Dada in New York: Artists in Exile, Part One

Francis Picabia and Marcel Duchamp in New York

The Americanization of Dada, Part One

Francis Picabia (1879-1953) arrived in New York for his second visit early in 1915, a few months before the Lusitania was sunk by a German submarine in May 1915. Born in Cuba to a wealthy family, a Spanish father and French mother, Picabia, early twentieth century Euro-trash, was a rolling stone who drifted through his life and roamed the art worlds of Paris and New York, sampling many styles and expressing multiple moods. Much of his butterfly art was derivative and only mildly interesting but he had an eye for the main chance and hung about some of the bigger players in the very interesting new game called “Dada” during the Great War. It can be argued that, inspired by Alfred Stieglitz and his old friend Marcel Duchamp, Picabia enjoyed a brief flowering as an interesting artist. As Michael Gibson wrote for The New York Times on the occasion of yet another exhibition in 2002 attempting to sort out his complex oeuvre: “The exhibition at the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris demonstrates with dazzling clarity that Francis Picabia was, in fact, a pretty awful artist.” In November of 2016, the Museum of Modern Art received a traveling exhibition, Francis Picabia: Our Heads Are Round So Our Thoughts Can Change Direction, which has a section on his machine drawings, products of his Dada experiences. Moving past Picabia’s Impressionist, Post-Impressionsit, Cubist works, Roberta Smith concentrated on the most famous segment of the artist’s work: “The Mechanomorphs line the walls of the show’s largest gallery while vitrines of Dadaist material occupy its center, reflecting the artist’s activities from 1915 to the early 1920s, during which he abandoned painting for drawings, prints and magazines and pursued Dada first in New York, with Duchamp, then in Switzerland with Tristan Tzara, the movement’s founder, and finally in Paris.”

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Picabia à dada (1919)

Picabia who had come to New York in 1913 for the Armory Show was already a character in Paris, who cut a flamboyant figure with his penchant for fast cars and fast women and an accomplished wife. New York in 1913 was not exactly a frontier of avant-garde art, but there was one gallery in the city and one man who was interested in contemporary artists: Alfred Stieglitz. Stieglitz held parallel exhibitions of cutting edged European artists in his gallery, 291, and Picabia wisely made his acquaintance. Stieglitz showed two of Picabia’s early abstract paintings, Udnie (1913) and Edtaonisl (1913) at his gallery, adding to the shock of the provincial New Yorkers. Looking back on this famous exhibition that changed American art, Life Magazine noted in 1959 that Picabia’s painting, Dancers in the Spring, was a close rival in shock effect to Duchamp’s nude.” Like Marcel Duchamp, Picabia became well-known on New York as a result of the Armory Show and this fame beckoned once the Great War began. Like many of his peers, Picabia was drafted into the Army. Sent on a mission to America, Picabia managed to disembark in New York in 1915 and simply did not return to his military life. New York was now home to Parisian artists in exile: Albert Gleizes, the famous Cubist painter and Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), who had given up painting, thanks in small part to Francis Picabia. Thus Picabia had a small part in the fold of the career of Duchamp, who was shocked by the rejection of his 1912 painting, Nude Descending a Staircase from the Salon des Indépendants. Smarting over the betrayal of his brothers, who failed to back him or protect him with their colleagues of the Salon, Duchamp joined Picabia and his wife Gabrielle Buffet and the poet Guillaume Apollinaire on a road trip through the Jura Mountains in the fall of 1912. Already, the artist had decided to exit the art world and to take another path–whatever that might be–towards being a different kind of artist.

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Francis Picabia. I See Again in Memory My Dear Udnie (June-July 1914)

During this weekend journey, Duchamp began making notes on his future conceptual direction, scribbling down ideas that would eventually become The Bride Stripped Bare by the Bachelors, Even, The Large Glass. Roaring along the mountain road with Francis Picabia at the wheel of one his large and elegant cars, Duchamp imagined what Richard Hamilton described as “a prose fantasy. A machine, with an animal component, is describe as absorbing the long, straight empty road, with its comet-like headlights beaming out in front towards a seemingly infinity.” One hundred years later it is hard to recognize just how novel such an experience would be in these early years of automotive traveling. Surely it was one of the eventsthat shifted one’s attention towards all things mechanical–the machine, upon which one was totally dependent in the mountains. Already Picabia was fascinated with the motor car, an object of desire that drove him, so to speak, to collect one hundred twenty seven of them during his life time. But there is more to this experience–driving at night on a road then innocent of highway markings with the headlights attempting to penetrate the dense darkness, like comets streaking across the sky–an idea that make a tremendous impression on Duchamp.

