French Artists During the Great War: Braque, Part Two

Georges Braque Post-War

Return to Cubism

The question both during and after the Great War was the fate of Cubism. The forward thrust of the pre-war avant-garde in Paris was abruptly halted by what Barbara Tuchman called “The Guns of August.” Conflict and disruption are never helpful to artists who need peace and prosperity to contemplate their art, find collectors and make a living. The War, however, divided the leading pre-war movement, Cubism, in half: the Cubism before the War and the Cubism after the War. After the War Cubism acquired a totally different character, evolving from an armed rebellion assaulting the sensibilities of the public to a historical movement supported by a new generation of art dealers with respectable clientele. Before the War, Cubism, as a movement, had been divided into two different intellectual concepts, two separate aesthetic visions, one public, the colorful and, according to some, conservative, Salon Cubism, and the other private and studio based, the experimental projects of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Although both strands of Cubism could be traced back to Paul Cézanne, it was the Salon Cubists who emerged as the main “Cubists” after the War. Art history tends to neglect the Salon Cubists, such as Jean Metzinger and Albert Gleizes, and also has the habit of skipping over the way in which Cubism was established as a major force in the art market by these Salon Cubists after the War. In contrast to the Salon Cubists, after expanding its possibilities for his ballet designs with Parade, Picasso abandoned Cubism in a bid for wider acceptance. While Picasso developed a strategy to build his reputation as an ever-flowing artist, moving with each tide, each style and mastering it before moving on, his former partner, Georges Braque took a different road.

Braque, who had been wounded during the War, had almost died but struggled to recover and return to painting. Although Picasso had been solicitous and had visited him in the hospital during his rehabilitation, Braque became aware that their paths had diverged during the War, and, as he contemplated his comeback as an artist, he apparently made the decision to continue develop Cubism. Part of Braque’s transition out of the army and back into painting were two celebratory events, one to honor the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who seemed to have narrowly escaped death, and then a party honoring the painter, also recovering from a head wound and wondering if he would ever paint again. These parties in 1917, marking survival, marked the return of two prominent figures to the art world in the same year as Picasso’s Parade debuted. Picasso’s use of Cubist painting as costumes and sets in this “surreal” ballet were his swan song, his farewell to the style that made his reputation. For him, Cubism provided a way out, an exit to new artistic frontiers. For Braque pre-war Cubism beckoned to him as a way forward. As with Picasso’s work on Parade, Braque’s post-war paintings bear the memory of papier collé, with areas of strong color that were painted instead of large blocks of pasted paper. And, as with Picasso, these paintings use the old subject matter of Analytic Cubism and its characteristic sharp diagonal likes which now emphasize the shapes of the objects rather than fragmenting them. Rather than floating above the support, the segments of color build upon each other, locking each other down.


Georges Braque. Glass, Pipe, Newspaper (1917)

Interestingly Braque relied upon the audience’s ability to “read” the “clues” of Cubism, a skill that had been developed before the War and not necessarily in Paris. What the potential Parisian collectors could see, however, is a style called “Cubism” as interpreted by its inventor, Georges Braque. As several of his transitions works made during 1917 and 1918 demonstrate, the artist relied heavily upon the papier collé works he was doing at the end of the summer of 1914, especially those which introduced a textured surface.


Georges Braque. Rum and Guitar (1918)

Perhaps, however, when it comes to the choice of color, a more informative comparison of Braque’s paintings he made during his recuperation would be with Henri Matisse, for, like the former Fauve with whom he once exhibited, Braque went dark. In comparison to the monochrome paintings of the so called “Analytic” stage, these paintings are dark and brooding. In comparison with the open structure of the floating segments of “Synthetic” Cubism, the canvases are filled and closed in. Braque also announced, if you will, the new work with a new motif that would appear for decades in his work, the Guéridon, a small side table dating back to the era of Louis XIV. The top is round, a site where Braque would crowded bits a pieces familiar to those who knew his early studies–musical instruments, sheet music, newspapers, things to eat and drink, all the comforts of home. The Guéridon had made an early appearance in 1910 and then in 1911, with its characteristic curved top was clearly visible as an edge barely supporting a plethora of disintegrating objects.


Georges Braque. Le Guéridon (1911)

The side table still life paintings would be the center of Braque’s comeback in 1919 at Léonce Rosenberg’s gallery L’Effort moderne, but they were also his version of continuing to develop Cubism. Picasso abandoned Cubism during the post-war years and wandered off, exploring new styles, slipping from one look to another, as if traveling. Once settled in his darkened and sober color scheme, blacks and greens and browns, once he had returned to the comfort of still life motifs, Braque settled back into his own trajectory and stuck with his darkened Cubist perspective. It is possible to read the deep tones as elegiac for all that was wiped away by the War–human lives ended, an entire world of international avant-garde art halted, the nineteenth century itself–for a new century was well and truly underway.


Georges Braque. Guitar and Glass (1917)

However, unlike Fernand Léger, Braque did not let his experience as a machine gunner penetrate into his art. Instead, his art was about being back home, at home, safe in a charmingly cluttered interior, surrounded by timeless and familiar objects. The three legged table symbolized peace and safety. Although Braque returned to the familiar stacking technique of Cubism, in which space was flattened by the tilting forward of the objects which offered themselves to the viewer, the confrontation with building blocks of color and pattern might take on a different significance post-war, becoming signifiers of an urge to recommit to all things familiar and insignificant and close to hand. In a very interesting article, ‘Trench Warfare on the Western Front, 1914-18,” Dorothee Brantz wrote of the odd vantage points and the unusual experiences with space and landscape for those, who, like Braque, lived in trenches:

Trench warfare forced soldiers to develop a new relationship with space, including intensified sense perceptions. To some soldiers, going to war, might initially have looked like an adventure, but they quickly realized the life at the front was nothing like tourism. For one thing, there was little to see. Trench warfare no longer privileged sight,particularly when it came to locating the enemy. Not only was the landscaper increasingly unrecognizable due to military destruction, most soldiers spent large amounts of time close to or even below ground, where their field of vision was limited to the boundaries of the trenches, creating a particular perspective. As a result, battlefields looked empty even thought they were actually saturated with bodies, both living and dead. Even inside the trenches, soldiers often could not see very far because of the trenches’ zig-zag construction. The view across no-man’s land was obstructed by barbed wire and upturned earth, and during a barrage this field of vision was even future reduced with smoke or poison gas filled the air.

This landscape had been were Georges Braque had spent almost two years of his life. It is no wonder that he surrounded himself, wrapped himself in traditional still lives, places at a distance where he could see them, study them, and revel in their simple existence. In contrast to the semiotic fragments of early Cubism that provided a narration of a visit to a café, for example, the post-war still lives are rendered in full, redolent with decorative, celebratory details. The verticality now takes on a different connotation when contrasted to the dangerous flatness of a non-landscape stripped of all identifying markers but dead bodies and barbed wire. The new distance, allowing for a full view of a still life on a graceful table or even including the table itself, allows for a verticality, indeed, even the possibility of the act of standing upright-a posture that would mean instant death for the inexperienced soldier.


Georges Braque. Still Life on a Table (1918)

Having survived when so many did not, Braque, according to Alex Danchev, regarded his former confrères who did not serve, such as Marcel Duchamp, or who managed to cut their service short, such as Albert Gleizes, with a certain contempt. Picasso, in his opinion, simply sold out and of his post war life, Braque said, “Je dos connaître ce monsieur.” The paintings of Braque demonstrated how cleanly the artistic break with Picasso had been: Picasso became a celebrity, Braque remained the historical champion of Cubism and its future; Picasso frolicked on the Cote d’Azur with movie stars and prominent members of the rich and famous class, Braque stayed at home and painted objects arranged and rearranged over the decades. Early on, as with Musician, his 1917 return to painting, and La Joueuse de mandolin of the same year, Braque insisted on continuity and these paintings, like the Guéridon, had previous versions in his former life.


