During the disruptive years of the Great War, Picasso and Matisse 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 return to their artistic practices 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. 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 to revive Cubism 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 and, indeed, it is generally conceded that even before the War, Picasso and Braque were leaving 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, and the real future of the second stage of Cubism would be the realization of its decorative potentials, which would be played out in Art Deco. 

When the prominent Cubist artist, Georges Braque, returned to the Parisian art scene, it was after serving on the front, being gravely wounded. Braque spent a long time being temporarily blind, but after a long recovery he began painting again. The partnership with Picasso was broken, simply because the two men could no longer share their experiences. Their lives had diverged. In his biography on Braque, Alex Danchev discussed how the Great War divided the two men. Picasso remained concerned about Braque’s safety during the War, especially after he was wounded in 1915, saying to Gertrude Stein, “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 us about their fighting.” This statement was made well before Picasso had exited the relationship with Braque and left Cubism behind, and during his transition to his next act in art, Braque spent the next year in the hospital. Unlike the other Cubist artists, as a Lieutenant, Braque had carried an officer’s responsibilities, and he suffered as he waited for his full recovery. “It wasn’t so much the wound that I suffered, but the possibility of painting for those long months. It was more the mental than the physical wounding..” he said. In his book, Georges Braque: A Life, Alex Danchev quoted Braque who was not above critiquing the conduct of the War: “Our soldiers, in 1914, charged in red trousers! They came back from the war with pigs’ snouts (gas masks).” He also remained bitter towards Robert Delaunay, who waited out the War in Spain, Duchamp who fled to New York, and criticized Albert Gleizes and Francis Picabia who served briefly and then moved on–Gleizes thanks to his “convenient” medical condition and Picabia who had a well connected father-in-law. As Léger said, “That bastard Gleizes.” 

In fact Gleizes himself found it difficult to reenter the post-war art world of Paris. As Daniel Robbins, the chief biographer of Albert Gleizes, explained, By 1919 the unity of the Cubist movement, the pre-war sense of common effort, had been totally shattered. Paris was dominated by a strong reaction against those dreams of revoltionary construction and common effort which Gleizes continued to cherish, while the avant-garde was characterized by the anarchic and, to him, destructive spirit of Dada. 26 Neither alternative held any appeal for him and, with the Salons once again dominated by conservative painters, his old hostility to the city was constantly nourished. Although supported by Archipenko and Braque, an attempt to revive the spirit of the Section d’Or failed. Similarly, an effort to organize an artists’ cooperative received the support of Delaunay, but of no other major painters. Gleizes, although he had enjoyed considerable prestige both as a man and a painter, gradually became alienated from the Paris art world. Like the ideal protagonists in a Henry James novel, he and Madame Gleizes had enough independent income to pursue their goals without bowing to material considerations, remaining unfettered by the realities that made such heavy demands on many other artists. The Gleizes spent more and more time in the country, at Serrieres, Madame Gleizes’ family home, or at Cavalaire, then an even quieter spot on the Riviera.”

The Cubism of Picasso and Braque no longer existed. Picasso turned to the classical and conservative in the 1920s, while Braque settled on a variation of Cubist collage, painting the various elements instead of pasting paper on a support. Unlike Picasso who followed the latest art styles, such as Surrealism at the end of the decade, Braque did not flirt with the latest trends. Instead, he spent the rest of his life painting still live arrangements laid out on the top of a gueridon. The simplicity of objects and fruits sitting peacefully on a three-legged table seemed to symbolize the security of life after the trauma of the Great War. There was a second life for Cubism after the Great War. It was the Salon Cubists who inherited pre-war Cubism and carried it on to its new destiny in the years between the Wars. 

This lingering phase of Cubism, 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. Before the War, 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. After the War, when they returned to Paris, one by one, these Cubist 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 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 into its new afterlife. For the Cubist artists, 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 to extricate themselves from an antiquated and dysfunctional system, began to become a major factor in exhibition and sales. But the players were new. The pre-war dealers had been interested in gambling on risky emerging artists who wanted to stay outside the system. The post-war art dealers were more concerned with courting a new collector base that wanted either established “name” artists and signature styles or conservative young artists. These newcomers on the late Cubist scene had the good fortune to walk into an open field with pre-war dealers aging out or simply absent.

When War was declared, German national and Cubist dealer to Braque and Picasso, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, 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 financial and emotional support. Léonce Rosenberg, 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. With the exception of Picasso and Braque, Rosenberg signed the German dealer’s artists and continued the exhibition and promotion of Cubism during and after the war. 

Rosenberg had 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. Under the stewardship of Rosenberg, 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 and product design. 

The poet Jean Cocteau may have argued that “rappel à l’ordre,” referred to a return to a traditional classicism and an end to disorderly experimentation, but the so-called Salon Cubists rejected classicism and embraced a conservative version of pre-war Cubism. This tamed Cubism was the “house style” of Léonce Rosenberg’s gallery, “L’Effort modern,” and the focus of his publication, Bulletin de l’Effort Moderne. Picasso waited until 1918, four years to join Paul Rosenberg, the brother of Léonce. 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. 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. With the Rosenberg brothers becoming the dealers for Cubism, the task, which they both seemed to have realized, was now to make of Cubism something historical and valuable. 

As with Futurism in Italy, Cubism was now experiencing a second life, but Cubism flourished discretely, flowering as a commodity in a consumerist-driven art market. Caught up in the post-war political scene in Italy, Futurism slid into an enthusiastic Fascism. Historically or, to be more specific, inthe eyes of art historians, these post-war phases of the two major pre-war avant-gardes have been traditionally by passed over in favor of an emphasis upon Dada and Surrealism. Art history was willing to examine the Russian Avant-Garde, a left-wing artistic production, but not Futurism which became decidedly right-wing. And art historical research on post-war Cubism is still in its early stages. And yet this overlooked phase of Cubism deserves to be examined in its own terms.

 

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.
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