Speeding over the mountain roads, hardly suited for the fragile cars and their thin tires, there was a sense of not seeing and not knowing what was ahead. While Picabia was driving, Duchamp was writing: “On one hand, the chief of the five nudes will be ahead of the four other nudes towards the Jura-Paris road. On the other hand, the headlight child will be the instrument conquering the Jura-Paris road..The term ‘indefinite’ seems to me to be more accurate than infinite. The road will begin in the chief of the five nudes, and will not end in the headlight child.” Later Duchamp, thinking of glass, wrote, “Use ‘delay’ instead of a picture or painting: picture on glass becomes delay in glass–but delay in glass doesn’t not mean picture on glass..” This delay could be seen as the “delay” in seeing that happens when one drives in a fast car, approaching a new sight but not quite there yet–a scene that lies ahead but is delayed in time and space but is always being anticipated by the passenger. Picabia and Duchamp, then, had a history of being outsiders and iconoclasts in the Parisian art world and it was to be expected that they would reconvene in New York in 1913 and again in 1915 in with anarchy on their minds. Casting around for like minded artists, equally alienated for whatever reason, they met the American Man Ray, who was still painting in his pre-Dada phase, and joined cause with John Covert and Morton Schamberg and the collector and collaborator, Walter Arensberg. For lack of a better name, this “group” was later called “New York Dada,” because it was supposedly “anti-art.”

However characterizations and definitions came later, often after the Second World War. In 1966 fifty years after the fact Hans Richter stated of New York Dada, “..its participants were playing essentially the same anti-art tune as we were. The notes may have sounded strange, at first, but the music was the same.” The term anti-art is a broad idea that is not only an anachronistic historical determination but is also an umbrella for all the different manifestations of Dada. But, if one thinks of Dada emerging in a number of cities, more or less sequentially, then the fact that Dada may have arisen avant la lettre in New York, emerged full blown in Zurich a year later and ended with a few clever gestures in Paris before being absorbed into Surrealism, signals that there were different artists thinking different thoughts in different cities under different conditions. The New York group shared in common with the Zurich artists the condition of exile but they were visual artists who were fascinated with the mechanical. This interest in mechanics suggested an anti-aesthetic or a non-sensuous approach in traditional artmaking procedures. Machines were the way “out of” art, the path that allowed them to think beyond the hand and the “talent” of the artist, and this fascination with machines, learned in Paris before the war. was only enhanced in the most modern city in the world–New York City. Picabia, in particular, was struck by the modernity of a city sprouting skyscrapers, elevated by machines that hoisted steel beams agains the open sky. Duchamp was fascinated by the products of the city and one of the first Readymades he purchased was a shiny new snow shovel, the like of which did not exist in Paris. Both artists were anti-art in the sense that they were pro-machine or pro-mechanics and they understood well that an old way of making art was coming to an end.

For the artists who had fled the war, the stalemated trench warfare, the modernity of suffering, the mechanization of death made it imperative to rethink the role of art and, even, what “art” would or could be in this conflagration. In an interview for The New York Tribune, probably conducted in French, in 1915, Duchamp predicted a new “severe, direct art,” suitable for the beginning of the twentieth century. He continued, “One readily understands this when one realizes the growing hardness of feeling in Europe, one might almost say the utter callousness with which people are learning to receive the news of the death of those nearest and dearest to them. Before the war the death of a son in a family was received with utter, abject woe, but today it is merely part of a huge universal grief, which hardly seems to concern any one individual.” Duchamp was speaking in this, the second year of the war, which had already defined itself as a simple bloodletting. Although the myths of the Great War have tended to emphasize the high casualties on the British side, especially those of the highly educated classes, it was the French who were nearly wiped out in the first month of the war. In November 1918, once again, it was the French who, at the end, suffered the greatest losses, an entire generation was simply gone. Duchamp, who was in France in that terrible first year, would have been well aware of the high cost the French Army had paid in holding the German Army at the Marne. Duchamp was deemed unfit for military service but his brothers Raymond and Jacques were in service, as was Guillaume Apollinaire, while he was a bystander observing the unfolding of random mass death without “glory.”

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Paris, Place d’Alma 1915

Duchamp describe the deserted art scene in Paris: “Art has gone dusty,” he said, referring to the stalled creativity. “Paris is like a deserted mansion. Her lights are out. One’s friends are all away at the front. Or else they have been already killed.” He noted the toll the War took on creative and artistic thinking: “Nothing but war was talked about from morning until night. In such an atmosphere, especially for one who holds war to be an abomination, it may readily be conceived that existence was heavy and dull.” Once he came to New York he noted, he had stopped painting altogether. Therefore as a wanderer, who did not depend upon cultural nourishment, he wryly asserted that “it is a matter of indifference to me where I am.” But this posture of indifference was used, as it often would for the rest of his life, to elide a more significant truth. For Duchamp and Picabia, New York was a no-place, a private place, a refuge away from the hard critical eyes of the art world they had left behind. Here in this new city, leaping skyward, one could become a new person and one could make new art. Here there were no rules. Here there was only freedom. Both artists thrived in this open minded milieu and produced, in the middle of a nihilistic war, a new way of making and thinking about art. Part Two will discuss the individual ways in which Picabia and Duchamp broke with the art of the past.