Georges Braque. Musician (1917)


Georges Braque. La Joueuse de mandoline (1917)

Braque’s return to public exhibition at L’Effort moderne in 1919 and the review of his new work was penned by Blaise Cendres whose right arm had been amputated. Centers, a Swiss national, had served in the French Foreign and Cendres (FrédéricLouis Sauser), like Braque, was recovering from his wartime experiences, as were Luigi Russolo, who also had a head wound that was trepanned, and Fernand Léger, who had been gassed. Raymond Duchamp-Villon died in the service of his country. It is in the face of the sacrifices of the avant-garde artists during the Great War that Cubism, once spelled “Kubism” with a “K” to damn it in its supposed German-ness, that Cubism finally became French, part of the French tradition. Braque chose to remain within this continuity, established by Léonce Rosenberg who was both taking advantage of the Cubist artists and promoting their art for mutual benefit.


In A Companion to World War I, John House quoted Fernand Léger, who said, “To all those idiots who wonder if I am a or will still be a Cubist when I return, you can tell them that, yes, for more than ever. There is nothing more ‘Cubist’ than a war like this one which splits a chap up more or less cleanly into several bits and flings him out to the the four points of the compass.” But how should we read these key transitional works from Georges Braque, a recovering veteran of a war he would seldom mention and seemed to repress? One hundred years after Braque was called into service, Karen K. Butler wrote of “Georges Braque. Artilleryman” in Nothing but the Clouds Unchanged. As she pointed out the working process of Braque was largely “internal” and that his philosophy of art was to divorce his work from the real world. In writing of his experience with trench warfare, Butler commented, upon a statement by Braque:

“Visual space separates objects form one another. Tactile space separates us from the objects. VS (visual space): the tourist looks at the site. TS (tactile space): the artilleryman hits the target..It is my position the some of the irreconcilable aspects of Braque’s war experience that are found in this statement–a kind of perceptual gap between distance and presence, as well as an emphasis on tactility and physical experience before the mechanization war–find a way into his post-war paintings.


Georges Braque. Still Life on Table (1918)

Butler concluded, is difficult to connect these still lifes and interiors in any overt way wot the war. And yet it is worth considering whether the serial nature of these canvases ,which return again and again to the same motif with only slight variations in subject or perspective, is in some way suggestive of a psychological response to trauma–a response that is both a repression of the experience of war and an unconscious reiteration of its tactile space. For Braque, who, strives to hit his target like the artilleryman, I propose that his emphasis on the material qualities of the artwork is deeply tied to the devastating encounter with industrialized mass destruction that emerged in the trench warfare of World War I.

In 1996 the historian and art historian Philippe Dragen wrote Le silence des peintres: les artistes face à la Grande Guerre, taking an interesting stance, particularly when it comes to the French avant-garde artists. While the English artists rose to the occasion, looked the war directly into the eye of this first modern war and created, out of the avant-garde vocabulary, a language to express the death and devastation, the destruction of an entire swarth of landscape and the desolation that followed the loss of a generation upon which the future had once depended, the French artists looked away. As will be discussed in the next post, the vast bulk of French art was prints and posters, with almost none of the major pre-war artists approaching the war in any fashion expect indirectly at best. It is difficult to account for such a vast difference–eloquence on one hand and repression on the other, but it should be remembered during the first month of the War, France was delivered a death blow which was still bleeding in 1940, when on a fine day in June, the Germans once again marched down the Champs Elysees.

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Picasso and Parade, Making Art during Wartime, Part One

Making Parade (1917)

Pablo Picasso during the Great War

Part One

Pablo Picasso was bored. Paris was empty of the stimulating company he had grown accustomed to. His partner in Cubism, its invention, its evolution and its four year development, Georges Braque, had patriotically enlisted and was fighting in the trenches, using guns instead of paint brushes. His German art dealer, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, had been declared an enemy alien, his merchandise, including many works by Picasso himself and Braque, had been sequestered by the French government. Albert Gleizes, not necessarily a good friend, but who was at least a fellow artist, had done his time for his country and had mustered out in 1915, spending the rest of the War in New York, joining Marcel Duchamp in exile. The elder Duchamp, Raymond Duchamp-Villion was also serving as a medic, taking care of the war wounded. Most keenly felt was the absence of his supporter in print, the art writer and poet, Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918), who was actually Polish and Russian and rather old for the military at age thirty five, but had patriotically gone to war to fight for France.

Apollinaire had been the center of the pre-war avant-garde, organizing the artists and creating a discourse on their art out of his studio visits and café conversations with them. Now he was in the 38th artillery regiment, handling the big guns, the famed Canon de 75 modèle, invented in 1897. Now he was part of a team of twelve, six men, each with a specific task, and six horses with one job–tow the wheeled gun. Apollinaire reveled in the physicality of the labor and found enough private time to produce a body of war time poetry. “I so love art, he said, “I joined the artillery.” Picasso was not so inspired. While others had sacrificed their art careers for an uncertain future on the battlefields, Picasso remained behind, continuing his own artistic endeavors–alone. His remaining confident, Gertrude Stein, American poet and art collector, received word of his unhappiness about the absence of his companions. “Will it not be awful, when Braque and Derain and all the rest of them put their wooden legs up on a chair and tell about the fighting?” he asked her, not understanding the realities of war at all.

From the perspective of Picasso, a supremely self-centered individual, the list of those absent was too long. It was as if Paris had been emptied out of its fabled art world, leaving Picasso, a citizen of a neutral nation, Spain, in the city, bereft of suitable companionship.To add to his sadness, his most recent lover Eva Gouel (1885-1915) , died in 1915. When she arrived in Paris, Gruel had taken a new name, Marcelle Humbert, but returned to her birth name at Picasso’s instigation. Part of a complex plot of secret affairs, Eva had been a friend of Picasso’ current lover, Fernande Olivier, who was having a clandestine affair on the side with a Futurist painter, Umbaldo Oppi. It is difficult to sort out the complications but according to one account, Fernande asked Eva, the mistress of Marcoussis, to keep her secret. Eva, instead, embarked on her own secret liaison–with Picasso. One of Picasso’s most salient works of pre-war Cubism was Ma Jolie of 1911, in which he sent a coded announcement of his new mistress. Fernande and Picasso predictably went their separate ways, and he wrote to Braque, “Fernande left today with a Futurist painter, what shall I do with the dog?” Once he and Eva moved in together, Picasso began taking Russian lessons from a Baroness Helene d’Oettingen, who demanded a great deal of his time, leaving Eva at home and coughing. When she was admitted to the hospital, where she would die of tuberculous, Picasso visited her by day and entertained himself with a new mistress at night. When she died in mid December of 1915, he wrote to Stein, “My poor Eva is dead.. she was so good to me.”


Pablo Picasso. Ma Jolie (1911)

Other deaths would follow, but after Eva’s passing, Picasso needed distractions. Without the avant-garde artists within the Cubist circles to compete with, without Braque to collaborate with, he embarked on a new brand of Cubism. This new Cubism, Picasso’s alone, was pure painting, but this phase bore traces of the now discarded experiments with collage and are material acknowledgments of his changed circumstances. First, Kahnweiler was no longer his dealer and, because of the War, the traffic in Cubism flowing east to German clients ended; and, second, once Kahnweiler went into exile in Switzerland, Picasso needed a new dealer to look out for his interests. The problem for Picasso was that many of Kahnweiler’s clients were not French, or to put it another way, there were almost no collectors in France for Cubism in 1915. The Steins had moved on, disliking Picasso’s new works years before the War, leaving Léonce Rosenberg (1879-1947) and André Level (1863-1947) as almost the lone supporters available for Picasso. In their own ways, both men were very significant to the next phase of the artist’s career. It was Level who had masterminded the famous Peau d”Ours auction in the spring of 1914. In this auction, a pre-Cubist work by Picasso fetched the highest price, but the true implication of the event was not that Picasso could be a bankable artist but that avant-garde art itself could be a profitable enterprise. Keeping in mind that Parisian buyers were inherently conservative and historically hostile to Cubism, it appears that Picasso made a decision to tame Cubism for financial reasons. One can deduce the process simply by noting the evolution of his art after Braque went off to war in August of 1914 in terms of what he did not do–mixed media–and what he actually executed–paintings that began to resemble painted collages, large blocks of color offset with stippled textures. In other words, Picasso began doing “Cubism” for prospective collectors and “Picassos” for wary buyers. His experimental period was over, and Picasso would remain cautious about being too avant-garde until he was was well established as a successful artist. One can see his desire to reap the rewards of his years of innovation with an eye as to what prospective buyers would want.

