collages in his book, Les Soirées de Paris, written in the same year, the sources of the ideas of Cubism would have almost certainly come from the Salon Cubists.

If one accepts that the main source of writings on Cubism were the Salon Cubists, then the lack of writing on the collages is explained. Apollinaire commented without explanation, that Picasso dissected like a “surgeon,” almost certainly a reference to the constructions. Most of the writing on Cubism centered on the multiplicity of viewpoints, the destruction of classical Renaissance perspective and the resulting fragmentation of forms. There were erudite references to poorly understood ideas that were floating about Montmartre, such as the Fourth Dimension or the dimension of time, but these appropriations were used, as Maurice Raynal later disclosed, less to explain Cubism and more to sell the new style as a serious movement in modernism.

The Salon Cubists: “The Cubist Heroes”

The Salon Cubists-to-be looked at Paul Cézanne, now widely available in various gallery retrospectives, especially those at the Salon d’automne in 1904 and 1906. It would not be an exaggeration to state that these exhibitions changed the direction of French avant-garde art, putting and end to Fauvism and making the beginning of Cubism. Cézanne’s attempt to go beyond the limitations of one-point perspective in depth, invented during the Renaissance. The result was what appeared to be distortions of space and form in his paintings, which provided much food for thought. Cézanne had also suggested that nature could be reduced to basic shapes—the cone, the cylinder and the sphere, thus introducing a certain basic geometry as the basis for creating form. But, far from being a disrupter of tradition, Cézanne’s investigations were a sincere and life long effort on his part to turn Impressionism into something solid, something fit for museums.

Avant-garde artists were searching for a new means of expression in a new age. This search was thwarted by the Academy, the art schools, which taught an official and accepted and acceptable art and insisted on continuing tradition. To the avant-garde artists, the academic formulas were now worn out and should be shed. But it is important to make a distinction between overworked visual conventions and a respect for past art. The Salon Cubists seem to have shared Cézanne’s need to innovate and to search for new answers, but they shared his adherence to the classical French tradition. For Cézanne, the classical meant the clean and simple structure of Poussin, and he objected to the supposed lack of composition rigor in Impressionism. Like Cézanne, the Salon Cubists always looked back to the masters of French painting.

Like Cézanne, the Salon Cubists turned their backs on the Impressionists but for different reasons. The Cubists objected to the passivity of the Impressionists who, they charged were too simple minded, too optically orientated. There was more to nature than merely recording the shifts of light and the changes of color—there was structure and form and solidity that were, paradoxically, broken by the mobility of vision. However, as was mentioned previously, the Salon Cubists did not follow the logic of Cézanne into the dissolution of form itself. The art of Cézanne provided a kind of stylistic armature, a sort of grid or network from which the Salon Cubists could “hang” or organize their subjects.

The results of their studies became visible from 1910 on when the Salon Cubists began appearing publicly as a group, hung in particular rooms of the major avant-garde salons, the Salon des Indépendants and the Salon d’Automne. Some had been working independently until then and became aware of each other in the Salon context. By October 1912, these Salon Cubists had their own exhibition, called the Section d’Or exhibition at the La Boétie Gallery. Although this was the year Picasso and Braque, working privately, developed Synthetic Cubism, the Salon Cubists continued their version of Cubism as an extension of Cézanne. The public considered with art very radical and shocking and, because of public ridicule and critical opposition, these were the artists who became the true “heroes” of Cubism. However, art history would, after the Great War, re-name them the “minor Cubists,” a categorization that must have come as a great shock to the veterans of one of the great avant-garde skirmishs.

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Podcast 38 Painting 4: Cubism to Dada

When Art Became Code

If Expressionism was a temperamental predilection, then Cubism became the basis for a new artistic language that would dominate the rest of the century. But during the Great War, a younger generation of artists rebelled against the artistic tradition of the avant-garde. Dada artists positioned themselves as “anti-art,” but, like the Cubist artists, Picasso and Braque, they attempted to re-define art and its mode of communication and production.

 

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

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