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The Russian Avant-Garde at War, Part Two

Marc Chagall and the War

Vitebsk as an Art Center, Part One

The fable that the Jews stabbed Germany in the back during the Great War began early, put forward by those who could not comprehend that the German army had lost the Battle of the Marne in 1914. This, the first of several battles over the contested land in northern France took place in September 6th and 12th and became famous in French folklore for the timely arrival of soldiers motored to the Front by a brigade of taxicabs, to fortify the beleaguered French forces. The hard-pressed French army was fighting off the Germans who could see the Eiffel Tower through their binoculars. The fact that taxicabs from Paris could casually drive to the front lines gives a sense of how close the Germans came to taking the city. The French were saved by a combination of several events, not the least the timely intervention of the British Expeditionary Force but what the decided the battle was that the Germans made a fatal mistake. General Alexander von Kluck decided to pursue the retreating French, who he presumed were making a last stand with their tattered forces, and, in his eagerness, he exposed the flank of his army. An attentive Commander in Chief, Joseph Joffre, immediately attacked with what was left of the French forces. The sudden counter-attack caught the German high command by surprise.

It dawned on (them) at long last that the Allies had not been defeated, that they had not been routed, that they were not in disarray,” wrote Lyn MacDonald in her 1987 book on the first year of the war, 1914. “Instead, aided by reinforcements rushed to the front (although most of the ones that were engaged in the fighting came by train) Joffre and his British allies repulsed the German advance in what is now remembered as ‘The Miracle of the Marne.’ Miraculous, perhaps, because the Allies themselves seemed surprised at their success against the German juggernaut. “Victory, victory,” wrote one British officer. “When we were so far from expecting it!” It came at the cost of 263,000 Allied casualties. It’s estimated that the German losses were similar.”

The unexpected defeat was so stunning that German troops could not understand why they were retreating instead of advancing. In his book on the Marne, Holger H. Herwig, recounted the reasons for the setback were mundane: “a flawed command structure, an inadequate logistical system, antiquated communications arm, and inept field commanders.” Herwig pointed out that the official German history of the war, Der Weltkrieg 1914 bis 1918, specifically stated, “In the hour of decision over the future of the German people, its leader on the field of battle completely broke down psychologically and physically.” Despite the facts to the contrary, rather than admit to an error of judgment made in the fog of war, the German high command in the person of Erich Ludendorff wrote in The Marne Drama that he blamed the “secret forces of Freemasonry, the machinations of world Jewry, and the baleful influence of Rudolf Steiner’s ‘occult’ theosophy…” In his book, The Marne, 1914. The Opening of World War I and the Battle that Changed the World, Herwig also discussed the work of German historian, Fritz Fischer, stating that “From the moment that German troops stumbled back from the fateful river of 9 September. Fischer argues, first the government of Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg and then the Army Supreme Command conspired ‘systematically to conceal’ the enormity of the defeat from the public.” Thus the “stab-in-the-back” legend was born, rising out of the smoke of the first Battle of the Marne. In 1916, the German army slandered the Jewish soldiers who served in their ranks by conducting a census under the assumption that the Jews were, by definition, shirkers when it came to service. When the results revealed that 80% of the Jewish recruits served at the Front, a percentage far higher than the rest of the population, the Army buried the report. It did not matter if Jews served and served bravely, the myth had taken hold—the Jews had stabbed the Army in the back. By 1919, the Dolchstoßlegenden–the Stab in the Back– had narrowed to a more familiar enemy, the Jews.

The idea of Jews being disloyal to their country was not confined to Germany. In his article, “How World War I Shaped Jewish Politics and Identity,” Paul Berger wrote,

About 90,000 Jews fought in German uniform, 275,000 Jews fought in the Austro-Hungarian army and 450,000 Jews fought for the czar. During the course of the war, these opposing armies advanced and retreated several times over the Pale of Settlement, a swathe of land on the Western border of the Russian empire where Jews had been forced to live for more than 100 years. Towns and villages were captured and recaptured several times. Each spasm of fighting brought with it new dangers and deprivations. After the Russian army was overrun by Germany, in 1915, the Russians began a retreat across the Pale of Settlement. Russian authorities saw Jews living in the Pale as a liability. As many as 350,000 Jews were either expelled or deported to the East under suspicion of providing intelligence to the enemy. The expulsions and deportations were accompanied by a wave of pogroms, characterized by rape and murder. Winter estimated that during the war between 30,000 and 100,000 Jews were killed.

This passage is interesting because the Pale was the home of one of the most famous artists of the twentieth century, Marc Chagall (1887-1985), who lived in Vitebsk, one of the cities in the Belarus region of the Ukraine. The Pale was defined in the 1906 edition of the Jewish Encyclopedia by Herman Rosenthal as, “A portion of Russia in which Jews are allowed to reside. Unlike other Russian subjects, the Jewish inhabitants do not generally possess the natural right of every citizen to live unrestrictedly in any place in the empire. Furthermore, they are permitted to leave the Pale of Settlement—that is, to move to another place for permanent or for temporary residence—only under certain conditions defined by law.” The Pale of the Settlement was a place where the Russian Empire deposited Jews and forbade them to practice agriculture, lest they compete with the Gentiles that lived there. Confined by law to establish only businesses and to participate only in trades, Jews could become wealthy. If a Jewish family accrued enough wealth, it was allowed move to other parts of Russia. Vitebsk, an old city, dating back to the tenth century, had long been a mercantile crossroads, and in the nineteenth century, the city had the distinction of being the terminus of the railroad line from St. Petersburg. This railroad was the connection between Vitebsk, one of the oldest settlements in Europe, to the rest of the world.