Pablo Picasso in his studio in the Rue Schoelcher 0

Pablo Picasso with Self-Portrait with Portrait of a Man and Roofs of Barcelona at the Rue Schoelcher Studio, Paris (1915-1916)

Indeed, Kahnweiler’s Cubist artists, now “abandoned,” as Rosenberg would have it, were in dire straits, needing to be rescued by a new dealer with deep pockets. Level did not have the funds but Kahnweiler’s only Parisian collector, Léonce Rosenberg, founder of L’Effort moderne, an enterprise dedicated to promoting Cubism, was able to step into the breech and assist Picasso. Although history would consider Léonce a less serious collector compared to his brother, Paul, a prominent art dealer, during the War, his support was pivotal for Picasso and the Cubists. However, it should be stressed that, before the War, the Cubism of Picasso and Braque was available only in Kahnweiler’s now closed gallery, mostly sold east, and thus was more of a rumor than reality to the the Parisians. For this art audience, compared to that of Berlin, the “Cubists” were the Salon Cubists, led by Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger, who excelled in a colorful and conservative version of “Cubism” that the traditionalists absolutely hated. Apparently understanding the already formed tastes of the potential clients, whether he wanted to acknowledge them or not, Picasso veered in the direction of the Salon Cubists and it is out of this wartime enterprise that his work for Parade (1917) is to be understood.


One of the best known works of the wartime oeuvre was Harlequin (1915) clearly indebted to collage, with its large areas of color blocks, the assertive diamond pattern. At first glance, this work is a nod to Picasso’s conservative and acceptable past, the Harlequin paintings of his Rose Period. The now strong and intense colors put him more in line with the Salon Cubists, while Matisse, during this same time, went dark, giving up his former bright colors as if fasting for the War. However, it is also clear that the clown is also the artist, saddened by the end of a productive phase in Picasso’s artistic life and lonely without his “band” of supporters. However ambiguous, the return of the character, Harlequin, would attract another admirer, the poet Jean Cocteau (1889-1963). According the Michael FitzGerald’s Making Modernism. Picasso and the creation the Market for Twentieth-Century Art (1996), Picasso was uncomfortable with being associated with Rosenberg’s Salon Cubists, and Cocteau pulled him towards a more eclectic destiny. Cocteau, like many young French men, served in the military as a medic, a posting that seemed to allow him to continue his work as a theatrical producer during the War. Working with Cubists artists, Albert Gleizes and André Lhote on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a venture that did not take place, Cocteau revealed a willingness to work with avant-garde artists and turned his attentions to Picasso himself. Once he was out of the army in 1916, he joined forces with composer Eric Satie and they imagined a new and thoroughly modern spectacle, Parade, a ballet with American references. In order to make the proposition of a contemporary ballet attractive to the Ballet Russes, Cocteau courted Picasso, who was ripe for new experiences, and pulled him into the ballet project. By the fall of 1916, all the pieces were falling into place, with Serge Diaghilev, approving the group of artists–Léonide Massine, the choreographer, Cocteau, the playwright, Picasso, the costume and set designer, Satie the composer– and their ideas for what would become a Cubist ballet. In a letter, Cocteau noted that Apollinaire was “helping” Picasso, who was moving to a new abode in a suburb of Paris. Picasso was becoming mainstream.

In A Day with Picasso (1986), Billy Klüver described how Parade forced Paris to accept Cubism: “There was a growing acceptance on the Right Bank of the music of Satie..and of the new poetry of Apollinaire and Reverdy, but Right Bank resistance to cubist painting was still strong..” Klüver quoted Cocteau as saying, “A dictatorship hung heavy over Montmartre and Montparnasse. Cubism was going though its austere phase..To paint a stage set for a Russian ballet was a crime..” Klüver continued,

Cocteau in his collaboration with Picasso introduced cubism to the Right Bank in such as way that it could not be ignored. In May 1917, the aristocratic patrons of the Ballet Russes were still not ready to accept the cubist sets and costumes with open arms and Parade created a scandal when it premiered. But the ice was broken, and Parade set the stage for wholesale acceptance of these modern masters after the war..It was through his involvement with Cocteau and Parade that he moved into circles around Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes and into personal contact with the dynamic and influential group around art patrons like Comete Etienne de Beaumont and Mme. Eugénia Errazuziz. They began to acquire his work, and about a year later the quintessential Right Bank dealer Paul Rosenberg began to buy paintings.

This famous ballet, Parade, was described as a “ballet réaliste” by Cocteau and Satie. Short, in comparison to its subsequent fame, twenty minutes of modernity, sandwiched between Les Sylphides, Petrouchka, and Le Soleil de nuit. The company dancers had to switch corporeal and psychological gears from one style of choreography to another. Despite its modern theme, the mood for Parade, a rather antic ballet, was a nostalgic one of lost innocence. The ballet juxtaposed modern corporations and the world created by dull business, especially in modern cities–mainly New York and its emerging skyscrapers–to the unbridled joy and absurdity of the old fashioned circus. As Juliet Bellow pointed out in Modernism on Stage: The Ballets Russes and the Parisian Avant-garde (2013), the characters of the Managers in Parade was analogous to the lecturer for old fashioned slide lecture, speaking in relation to a visual image, explaining its meaning. She wrote,

If reads as film exhibitors or lecturers, Picasso’s Managers further destabilized the relation of reality to representation in Parade. At first glance, these manifestly artificial constructions contest with the “real” (that is non-Cubist) bodies whose performances they announce. But as film exhibitors, the Managers would constitute the live portion of the program, transforming the parade numbers into moving pictures. Without their spoken dialogue, however–which to reiterate, Picasso insisted on removing–the Managers could not securely occupy this role. Moreover, Picasso’s flattening costumes, Satie’s caricatural accompaniment and Massine’s stilted choreography refused any body onstage full presence. Even if the dancers were taken to be live performers (which of course, they were), the artifice foregrounded in this production estranged hem from coherent embodiment. The entire production became a hall of mirrors, a proliferation of corporeal copies that challenged he integrity of the original.

Sitting in the audience opening night, the poet Apollinaire, watched the ballet in amazement and scribbled the new word, “Surrealism,” on his program. The next post will continue the examination of Parade and its layers of realities, so dense that a new term was coined.

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School of Paris: The Waning of the Avant-Garde

School of Paris

The Young Artists

The significance of the School of Paris lies chiefly, not in its innovations, but in the lack of innovation. The decades between the wars were conservative on several fronts. First, there was the well-known “Return to Order” which, like all nostalgia movements, looked back to a golden past that never existed. It would be more precise to use the term popularized by the poet Jean Cocteau, “Recall to Order,” implying that it was time to call the proceedings to order. The world of avant-garde art before the Great War was a disorderly scene with a jumble of movements, emerging one after another—Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Expressionism, Russian Avant-Garde art, and so on. The art audience simply had had enough and needed to take the necessary time to digest what had been a very rich meal.

