Post-War Cubism in Paris, Part Two

Cubism After Cubism

Paris Coming to Order, Part Two

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

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

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

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

Jean Metzinger. Portrait of Léonce Rosenberg (1924)

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

Pablo Picasso. Portrait of Paul Rosenberg (1918)

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

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

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

Pablo Picasso. Harlequin (1915)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Post-War Cubism in Paris, Part One

Cubism After Cubism

Paris Coming to Order, Part One

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

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

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

Fernand Léger. Three Women (1921-2)

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

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

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

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

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

Pablo Picasso. The American Manager (1917)

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

Georges Braque. The Round Table (1929)

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

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

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

Thank you.

[email protected]