It was here that Marc Chagall (the French version of his Russian name, Movsha Shagal) returned from his years on Paris to attend his sister’s wedding the summer of 1914. Educated and trained in St. Petersburg, even after years of living in Paris and consorting with Cubists, Marc Chagall always remained a child of Vitebsk. A Jew, he was deeply engaged with the Jewish culture he grew up with, its myths and folklore, its social practices and its customs as carried on in Vitebsk. Cut off from the world and yet connected to it by the thread of a rail line, Vitebsk had preserved the Jewish culture of old and, in being confined to the Pale, could retain the old ways, despite the encroaching twentieth century. For Chagall, Vitebsk was a magical and mystical place, where people flew through the sky and cows had dreams, where Jewish life was wrapped up in a place of safety and peace. Chagall’s work remained deeply nostalgic for the rest of his life, keeping the Vitebsk of his youth inshrined in his imagination. Even though, from 1911, he lived in La Ruche (The Beehive) in Paris with sophisticated artists as his friends, Archipenko, Kisling, Lipchitz, Soutine, Leger, Zadkine, Pechstein, Léger, Brancusi, Rivera, Modigliani, and Delaunay, he retained the folk ways of Vitebsk in his paintings, which were structured by the Cubism shown in the Salons.

Because of the unique art of Chagall, which defied the “movements” constructed by historians, his early success in the Parisian avant-garde has been overlooked, but, of all the artists, living in La Ruche, Chagall was on the brink of establishing himself when the Great War began. There were many Russian artists working in Paris, but few who had to overcome the difficulty of being Jewish in a nation hostile to Jews. Chagall was able to quickly transform his folk art style into an up-to-date approach which allowed him to use Cubism to translate his autobiographical musings about his past and present. His new friend and fellow expatriate, Guillaume Apollinaire, called his art “surnaturel.” Within a year, his paintings were accepted to the Salon des Indépendants and the Salon d’Automne, where he caught the eye of the Russian art critic, “Sillart,” or Yakov Tugendhold. Sillart wrote,

Most interesting are the works of the Russian artist Chagall. He loves the art of the Lubok (colorful narrative folk paintings). The naïveté of its composition, the wild chaotic, drunken life of the peasants in the remote villages of Lithuania (Byelorussia). On the background of toy huts and exotic nonsensical scenes of village life, an immense figure of a peasant rises, drumming on a fiddle of drunken despair. Chagall invests this figure with some higher symbolic significance. It speaks with a more lucid and expressive power than long stories about dead boredom and longing, about the dark and oppressed peasant existence. Chagall feels deeply the mystery of daily life, the abhorrent assets of the people’s life..Chagall has his own works, he gives us the truth, which sheds an original light on reality..

What makes this review, quoted here only in part, interesting is its erasure of the unique Jewish identity of “village life,” which was as Chagall depicted it only because of the anti-semitism that placed the Jews within the confines of the Pale. Anatoly Luncharsky, who would rise in the ranks after the Revolution as the “People’s Commissar of Enlightenment,” was also in Paris and wrote of “young Marc Chagall,” who “is already well-known in Paris. His crazy canvasses with their intentionally childish manners, their capricious and rich fantasy, their typical grimace of horror and considerable share of humor, unwittingly provoke the spectators’ attention in the salons–an attention that is, by the way, not always favorable.”

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Marc Chagall. The Praying Jew (1914)

Lunacharsky did not mention the Jewish roots of the “crazy canvasses.” Neither did Swiss writer, Frédéric-Louis Sauser, better known as Blaise Cendrars, who wrote extensively on Chagall for the Berlin journal Der Strum, describing him as ” a young man, some twenty-four years, colorful himself, with strange wide eyes, peeping out under tempestuous curls–gladly shows me a countless quantity of his canvases and drawings..all elements of his of his fantasy come form the boring, crestfallen life of the lower class people of a Lithuanian suburb..Chagall is an interesting soul, though, no doubt, a sick one, both in its joy and its gloom. A young (E.T.A.) Hoffmann form a slum around Vitebsk. More precisely: a Remizov of the brush a Remizov of the Pale of Settlement. And yet, his is not a great painter..” Although the review from Cendrars is an odd one, it shares, with the others, a complete erasure of the Jewish origins of Chagall’s work. It is possible that, because there was and would be a great deal of anti-semitism in the art world, the writers did not want to acknowledge Chagall’s heritage and thus compromise the reader’s judgment of the work, which they take pains to define as “Russian.”