During the 1920s and 1930s the School of Paris was dominated by the aging art lions, Pable Picasso and Henri Matisse. No longer rivals but now colleagues these two eminent artists extended their pre-war styles and presided over the younger artists who were clearly lesser lights. By extending their pre-war experiments into saleable and accessible styles, Picasso and Matisse set the tone for the School of Paris. Matisse continued to paint his odalisque fantasies in attractive, decorative canvases that were so pleasant one never tires of the endless variation on the theme of decorative interiors provided with a nude. Picasso proved he could keep up with the latest stylistic trends, but essentially he settled into a post-Cubist style that safely combined his Analytic and Synthetic phases and there is a clear connection between Three Musicians in 1921 and his late studies of Delacroix’s Women of Algiers in the 1950s.

The outbreak of the Great War marked the end of an era and with August of 1914, Cubism passed into history. With surprising swiftness, the reputation of the Cubists were rated by art dealers, according to whom was in their stables. Historians would later assert that the “major” or “true” Cubists as those who were in the group supported by Daniel Henry-Kahnweiler: Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Fernand Léger and Juan Gris. Everyone else was deemed a “minor Cubist.” Georges Braque and Fernand Léger were in a secondary position to Picasso but these artists were still contenders. Their art was founded upon the concepts of good taste, a good time, and a respect for belle peinture, in other words, a reasonably respectable avant-garde art based upon classical order. Barque parlayed his early Cubist fame into a series of acceptable post-Cubist still life painting that comprised the remainder of his career. Léger, on the other hand, was able to revamp his early Cubism into a more mainstream version of the prevailing “classicism” favored in these conservative years. His Three Women of 1921 was a rounding of and clarification of his earlier rather jumbled and busy approach to Cubism. Léger’s post-Cubist style would, like that of Braque’s, be the consistent signature look for the rest of his career.

The attitude in the art world was laissez-faire and, rather then the previous parade of “isms,” co-existing styles were tolerated. Certainly open-minded acceptance of all kinds of styles that could be labeled “avant-garde” boded well for the art market and its collectors. While the pre-war generation of artists enjoyed their well-deserved reputations, a new generation of artists emerged in the new artists’ neighborhood, Montparnasse. Les peintres maudits, many of whom were foreign artists, lived bohemian lives of sex, drugs and jazz. Nevertheless, despite their vivid expressionist colors and distortions of form for emotional purposes, their art tended to be agreeable and tasteful. These artists did not attempt to go forward and only looked backward to the immediate pre-war past which they tamed into submission. Clearly, the interruption of the Great War had taken its toll, for the art of the next generation revealed that the creative momentum had been lost.

The biography of Amedeo Modigliani, who had sad love affairs and died young, was perhaps more compelling than his paintings and sculptures. That said, his tasteful and erotic nudes and his African-esque sculptures combined the classical heritage of Ingres with something vaguely “primitive” in an visually appealing fashion. Like Modigliani, Chaim Soutine mined the historical avant-garde with his art, expressionistically painted in vivid colors. But his inoffensive paintings did not show the vivid imagination of the Fauves nor the angst of the German artists. Former artists’ model and an accomplished artist, Suzanne Valadon and her son, Maurice Utrillo, were among the most reckless of the hard-living younger generation. Because both did female nudes, Valadon makes an interesting comparison with Modigliani. Passive and supine, Modigliani’s nudes are typical of the male tradition of the “nude:” body upturned and revealed to the male gaze, eyes closed and unaware of the voyeur. But Valadon, who was quite used to revealing her body (she is one of the nude women in Renoir’s The Bathers of 1887) but this painter showed women in their private moments in their boudoirs and allowed them their modesty and privacy.

Picasso had produced a number of innovative three dimensional works—constructions and assemblages that changed the course of conventional sculpture. The way in which he reanimated a moribund medium was arguably one of his most significant accomplishments. The Romanian sculptor, Constantine Brancusi, was more conservative than Picasso but he assimilated the ideas from Cubism quite well. The many versions of the pre-war, The Kiss were an admirable conceptual realization of what a kiss is—a merger of heart and body into one solid unit. Likewise, Bird in Space, a post-war work of 1919 seamlessly continues the conceptual approach to sculpture.Julio Gonzales, a follower of Picasso, was also inspired by Cubism but took the idea of assemblage and used a collage approach to materialize lines in bronze. Among the most interesting sculptors was Alberto Giacometti. His most interesting and compelling works were made during his Surrealist years—Woman with her Throat Cut (1932) and The Palace at 4 .m. of the same year. He renounced this Surrealist phase and the rest of his career was devoted to the tall thin and heroic men in the tradition of Rodin’s male figures.

This essay began with the assertion that the significance of the School of Paris was that it had no significance. Indeed, this extended period of conservatism and complicacy marked the waning of Paris as the center of avant-garde experimentation and the rise of Paris as the center of an international art market. The need to innovate, the urge to create, the urgent desire to make statements about art or life, or both, had been drained out of the city. The Paris of the post-war period was far more noteworthy as a center for literature, film, photography, jazz, fashion, and design than it was for the fine arts. The passion for the traditional visual arts had shifted to a nation the least equipped to deal with an artistic renaissance—Germany. But it was to Berlin that the avant-garde traveled, leaving a vacuum in Paris and an opening for the artists in New York who would later “steal the idea of modern art.”

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Orphism and Simultaneity


Art and Time

The last great body of art that reflected the pomp and circumstance of measureless and atemporal time was the nostalgic view of Paris created by the photographer of Old Paris, Eugène Atget. Paris lies before his camera, silently brooding over its history, hiding the secrets and lies of its vanished inhabitants behind closed doors. Atget’s Paris is an archaeological exhibition into a vanished civilization mysteriously devoid of activity and yet replete with memory. In contrast to a time when the pace of change was slow, gradual and imperceptible, change occurred every day in the Twentieth Century. The concept of endless and rapid change can be said to have the prevailing characteristic of the new century. A child of the Twentieth Century, who was also an important photographer by the time he was twelve,Jacques-Henri Lartigue, photographed a world of flight and speed that defied the boundaries of space and time. While Atget refused to photograph New Paris–everything from the Second Empire on–Lartigue was characteristic of the artists born into the new century who responded to this new machine age with a variety of reactions, most of which were admiring and accepting.

The artists pondered the very meaning of machines–rational, scientific, abstract, inhuman and unsentimental, they copied the very look of machines with a machine aesthetic that was shiny, stripped down, slick, unadorned and plain, functional and elegant. They examined the functions of the machine, its penchant for repetition, and its role in the process of the assembly line into a series of parts and functions. And they speculated on the implications of a machine culture in all its dehumanization, in its impact upon human beings, newly alienated and without wholeness. Art and artists begin to show a new concern for the means, the process, and the production of art, rather than with the ends or the finished artistic product.

Art and Simultaneity

During this pre-War period, “isms” were springing up overnight in a bewildering variety. Part of this was an attempt on the part of art critics to put names to variations on Cubism, part was a response of the artists themselves to distinguish themselves from their fellows, with whom they might disagree. “Orphism” was a name coined by the poet Guillaume Apollinaire on the occasion of the Section d’Or exhibition of 1912. The reference to Orpheus is a reference to the pure form of music—a way of making art, which did not rely upon conventions of imitation of objects in the real world. As Pure Painting, Orphism could be as pure and as abstract and as non-referential as music. However, the Orphist artists often referred to an object. Husband and wife, Robert and Sonia Terk-Delaunay and Francis Picabia always had some kind of tangible thing at the heart of their conception.

Only “Frank” Kupka conceived of his forms as being strictly non-representational, standing for spiritual ideas. In his interest in the spiritual, Kupka was similar to Kandinsky in the reason for his abstractions. Orphism was about states of mind and states of consciousness and states of being. These artists, who sometimes included Fernand Léger, were convinced that Modern Life had produced a modern consciousness. This idea of a change in culture producing a change in consciousness is central to Orphism. Modern consciousness responded to the vibrant excitement of the modern city. Modern consciousness, aware of constant change and flux, sensitive to a speeded up existence, had learned intuitively how to grasp many things simultaneously.