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Issue of Der Strum dedicated to Marc Chagall

Despite the lukewarm but extensive review by Cendrars, Herwarth Walden, proprietor of Der Strum Gallery, gave Chagall an important solo exhibition in Berlin in June of 1914. It was Apollinaire who introduced Walden to Chagall in 1913, and the German art dealer probably realized that Chagall’s eccentric and individualistic paintings would have been quite interesting to German artists. Being a rare Jew allowed out of the Pale with a merchant’s pass, the artist was educated in St. Petersburg, legitimatizing Chagall. Then he had joined other Russian expatriates in Paris and became, not just a part of the Parisian cutting edge, but one of its leaders. From then standpoint of Walden, the art dealer, Chagall fit well into the avant-garde ranks. In addition, his work certainly aligned better with Expressionism than with classical Cubism and the child-like fantasies Chagall painted fed into the German fascination with alternative or outsider art, such as that made by children. In fact, when the War began soon after the exhibition, Walden sold the work Chagall left behind during the War, when it was widely and conveniently assumed that the artist was dead. Once the Berlin show had opened successfully, Chagall, on the edge of major success, took a brief side trip to Vitebsk and, when War was declared, he was trapped in Russia, a condition he referred to as “stuck” “involuntarily.” His art was also, as he described it, “stuck” in Berlin and “three big pictures” were “stuck in Amsterdam in the Salon,” while “Two other pictures remained in Brussels.” Caught behind the lines, Chagall wrote to his friend and fellow Russian artist, Sonia Terk-Delaunay, “I am longing for Paris. As to my exhibition (in Berlin), alas, against its will, it will become a prisoner of war.”

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Marc Chagall. Vitebsk (1914)

Obviously in Chagall’s mind, Vitebsk was better remembered and not lived in. He married his childhood sweetheart, Bella Rosenfeld, who was apparently of a higher social status. Her family was opposed to the marriage but allowed the wedding to take place and her brother saved Chagall from duty on the Eastern Front with the Russian army. The artist became a military clerk working under Bella’s brother, who had little patience with Chagall’s lack of organization and efficiency. Without showing any gratitude for his delivery from what could very well have been a death sentence, Chagall moved to Petrograd, previously St Petersburg, and now newly renamed when the War began into something less German sounding.

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Marc Chagall. An Old Man and an Old Woman (August 1916)

Suddenly, Chagall, who lived inside of his head and painted out of his imagination, was thrust into one of the most horrific realities of the twentieth century–the Great War. This was a war that would disgorge misery and rebellion into the streets of the city he and Bella found themselves. Petrograd was the capital of Russia, until 1918 when the capital was moved to Moscow; and, as such, the city was as cosmopolitan and as connected as Vitebsk was as isolated and disconnected behind the Pale. The city was sophisticated but familiar to Chagall, for this was where he grew up and was educated. Therefore, perhaps because of this familiarity with Petrograd, there are paintings by Chagall that betray nothing of the War except a date, 1915 or 1916.

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Marc Chagall. Birthday (1916)

But there are other works that attempt to grapple with the impact of War upon people The next post will discuss the reactions of Chagall to the miseries of war and the disruptions of the rebellion against the Czar and the establishment of the Soviets in Russia.

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

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Picasso and Parade, Making Art during Wartime, Part Two

Making Parade. Ballet réaliste (1917)

Pablo Picasso during the Great War

Part Two

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

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

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

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

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

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Picasso and his assistants, working on the theater curtain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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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Cubism, Futurism and the Great War, Part One

Creating a Modern Visual Vocabulary of War

Part One

In 1911, the Futurist artist Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916) organized an exhibition of fifty Futurist paintings for the working class. Called Esposizione d’ate libera, the show featured Carlo Carrà (1881-1966) and Luigi Russolo (1885-1947). This spring showing of Futurist art attracted at least one detractor who defaced the organizer’s work, Laughter (1911). Although Boccioni was routinely lecturing on the topic of dynamism, a major Futurist concept connected to modernity, apparently the artists had yet to find the ideal vehicle for their ideas of speed and movement through space. It was Gino Severini (1883-1966), who lived in Montmartre and who was familiar with the new styles emerging in Paris suggested that the Futurists of Milan visit certain ateliers in his adopted city. It is this fateful fall visit to Paris at the end of 1911, that sealed the fate of the Futurists in the eyes of the French. Immediately the Futurist paintings and sculptures showed the impact of the venture to Paris–Balla painted the childish Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash and Boccioni fashioned Development of a Bottle in Space both early in 1912. What is particularly interesting about the works of 1912 is the abandonment of the visualization of social theories compared to the works of the previous year.

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Futurists Luigi Russolo, Carlo Carrà, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Umberto Boccioni and Gino Severini in front of Le Figaro, Paris, February 9, 1912

Something had happened to Futurism–its visual and conceptual language became less political and more directed to an abstracted modernity. In her book, Inventing Futurism: The Art and Politics of Artificial Optimism (2009), Christine Poggi discussed Boccioini’s struggle to reconcile politics, class concerns, style and symbolism with the concepts of modern machine propelled dynamics. The Futurist artists were fascinated with technology and were witnesses to the changing relationship between humans and the mechanics of labor but while it was relatively straightforward to write of the abrupt change from traditional to modern, the precise visual language eluded them. Clearly, the geometrics of Cubism compared to the dappled brushwork of neoimpressionism suggested a more compatible and more expressionistic approach to dynamism. One could say that the Futurists were freed from illustrating and could now express movement formally and neutrally. To get a sense of how quickly the Futurists had to scramble, adjusting their style from post-Impressionism to what seemed to the Parisians to be a style inspired by their visits to Parisian studios, it needs to be stressed that the Futurist exhibition in Paris opened a mere few months later.

Understandably, the Futurists were very sensitive about being understood in terms of their own context, which would be the writings of their leader, Filippo Tomasso Marinetti (1876-1944). Enamored by speed and enchanted with the force of rapid change, their philosophy was directed towards modernity not only towards modern art but this distinction was lost to the French who saw the stylistic debt owed to the Cubists. Ever since their debut in Paris, February 1912 at the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery, the Futurists had been slighted by the French critics who initially denounced the interlopers as being derivative of Cubism. To be fair, the French were merely striking back. The catalogue essay, written by Umberto Boccioni, was impolitic at best and extremely combative towards Cubism. Futurism and Cubism had developed during the same time, but in different places, and, while the two movements seemed superficially stylistically similar, the goals and aims were quite distinct. Rather than making the concept of Futurism clear and instead of outlining its differences plain in a cool and dispassionate manner, Boccioni took it upon himself to confront the French artists in the famously provocative Futurist manner.

Writing in manifesto-style, the artist stated, among other things that the Cubists “continued to paint objects motionless, frozen, and all the static aspects of Nature; they worship the traditionalism of Poussin, of Ingres, of Camille Corot, ageing and petrifying their art with an obstinate attachment to the past, which to our eyes remains totally incomprehensible.” He asked, referring to the Cubists, “is it indisputable that several aesthetic declarations of our French comrades display a sort of masked academicism? Is it not, indeed, a return to the Academy to declare that the subject, in painting, has a perfectly insignificant value? Boccioni seemed to find the Cubist adherence to tradition particularly worthy of contempt. “..To paint from the posing model as an absurdity, and an act of mental cowardice, even if the model be translated upon the picture in linear, spherical and cubic forms..”

Having read this diatribe, it is no wonder that the art critics and the Cubist artists struck back. Cubist supporter, poet and art critic, Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918) took aim at Boccioni’s paintings. ‘This is the most dangerous kind of painting imaginable. It will inevitably lead the Futurist painters to become mere illustrators.” True, the triptych States of Mind (1911) by Boccioni, had been repainted in response to Cubism, but its meaning, as explained in the catalogue stated, “We thus create a sort of emotive ambience, seeking by intuition the sympathies and the links which exist between the exterior (concrete) scene and the interior (abstract) emotion.” To be accused of being “mere illustrators” meant that Futurism would have to fight for its rightful place in avant-garde art as innovators, and, more than that, as true modernists, more modern than staid Cubism. For decades, the Futurists were still considered to be “derivative” of Cubism, but this judgment was based upon a morphological similarity and such a formalist comparison can be very misleading.

First, the word “Cubism” was not a specific term at that time and, second, in the pre-war period, there were many manifestations of “Cubism” in Paris, from Albert Gleizes to Robert Delaunay and Pablo Picasso, all of which looked to Paul Cézanne as the founding father or the fountainhead of the Parisian avant-garde. As late as 1978 Georges Édouard Lemaître, writing of modern literature, said bluntly, “Futurism may be considered as a derivation of Cubism.” And this was a very French perspective, lingering long after Apollinaire. But today, contemporary scholarship stresses that which is Italian about Futurism and the 2014 exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, Italian Futurism 1909-1944: Reconstructing the Universe, attempted to restore the original Futurism, a decades long movement that, regardless of its “derivative” status, inspired numerous movements by simply evoking the word “futurism.” In fact, although the Futurists did not exhibit in the notorious Armory Exhibition in New York in 1913, the words “futurist” or “futurism” were evoked as a synonym for “modern art,” which itself meant “the future.”

Italian-Futurism_ph_850

Regardless of what “futurism” would mean in other contexts, the Italian Futurists were aware of the trends in French art and had been exposed to Cubism in its many Parisian manifestations and were well aware that Cubism was advertised as being on a historical line, part of a traditional sequence that extended back to Courbet and linked to Cézanne, who inspired the present avant-garde. The artists certainly had some idea of Cubist philosophy, the aims of the movement, and its historical lineage as put forward by Gleizes and Metzinger in Du Cubisme of 1912. Once the Futurists moved beyond the Paris-Milan trajectory, the chain of mutual awareness was broken and the distinctions between the two movements were lost in translation. The catalogue essay, which followed Marinetti’s famous 1909 Manifesto, spend three or four pages discussing Impressionism and Cubism in order to separate Futurism from French movements. It is unclear how the opening duel with Parisian artists played in other cities, the various Futurist exhibitions in Europe.

This exhibition of thirty-six paintings traveled to London, horrifying the British, an event to which I will return, then landed in Berlin, where it fell into the hands of Herwarth Walden’s Galerie Der Stürm. Here, in Berlin, where French chronology did not matter, Futurism suffered its cruelest fate as it careened from being misunderstood to being misrepresented. From the standpoint of the international art market, Berlin was, like Paris, a place of exhibition and selling and buying, and to show well in Berlin was extremely important, because here, unlike parochial Paris, people would buy art from many nations. The marketplace of Berlin was truly international and the artists there were receptive to outside influences. However, the Italian artists were distinctly unhappy with the presentation of Futurism in Berlin. They had reason to be perturbed.