As they would be for Futurism, dynamism and simultaneity are key concepts for Orphism. The symbol or sign of this modern life was, for the Orphists, light itself: light which absorbed everything; light into which one could be absorbed. Life was in movement and flux and in light itself. The artist could express this new consciousness, this new form of seeing, which was simultaneous and dynamic, ever moving and ever flowing, by throwing him/herself into the act of pure painting. Although the painting produced by this act often seemed purely decorative, the artists saw their works as having a far deeper meaning. Deeply influenced by the philosophical ideas of the philosopher, Henri Bergson, these artists considered the act of seeing to be the generating force of consciousness or elan vital itself. Seeing, for the Orphists, was consciousness itself.

These ideas about mind and matter have a variety of sources. The poetry of the Nineteenth Century poet, Stephane (Étienne) Mallarmé (1842-1898), was concerned with the inner workings of the mind and stressed the mental activity of creation. Of interest to the Cubists of this period was Mallarmé’s use of words on the pure white page, words that were positioned, rather than written in an open field, words that suggested movement rather than narrating an event. The words of Mallarmé were to be looked at and followed by the eyes as they marched up and down and across the pages in his ground-breaking poem, Un coup de dès. A precursor to concrete poetry, the poetry of Mallarmé was a creative extension of Symbolist poetry, allowing greater freedom for the reader whose eyes and mind was activated by the rolling words, bounding across the white pages.

The idea of a visually activated picture plane that engaged the eyes in a physical fashion, not allowing vision to pause and rest, became important to the Cubist artists. Like modern life, art had to move. Although the Orphists used words on the picture plane, their central concern was the representation of light, which is the essential aspect of la vie moderne. Under the impact of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, the Orphists broke the objects into small planes, fracturing the materiality with the dynamic action of light. Space and matter interacted in the mind, which associated the things of the world. The desire to go beyond the objective world (unlike Picasso and Braque) owed a great deal to the philosopher, Henri Bergson who emphasized constant change and process of time.

This is the concept of simultanism: all things are simultaneously present to the consciousness which is mobile, transforming past and present through memory. One’s present consciousness is an interpenetrating state of being. This being is indivisible and is the result of the flux of the whole. The interplay between the object and the environment is artistically conceived as a actual movement in space, for perception changes as movement changes the shape of the object as light dematerializes the object. There are two types of motion: centripetal in which the object moves in on itself as an internalized mass and an outward movement that, according to Bergson, prevents the phenomenon of an isolated object. There are only intimations or simultaneous movements within a continuous field.

Orphism was not an ideologically consistent movement, such as Futurism with its many manifestos. Orphism was, instead, a temporary coincidence of tendencies, which lead to or suggested non-figuration. Movement and light destroyed the materiality of bodies. These ideas of light, modern life and modern consciousness rested upon a variety of influences and older ideas. There was a resurgence of interest in Neo-Impressionism in 1911, largely due to the publication of a book by Paul Signac on color from the time of Delacroix to Seurat. Equally important for Orphist ideas of color was Fauvism, especially Matisse’s now published, Notes d’un peintre of 1908. Of course, the idea of light being colored and of color being light can also be traced back to the Impressionists. The Orphists tended to look less at natural light and more at artificial light. Robert and Sonia Delaunay, especially, were fascinated by the colored halos of light emanating from the newly installed electric streetlights in Paris. Colored disks became a major and permanent theme in his work and the work of Russian expatriate Sonia Terk-Delaunay who also painted the excitement of the balls in Paris.

The visual vocabulary of Cubism enabled the Orphist artists to see ways of breaking objects into small planes, denoting the dynamic action of light. The Cubist vocabulary also allowed them to associate objects brought together in the mind and to present these objects, fragmented, and juxtaposed, in non-traditional ways. The idea that the mind takes in many things simultaneously, conveyed on the canvas as a rather prismatic and fractured image, is of course indebted to Henri Bergson in whom the Futurists who were also interested. To Bergson, all is simultaneously present in the mind, to the consciousness, which is mobile. One’s present consciousness is a state of being constantly in flux, but indivisible with the whole. Experience is perpetual, not broken into discrete units. While the Orphists produced totally abstract works of brilliant color out of these philosophical concepts, their Russian colleague, Marc Chagall, used his love of Russian folk art and his nostalgia for his home town of Vitebsk to create a world of memory and light and color, illustrating a new universe with its own laws and its own fairy tale rules in I and the Village (1911).

For a time Cubists, Futurists, Orphists and avant-garde artists, such as Chagall that defy classification, exchanged ideas and visions in pre-War Paris. Ardengo Scoffici, the editor of La Voce, and Lacerba, could chat with Guillaume Apollinaire, who would spend time with the fellow poet, Blaise Cendrars and the Italian art critic and editor of Montjoie!, Riciotto Canudo. The French artist, Robert Delaunay and his Russian wife and artistic colleague, Sonia Terk-Delaunay, were marital proof of the famed Moscow-Paris railway and artistic link between the two capitals. Gino Severini, the Parisian born Italian Futurist, would have known the concept of élan vital of Bergson who believed the future would be formed by action (Creative Evolution, 1907). For Bergson, the universality of art was the vitality of creativity and his ideas would take on a new and unexpected life within Futurism.

Despite the similarity of the ideas and sources shared by the Orphists and the Futurists, the two groups diverged on the question of politics. Orphism was a radical art movement only, while Futurism was also a radical political movement. Orphism used ideas of Divisionism for the explorations of color theory. For the Futurists, Divisionism was far more than a painting technique or a theory of color; Divisionism was modern life itself: life, which was in flux, in motion…divided within itself, in effect, allowing a constant Bergsonian “interpenetration” of mind and matter. For the Futurists, Divisionism was radical and revolutionary. Divisionism was the 20th century incarnate.

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

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Phases of Cubism: Synthetic Cubism


Synthetic Cubism eliminated mimetic representation in favor of using direct materials directly. The parts of a Cubist collage are large and visible, distinct and separate. The design is stressed nakedly and subject matter is eliminated and the use of manufactured mass produced material is substituted. According to the photographer, Paul Strand, the human being had consummated a new creative act, “a new Trinity: God, the Machine, Materialism-Empiricism, the Son, Science the Holy Ghost.” The photographer understood America to be the supreme altar of the new God. The Trinity, said Strand, “must be humanized unless it in turn dehumanizes us.” This thought was echoed by the poet, Alfred Jarry, in 1902 when he said, “In this age when metal and mechanics are all-powerful man in order to survive, must become stronger than the machine, just as he (sic) has to become stronger than the beasts.” It is significant that Synthetic Cubism “constructed” works of art that were built of parts, like machines.

Synthetic Cubism: 1912-August, 1914

It is now known that it was a series of “constructions” that bridged the gap between Analytic and Synthetic Cubism. Originally, the sequence was thought to be 1. Braque’s trompe l’oeil nail of 1910 that cast a shadow as it supported the palette, and 2. Picasso’s lettering on Ma Jolie, of 1911, which lead to collaging real objects onto the canvas. But the dates of these constructions now better known and it is now understand that Picasso and Braque made many relief-type “sculptures” of objects which appeared in their paintings. Many of these constructions are no longer in existence, but a few, such as Picasso’s cardboard guitar, have been preserved. They seem to have been made for the purpose of working out pictorial problems: what does an object look like when it is opened up? How much can an object be dismembered or examined and still be legible? What are the perceptual and conceptual means by which the viewer visually recognizes and intellectually knows an object?

From these built and constructed objects there seems to have been a transition to collage, form the term “to paste” or coller. Collage was invented by Picasso, and papier collé, was invented by Braque. Papier collé is simply paper pasted onto a flat ground. The term “collage” refers to mixed media—everything and anything that can conceivably be adhered to, attached to, or pasted onto a canvas, piece of paper, or any kind of flat ground. Collage is from its three dimensional cousin, assemblage which is an ensemble of, usually wood, pieces that combine into an object, such as a Mandolin (1912).