The exhibition which was a month long was accompanied by the catalogue that was traveling with the Futurism art, Zweite Ausstellung : Die Futuristen : Umberto Boccioni, Carlo D. Carra, Luigi Russolo, Gino Severini : Berlin, Königin Augusta-Strasse 51 vom 12. April bis 31. Mii 1912, clearly stating the stance of these artists. The best discussion of the Berlin excursion comes from Günther Berghaus in International Futurism in Arts and Literature (2000). In this book edited by Berghaus, John White, in “Futurism and German Expressionism,” noted that by the time the Futurists reached Berlin, the larger movement was already spreading to literature. The visual artists preferred to not confuse the movement of their international début in the Spring of 1912 and arrived in Berlin as a unified group, minus Balla, represented by Boccioni, and absent a presentation of one of the famous Futurist evenings. White attributed the low key presence of Futurism in Berlin to the minor role the city played in constructing the avant-garde, but Berlin was an important regional depot for modern art, a gathering place as it were for eastern Europe.

It is in this context that Boccioni’s displeasure with the exhibition at the Der Stürm Galerie can be understood. Given the gallery’s significance as a seller of avant-garde art, the lack of publicity on the part of Walden would have seemed odd to the Italian artist, but, then, this exhibition space hardly needed to advertise. Most importantly, Futurism could not be hung here–installed on the gallery walls–as a movement in its own right, properly distinguished from other artists of other nations. After all Der Stürm was a sales room, not a place where a group of artists could establish their historical role in art. The prothelyzing goals of Futurism was thwarted in Berlin.

White analyzed the way in which Waldern, a master salesperson, marketed the Futurists in ways that were apparently confusing for an artist, like Boccioni, who was on a mission.

It is worth bearing in mind that the main reason for the Italian Futurists’ decision to exhibit in Berlin, the heartland of Expressionism, was the presence of Herwarth Walden, a genius of an impresario with enviable contacts to a whole galaxy of modernist painters sculptors, writers, and musicians. Walden’s copious network of artistic connections, both within Germany and beyond in most of Western Europe,was probably unparalleled. Here was someone through whom Marinetti hoped to establish a bridgehead into German Expressionism.

Whether or not Boccioni was dismayed at the way in which the paintings were arrayed–adjacent to inhospitable neighbors–becomes less important than the impact of Futurism on Expressionism and upon Expressionist artists. On the eve of the Great War, Futurism was caught up in a battle of styles and of attribution, fighting for its place in the emerging twentieth century avant-garde. The catalogue essay written by Boccioni had words of interest to the Expressionists: “We thus arrive at what we call the painting of states of mind.” He wrote of “force-lines.” And a few lines down, the artist presents what seems to be a prediction of the state of war: “Confused and treipdating lines, either straight or curved, mingle with the outlined hurried gestures of people calling one another, will express a sensation of chaotic excitement. On the other hand, horizontal lines, fleeing rapid and jerky, brutally cutting into half lost profiles of faces or crumbling and rebounding fragments of landscape, will give the tumultuous feelings of the persons going away.” Once the war broke out, the position of Futurism as a style suddenly changed. As shall be seen in the next posts, these descriptions will resonate in pre-war paintings of Franz Marc and the most eloquent artists of the Great War, the British painters.

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

Pablo Picasso, Part One

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

 

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Important Announcement

The Podcasts from this Website

by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

are now available through iTunes and can be listened to on your iPad or iPhone.

Remember that you must download iBooks on your iPad or iPhone.

Art History Unstuffed: The Podcasts

Also the complete

Art History Timeline Videos

by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

are now available and can be viewed on You Tube

This twenty-seven episode series of five minute videos span Western art history, from the Caves to Romanticism. The videos can be used by students and teachers as introductory, supplementary or review material. Each video is written,narrated and produced by the author of this website, and is reinforced by written text and is richly illustrated by many images. The entire Timeline can be accessed through

this link: Art History Timeline

School of Paris: The Historical Context

The School of Paris

Recall to Order

After the Great War, the fabric of European society was in tatters. An entire generation of young men had been killed in a senseless slaughter on the Western Front. A generation of young women would never find mates and a generation of children would grow up without a father. The men who survived were often physically and mentally wounded, and, in those days, had no support from the very nations that had sent them off to war. Although there could be no return to the way things were, the cultural impulse in France was a desire to Return to Order—“retour à l’ordre,” to resume life in a sane and safe fashion.

The term itself supposedly originated with Jean Cocteau, who in 1926, wrote Le rappel à l’ordre,” but the unruly French poet was an unlikely source for such a phrase. Although he was elegantly attired in a uniform custom made by Paul Poiret, Cocteau’s wartime experience was a checkered one, veering wildly from offering to “assist” his fellow soldiers in the shower to being an ambulance driver who walked away from the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Cocteau returned to Paris in time to produce one of the most significant ballets of the century, Parade. The list of the artists who participated on this ballet, Erick Satie, Sergei Diaghilev, Pablo Picasso, et. al, reads like a who’s who of the avant-garde. It was after attending the May 1917 premiere of Parade that Guillaume Apollinaire was inspired to use a new term he had recently coined, “Surreality.” But the innovation and experimentation of Parade was perhaps the last gasp of the golden age of pioneering modern forms of art.

Once the war was over and the troops came home, it was clear that the art world could not resume its previous course. One of the reasons why Parade was received with such a combination of bewilderment and hostility is that the ballet was modern and, strangely enough, in Paris all things “modern” were “German.” This small insight gleaned from the reception of Parade clarifies why part of the “Call to Order” campaign was about purification. But before discussing the emergence of a newly conservative set of styles in Paris, it is important to examine the cultural context of the City of Light between the wars.

The move of the avant-garde artists from Montmartre to Montparnasse is indicative of an emerging art market that would allow artists to make decent incomes and be able to live less-impoverished but still colorful lives. Instead of hanging out at the Lapin agile, the intelligentsia took over more elegant cafés and bistros in the territory below the steep hills of the maquis. Montparnasse was where Gertrude Stein invited the artists and writers to her home on rue de Fleurus. Famously, the American writer, Ernest Hemingway made his way to her home to hear her advice to write in a crisp and clean fashion. Fashion photographer, May Ray, returned from New York and began his love affair with his muse, Kiki of Montparnasse. African-American servicemen who found that they could actually get served in Le Dôme began to put together one of the best jazz scenes in the world in Paris.

The move towards respectability was already underway during the Great War, when Picasso began living in Montparnasse with his new wife Olga and a staff of servants. The artists who had gone to war or who had sought refuge in other nations returned to find the pre-war art world turned upside down. The Cubist “heroes,” Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger returned to find Picasso, a reclusive artist in the Salon years, now holding court and riding high. Georges Barque, Picasso’s erstwhile partner in art, was suddenly relegated to a secondary position. It seems clear that the artists who stayed in Paris, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, and guarded their position and further developed their art benefited after the war. The Cubist “heroes” found themselves consigned to a “minor” status and most slipped into historical oblivion. The Fauves faded even further and the post-war art of André Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck became retrograde, glum, and entirely forgettable.

The pre-war avant-garde witnessed their movements being re-written into history, not according to actual lived history but according to the marketing strategies of art dealers. On the eve of the war the famous Le peau de l’ours sale of cutting edge work by young artists made vanguard art financially profitable. The investors quadrupled their money in ten years. Art dealers certainly took note, as did the collectors. Avant-garde artists had long reached out to specialized and adventurous collectors, such as the Stein family, and now that pool of buyers was expanding. In order to make “their artists” more commercially viable, dealers wrote books, like Daniel-Henry Khanweiler, or art exhibition catalogues, like Léonce Rosenberg. These books and catalogues, combined with the post-war books on Cubism by critics, such as Maurice Raynal, and artists, such as Juan Gris, formed the bedrock of the history of the pre-war art movements. From the perspective of valuing art, those publications certainly transformed certain avant-garde artists into historically significant figures whose art was of “blue chip” quality.

The presence of an art market with a taste for advance art was a major factor in the tamping down of avant-garde “excesses.” Collectors wanted to buy advanced art, but not too advanced. Keep in mind that our understanding of art history is anachronistic and that the late phase of synthetic Cubism was radical decades after it debuted. As late as the 1920s, there was little public knowledge of mixed media art and even less understanding of collage and assemblage. What the buyers wanted was paintings, not pieces of paper stuck onto another piece of paper. Picasso and Barque translated the lessons of collage into paintings by incorporating the large blocks of color and the juxtaposition of abstract forms into attractive paintings with readable images.

The notion that Cubism could function like a semiotic system was abandoned in favor of a post-war post-Cubist style that “looked like” a form of acceptable watered down “Cubism.” Barque retained this conservative approach for the rest of his career, painting numerous still lives, many positioned on pedestal tables. Picasso produced his own version of a tamed and humbled Cubism with Three Musicians in 1921, but he also developed a parallel style, a form of “classicism” so favored by those who wanted to “return to order.” Picasso proved himself to be an artist of great alacrity and was able to shift with the trends: he moved from his war-time version of Cubism, “Rococo Cubism,” to classicism to his watered down Cubism. Having established himself as a versatile artist who could move among styles, Picasso was free to join the latest style, Surrealist biomorphism, and combine it with Cubism into a colorful curvilinear suite of paintings dedicated to his new lover, Marie Thérèse. The transformation of Cubism into a saleable commodity enabled the Cubist pioneers to live in comfort for the rest of their lives, presiding over the School of Paris.

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Orphism and Simultaneity

ORPHISM: ART AS MUSIC

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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The Cubists: Artists and Writers

THE CUBISTS AND THEIR CIRCLE

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

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

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

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

The Artists

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

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

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

Art Critics

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

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

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

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

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

The Salon Cubists: “The Cubist Heroes”

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

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

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

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

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Podcast 38 Painting 4: Cubism to Dada

When Art Became Code

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

 

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

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

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