The constructions that led to collage and assemblage were conceptual dissections of single objects. One of Picasso’s early constructions was Guitar, 1912. The “opening” or revealing of the object’s interior spaces—usually limited to a guitar or mandolin—and was intended to demonstrate the hollowness of the instrument. Picasso was attempting to show what the viewer knows, but cannot see, about the guitar: that it can make sounds, music, because it is hollow and, when the strings are plucked, the sound resonates against the empty interior. The construction (or deconstruction) of the guitar showed how it functioned, in other words, revealed what we know, not just what we see.

Synthetic Cubism introduced an entirely new concept—mixed media—to artists. From time to time, sculptors, such as Jean-Léon Gérome, would add jewelry to their carvings of women, and Degas added a hair ribbon and a tutu to his Little Dancer. But the Cubist use of collage and assemblage went far beyond any minor additives to a large work. Collage allowed Picasso and Braque to reintroduce color to their art by pasting large pieces of colored paper to the surface. But the two artists approached mixed media in their individual ways.

Picasso did not break the picture plane in his collages. The objects he stuck onto the surface did not protrude beyond the primary plane—that breakthrough would be left to others. Braque never did collages; he produced only papier collé works. Papier collé may in fact pre-date Picasso’s Still Life with Chair Caning, 1912, for there are indications that Braque delayed showing his innovation to his vociferous colleague until he had worked out all the implications of taking a step as revolutionary as pasting a foreign object onto a ground traditionally preserved for mark making—pencil marks or brush strokes. Who did what first seems unimportant—art historian’s trivia—compared to the revolutionary importance of collage and papier collé (usually referred to collectively as “collage”).

The traditional means of achieving pictorial and visual unity was through unity of means. It would have been inconceivable for an artist of the nineteenth century to put anything on the canvas other than paint. Degas’s sculpture Little Dancer of Fourteen Years caused audience horror and critical consternation because of the inclusion of the real tutu and the long hair ribbon worn by the dancer. But Braque and Picasso found a different unity with this revolutionary use of mixed media. Instead of the complexities of visual clues amidst a complicated system of “passage” of light and plane-counter plane, moving and shifting somehow and somewhere in some kind of space, collage used cut-out pieces of paper—wall paper, colored paper, newspaper, etc. these pieces of paper are planes in their own right. There is no need to paint a color, one simply pastes colored plane onto another colored plane and onto patterned papers.

Instead of sprinkling visual clues here and there for “reality,” as was seen in Analytic Cubism, the artist simply appropriated the real object, such as a newspaper, and fixes it to the surface. Objects can be drawn onto the primary surface as well as over and on the “secondary planes,” the papers. Now clearly definable, these objects appear to overlap but colored shapes are actually fitted together like puzzle pieces. Photographs of the preparatory stages of Picasso’s collages show that they wer planned out as a puzzle, avoiding any suggestion of recession—except conceptually.

The collage solution to the tug-of-war between the formal dislocations of shattered planes and known reality is elegant and simple and produces elegant and spare works. Fragile and often small, these collages are also blunt and straightforward with their large shapes and strong colors. They are legible and easy to read, but must be thought of as semiotic concepts that are presented as codes. Planes and shapes and ground have equal relationships, eliminating the figure-ground-edge problem of Analytic Cubism.

Instead of baffling the eye, Synthetic Cubism teases and plays with the mind of the interested spectator. The strip of newsprint is equally newspaper and equally the bottle whose shape it imitates. The newspaper is real—as newspaper—but is also unreal because it also acts as a bottle, due to its shape, but it is not “bottle” but “newspaper,” but only in the real world. In the world of collage, the cut out shape is newspaper, bottle, shape, plane, and ground, all at the same time. The viewer “reads” the shape as “reading the newspaper while drinking wine” (at the café).

Visual elements now have multiple functions. This potential was suggested by “line” in Fauve painting, an economical line that was both color and mark and shape and movement, fulfilling several roles. But Synthetic Cubism is more radical in its use of real materials and its consequent refusal to imitate or reproduce real objects. The Cubism of Picasso and Braque produced a kind of art, which did not attempt to imitate or copy the real world, which borrowed and incorporated elements from that world. This borrowing and the use of these objects obeyed laws, which were formal laws, “art laws.” These formal laws or rules were not those of the reproduction of reality, but the laws of picture making itself. Thus the painting became a tableau-oject, a universe in its own right.

Throughout all these stages, the difference between Picasso and Braque is apparent: Picasso is innovative, swift and full of adventure, concerned with inventing a new concept of form, which is inherently sculptural. Braque was essentially concerned with space and with the task of making space, as he put it, “tactile.” “Form and color do not just merge into each other. It is a question of their simultaneous interaction,” he commented years later. Painterly and poetic, Braque worked beneath the shadow of Picasso’s genius until the First World War broke out, splitting up the dynamic duo forever. Braque, a French citizen, went to fight for his country, while Picasso, a Spanish neutral, was able to stay in Paris and continue his career without disruption.

The beginning of the Great War was the end of Cubism. The young French nationals either went to war or went to exile, leaving Paris to the artists left behind. The result of the dissolution of the world of the avant-garde art world was that Picasso, who was not French and Matisse, who was too old to fight, were able to develop Cubism and Fauvism and evolve into their own signature styles as they matured as artists. The younger artists of the pre-War avant-garde had to stop their careers for four years. Some, like Raymond Duchamp-Villion never returned. The Salon Cubists, Marcel Duchamp and Albert Gleizes, spent the war in New York City. Duchamp became a French-American artist, and Gleizes returned home to Paris to find Picasso in ascendance and his own status as “hero” eclipsed by the “true Cubist,” Picasso.

Before and after the Great War, Cubism, as a formal language or as a style which suggested other visual and pictorial forms, spread quickly across the face of Europe. The expatriate, Picasso, moved down the hill from the bohemian obscurity of Montmartre to the more prosperous environs of Montparnasse. During the war, he produced decorative canvases called “rococo” Cubism, and then, in the 1920s, he summed up Cubism in a pair of large paintings, two versions of a group of musicians. These paintings of the early 20’s are essentially collages, which are now painted for the growing market of collectors who wanted “a Picasso” or a “Cubist painting,” as long as the work was tame or tamed. The glory days of innovation and invention were over. After the Great War, Cubism became a historical style and its formal experimentation evolved into an international lingua franca. The Renaissance had ended and the Twentieth Century had begun.

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

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Phases of 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.

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

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

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The Cubists: Artists and Writers


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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Cubism and Modernity


Perhaps more than any other major art movement of the first half of the Twentieth Century, Cubism is both transitional and Janus-faced in its response to the decades of changes of the Nineteenth Century. On one hand, the Cubist artists shared the unease about the increasing industrialization of their way of life as evidenced by their pre-Cubist fascination with all that was “primitive,” from tribal art, to children’s art, to folk art, to low art in an attempt to relocate a kind of artistic expression that was natural and simple and unsophisticated. On the other hand, these same Cubists were equally fascinated with the brave new world of machine driven objects, cars, airplanes and the modern ocean liner. The Cubists were the generation that will absorb and adjust to the Machine Age and the end of the old ways, accepting the new ways of living. The Eiffel Tower, once hated by Parisians who were used to and preferred Charles Garnier’s Opéra, was greatly admired by a new generation that saw the towering structure as the symbol of everything new and modern. Striding over the city of Paris, the Eiffel Tower nakedly revealed the nature and the “truth” of its materials and its method of construction—a deliberately modern statement of all that was new.

The Eiffel Tower is the nineteenth century to the twentieth century with the rational materialism of its skeletal construction, with no skin or covering, no ornamentation or disguise. Now iconic, the Tower rises over Paris aloof in its engineered self-sufficiency. Like the machine, Gustave Eiffel’s design is eminently logical, the product of scientific and abstract thought. The scientific approach to the questions of knowledge is marked by an absence of spirituality and this totally material perspective brought about a new age. The visual culture needed a new art to reflect the new modern era, characterized by an acknowledgment of change and a desire of change. The previous static view of the universe and the assumption of a continuance of tradition and of a social and political stability were perhaps suitable for the period of the Renaissance and the consequent development of monocular perspective for the arts. But the modern world needed to devise a modern form of vision.

Perhaps because of the desire to create an appropriately modern “look,” the new artists of the twentieth century would be more concerned with the more formal aspects of art–its appearance and its mode of production–than with subject matter. Inspired by machines, process begins to take center stage, for it was the process of manufacturing that changed the culture from one of handicraft to that of prefabrication of component parts that could be integrated into a larger design system or constructed pattern. Industrial culture is a gear and girder world, a world that is visually accessible, where all is open to view and the design of each element is obvious.

The assembly and internal workings are laid bare, stressing the process of assembly and demanding that the viewer notice the design and to acknowledge the realities of the fact of making and construction. The early decades of the Twentieth Century produced numerous art movements that recast nature itself in the role of engineer and provided the artist with the new role of industrial designer. Art became technological in that it reflected the perceptual values of industrialization. In this radically new conception of art, art is the machine that obeys the laws of design and making, a machine with a sound structure and efficiency where there are no unnecessary parts.

As an art movement, Cubism was part of larger cultural forces that included industrialization; however, the major artistic influence for the new artists of the new century was an older artist, who had recently died: Paul Cézanne. Cézanne questioned the five hundred year old assumption established in the Renaissance that the role of art was to replicate reality and that the role of the artist was to render this reality as accurately and as believably as possible. The painters during and after the Renaissance had established and developed a new visual vocabulary, a new language, which supposedly mimicked the real world. The space and depth of reality was rendered as perspective, and volumes were rendered as chiaroscuro.

Like Cubism, the language of the Renaissance was linked to a wider change in society—the shift from the spiritual to the worldly. The artistic tricks and painterly illusions of the Renaissance formed a language that was secular in that it measured the literal world and scientific in that it sought to explain and describe the world in an empirical fashion. This system assumed a monocular and fixed vision from a viewer standing in one space with one point in time. The flat picture plane disappeared in favor of the illusion of a window on the world, hovering just beyond the glass surface.

Cézanne questioned the assumption that the language of the Renaissance replicated the real world. Vision was far more complex, taking place over continuous periods of time and within in a space which allowed free and mobile movement. Cézanne’s Post-Impressionist works attempted to knit together the foreground and background, creating a spatial oscillation in contrast to the Renaissance steady and uninterrupted drift into horizontal depth. Cézanne created a near reverse effect by canceling the horizontal movement of perspective in favor of a planar verticality. Cézanne’s picture, as a painting, as a composition, as subject matter, rises from the bottom to top, covering the surface with a compositional grid. Cézanne’s grid was composed of lines and reiterated colors and an overlay of identical repeated brushstrokes, diagonal hatch marks.

Depth, Cézanne’s works seemed to be saying, is a learned pictorial language. But vision, natural vision, only sees but does not know and is not the product of learning. Natural vision is the product of experience. As though reacting to the actual experience of mobile vision, Cézanne’s lines became separated from the objects depicted, hovering tentatively about their colored edges. Color, now freed from description, could travel across the surface, regardless of object. Both line and color are increasingly freed to establish a linear rhythm keyed to the underlying grid and to unite all areas of the painting into a holistic statement of consistent color and paint marks, equally distributed, equally constructed, equally intense.

The result is an all-over evenness working against scene, object, and subject and towards a surface pattern. Subject matter becomes neutral landscapes and still lives that were mere pretext for formal investigations and the exploration of artistic questions about vision. The Cubists investigated the implications of Cézanne’s questioning of the nature of vision in relation to the nature of knowledge. It is interesting to note that, for the most part, after 1910, many Cubists avoided landscape, a painting problem demanding an answer to Renaissance perspective, an answer the young painters found it difficult to come up with.

Cézanne had solved the problem of depth by eliminating it—by developing large areas of strong colors with a visual weight that corresponded to near and far objects. He also “knitted” the canvas together with slanted brush strokes and with a passage of colors moving up and down the canvas. The result was a fusion or union of paint and color that stood in for what the artist saw, not what he knew—that depth existed between objects. The complicated conclusion that Cézanne arrive at was to paint shapes and forms and colors and light that also took the flicker of light over time and the movement of the body through space. The result was arranged on an underlying grid that stabilized the composition in a traditional “classical” manner.

The Salon Cubists, such as Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger, responded to Cézanne’s grid and to his suggestion that vision was mobile and, thus, destabilized forms. But these Salon Cubists were reluctant to shatter to shapes, perhaps because they concentrated on the human form. In contrast, Picasso and Braque concentrated on the logical development of Cézanne’s repositioning of vision as a mobile and constant activity roaming across the plane of the canvas, using the studio still life as their starting point. Less wedded to the figure, especially after 1911, this duo felt free to follow the rational process of taking form apart and reducing its component parts to uniform shapes, or “little cubes.” The result was two kinds of Cubism: one conservative and one radical, one traditional and one modern.

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Podcast 39 Painting 5: Art Between the Wars

Art Between the Wars

Although art history usually passes over this inter-war period quickly, pausing only for Dada and Surrealism, these decades were significant for the continued development of painting. After decades of avant-garde art, Europeans began to consolidate the innovations and inventions of the new century. While the art scene in Paris returned to conservative market-based art, the experimental mind-set shifted to Berlin, the new capital of art between the wars.

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Fauvism in Paris


One could argue about which movement was the “first” movement of the Twentieth Century—Art Nouveau (1895–1905), which led ultimately to the Bauhaus design revolution and even, arguably, to Constructivism of the Russian Avant-Garde or Fauvism (1905–07), a French form of expressionism, which led to Abstract Expressionism? For beginnings, there is no safe answer, only another question: when did the Twentieth Century begin? Virginia Woolf once wrote that the century began in 1910, about the time of Roger Fry’s famous 1911 exhibition on Post-Impressionism in London. If one accepts 1910 instead of 1900, the century began with Cubism; but in the years before the Great War, the art world was exploding with innovation. In addition to the avant-garde art movements of the fine arts, there were important developments in the realm of the decorative arts and, in addition, there were continuing exhibitions by the mainstream and avant-garde Salons in Paris. The result of fin-de-siècle artistic experimentation was a veritable logjam of aesthetic expression, ranging from conservative to radical. That said, art history traditionally has concentrated only upon the extreme edge of the avant-garde.

By the early Twentieth Century, there were four Salons: two that were conservative, Salon des Artistes Français and Salon de la Nationale, and two that were avant-garde, the Salon des Indépendants, which was without a jury and the new Salon d’automne. The art world was fractured, but so too was the art audience. Most of the art public was still suspicious of Impressionism which was accepted only by a select group of collectors, mostly American. With hindsight, it can be seen that Fauvism and Cubism, the “isms” that racked the pre-War art scene, were extensions of Post-Impressionism. But, at the time, for an audience who could still not “see” Impressionism, these movements were incomprehensible. Like Impressionism, Post-Impressionism was being sold to collectors who took the major works out of France, were they were less appreciated, and into remote places, such as Moscow and New York. The artists and critics, however, did not wait for audiences or for collectors to catch up. By the Twentieth Century, the split between the avant-garde artist and the mainstream art audience was complete.

With Fauvism, a new generation, accustomed to shocking the bourgeoisie came of age. Led by HenriMatisse (1869-1954), the Fauves were termed “wild beasts” for their intense and pure use of color and their untamed sinuous line. They had taken the controlled expressionism of Art nouveau and the passion of van Gogh and combined the powers of color and line with the color science of Seurat and the visionary symbolism of Gauguin. Like the Symbolists, they believed that art would speak for itself in its own language and that this visual and poetic language could invoke a response from the viewer. Subject matter and content, in contrast, was very conservative for Fauvism, which favored suburban and bucolic landscapes. Subject matter played a supporting role to formal elements—line, color, and forms.

The social and political content of Courbet and Manet, which had once aroused such passions, was tamed into familiar scenery, without social commentary, and the classical nude, stripped of any associations with prostitution. Public passions were now aroused by the supposedly wild colors used by the “wild beasts”—artists whose later careers were very conventional. Fauvism was a short-lived movement and would soon be displaced by its un-emotional monochromatic structured counter-point, Cubism, which would substitute tone for color and rationality for unbridled feeling.



The artistic foundation for Fauvism was the aesthetic activity in Paris at the fin-de-siècle. Impressionism, the dominant mode, was considered by some to be an on-going productive style. The importance of the lingering of Impressionism for Fauvism was that the art public was being prepared to accept a heightening of color and a lightening of the palette. Artists who had adapted Impressionism for conservative patrons, such as John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), were instrumental in widening the acceptance of loose brushwork and strong hues. The Nabis, Edouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard, toned down and softened Impressionist colors and dealt with brushwork as pattern, and these Neo-Impressionist versions of Impressionism dominated the art world.

The domestic and intimate art of Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) and Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940) and post-Symbolist art of Maurice Denis (1870-1943) hovered somewhere in between Impressionism, which had no structure, and strongly linear graphic design. This balance and stasis with Post-Impressionism, however, was disturbed by a series of exhibitions. In 1899 an exhibition of pastels in high color by Odilon Redon at Durand-Ruel gallery reawakened interest in the expressive power of formal elements. The Cézanne exhibitions at the gallery of Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939) in 1895 and 1899 and at Salon des Indépendants in 1901 reintroduced an old master to the young generation. Vollard’s gallery also showed Post-Impressionist painters, Vuillard, Bonnard, Signac, Cross, the Nabis, and other Neo-Impressionists. An exhibition of Vincent van Gogh’s work at Bernheim-Jeune gallery in 1901, along with the other exhibitions signaled both acceptance of Impressionism and introduction of “Post-Impressionism,” a term coined by Roger Fry in 1911. Perhaps the final capitulation of the detractors of Impressionism came with 1907 the exhibition of the (Gustave) Caillebotte Bequest at Luxembourg Museum. Although the artist’s collection had been somewhat diminished by the directors of the Museum, the successful and dignified deal had been negotiated by Pierre Renoir, now a respected elder in the arts community.

Two years after the Vincent van Gogh exhibition, there was the retrospective for Paul Gauguin on the occasion of the founding of the Salon d’automne in 1903 and Henri Matisse entered two paintings. The year 1904 was a particularly important one for the establishment of Fauvism with a show for Henri Matisse at Vollard’s, accompanied by a catalog essay by a prominent art critic, Roger Marx. Matisse brought together the intense color of van Gogh and the curvilinear shapes of Gauguin and came out of his “dark period,” his apprenticeship to Post-Impressionism, with an explosion of color. In 1905, Matisse visited his friends, André Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck at Chatou in the fall and that summer, Derain joined him in Collioure. It was here that Fauvism was born, notably with The Open Window. That fall, the group that had formed around Matisse debuted the new style in the Salon d’automne of 1905. Maurice de Vlaminck made his debt to the Post-impressionists and his rebellion against the establishment clear,

I wanted to burn down the Ecole des Beaux-Arts with my cobalts and vermilions. I wanted to express my feelings without troubling what painting was like before me…Life and me, me and life—that’s all that matters.” (on seeing the Van Gogh exhibition): “I was so moved I wanted to cry with joy and despair. That day I loved van Gogh more than I loved my father.

Louis Vauxcelles (Louis Mayer, 1870-1943), a conservative art critic, who was appalled by the brilliant colors, named Matisse and his followers the “Fauves,” or “wild beasts.” Seeing the bright paintings of Henri Matisse, André Derain (1880-1954) and Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958), grouped in one room at the Salon d’automne, the critic exclaimed, “Donatello au milieu des Fauves.” (“Among the orgy of pure colors; Donatello among the wild beasts.”) Vauxcelles was relieved to see a conservative sculpture, “a Donatello,” among the paintings of the wild beasts, and it is possible he would have been even more relieved to know that the Fauve movement lasted only two years, from 1905 – 1907. The Salon des Indépendants was host to the first Fauve exhibition in the spring of 1905 and last Fauve exhibition in 1907.

The Fauve group began to come together before 1900, and, in the beginning, consisted of Henri Matisse and his fellow students from the atelier of Gustave Moreau and the Academie Carrière or the atelier of Eugene Carrière. These students, Albert Marquet, Henri Manguin, Charles Camoin, Jean Puy, and Georges Rouault, the most famous of these artists. The “School of Chatou,” named after a summer painting site, consisted of André Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck, who painted with Matisse. Rounding out the rather large group of artists devoted to color were those from Le Havre, Emile Otheon-Freize, Raoul Dufy, who would also become famous, and Georges Braque, the future Cubist artist, and, joining later, Kees van Dongen. But this short-lived movement came to an end due to the increasing impact of the paintings of the recently deceased Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) and his darker colors and limited palette and the influence of tribal art from the French African colonies.

By 1907 the Salon d’automne signaled the end with the reappearance of figure in Fauvism. In addition to Matisse’s Blue Nude, Fauve paintings and composition were turning away from suburban landscapes in Paris by Vlaminck and scenes of the city of London by Derain and Matisse’s joyful celebrations of light and color in Bonheur de vivre (1906) to something more calculated and conceptual and classically restrained. Matisse explained,

One does not depict matter, but human emotion, a certain evaluation of spirit which might come from no matter what spectacle.

The return to the calculated and classical owed a great deal to Cézanne and led the younger artists, Derain and Vlaminck, down a conservative path. But Matisse used his period as a Fauve to establish himself as a major avant-garde artist. He acquired important American collectors, Leo and Gertrude Stein and Etta Cone, and the Russian collector, Sergei Shchukin began to buy his works. In 1908 there was a Matisse Retrospective at the Salon d’automne, which was also year in which he wrote his Notes of a Painter. This was the year of Matisse’s final farewell to Fauvism, Harmony in Red, was considered the first major painting in which direct color saturated the canvas and submerged all objects to its substance, rendering any other elements submissive to the will of red.

According to Matisse,

…The artist must feel that he is copying nature—even when he consciously departs from nature…

…I cannot copy nature in a servile way. I must interpret nature and submit it to the spirit of the picture. From the relationship I have found in all the tones, there must result a living harmony of colors, a harmony analogous to that of a musical composition…

After this radical statement on the power of color, Matisse then revived the classical, the timeless monumental art that had always hovered just below the surface of paintings such as Luxe, calme et volupté (1904). After his brief flirtation with tribal art, Matisse returned to his roots, by visiting Italy in the summer of 1907. Here he perused classical and Renaissance art and the new influences were clearly visible in Le Luxe (I) and (II) of 1907-08. Matisse now faced a young and upcoming rival for artistic shock, Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), who was experimenting with post-Cézanne, proto-Cubism, which by 1910 was now emerging. The two friends dueled through art: Matisse painted his Blue Nude, purchased by Leo Stein and Picasso answered with Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. It could be said that together these two paintings ended Fauvism. Originally blue or blue green, Harmony in Red was purchased by Shchukin and carted off to Moscow. That same year, 1908, Georges Braque showed his first Cézanne-esque paintings, first offered to and rejected by the Salon d’automne. Braque’s dark landscapes were characterized by “little cubes,” but despite the critical derision, by 1909, Derain and Braque had already become Picassoistes,” or followers of Picasso. The age of Fauvism was over.

See also, Characteristics of Fauvism

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

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