Summary of Salon Cubism
The Salon Cubists, a group of avant-garde French artists, who lived and worked in Paris and its environs, built upon the early Cubist experiments of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, but they intentionally steered a different artistic path. Compared to Picasso’s and Braque’s small, intimate works with the subdued palette of browns and greys, Salon Cubists painted large scale works in vibrant colors and grounded their aesthetic theories with references to mathematics and vitalist philosophy.
The term Salon Cubists was adopted following the 1911 Salon des Indépendants to distinguish them from the "gallery Cubists," Picasso and Braque, who showed with the art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. While Picasso and Braque are now the most famous Cubists, it was the Salon Cubists who established Cubism as an identifiable movement and introduced it to the general public through their exhibitions in notable Paris Salons between 1910 and 1913.
- Picasso and Braque formulated the foundations of Cubism in artistic conversations in their studios; with the stipend provided by their dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, they were able to experiment out of public view. The Salon Cubists, however, exhibited publicly in the Salons and felt a greater desire to communicate their aesthetic ideas with the public and were more attuned to public reception.
- The idea of simultaneity, or mobile perspective, was a main tenet of Salon Cubism. The goal of the painter was to give the viewer the most information about an object by depicting multiple vantage points at the same time. Eschewing traditional one-point perspective that had ruled Western painting’s depiction of reality, the Salon Cubists depicted reality with fragmented, overlapping, and translucent planes to suggest a higher reality, a fourth dimension. This distortion also suggests that space and form are inextricably bound.
- Simultaneity was also closely linked with Henri Bergson’s notion of duration, or psychological time, which highlighted the subjectivity of experience. Bergson held that consciousness of an object or an experience consisted of "several conscious states...organized into a whole, permeat[ing] one another, [and] gradually gain[ing] a richer content." Salon Cubists encouraged the subjectivity of experience by requiring the viewer to complete, to resolve the various perspectives, into the "total image," as Jean Metzinger referred to it.
- While Salon Cubists helped to move painting further into abstraction, their paintings were never completely abstract. While they still painted portraits and genre scenes, their subject matter tended to be more "epic" and more allegorical, pointing to Cubism’s ability to merge traditional ideals and modern life.
Overview of Salon Cubism
The story of Cubism usually begins in the studios of Pablo Picasso and George Braque, who were looking at African sculpture and Paul Cézanne's late landscapes and still lifes, which reduced form to geometric cubes, pyramids, and cylinders. Picasso and Braque took Cézanne’s geometry even further, creating scenes from faceted planes of monochromatic color. There were other artists, however, who were similarly experimenting with form. Jean Metzinger and Robert Delaunay were longtime artistic colleagues who painted in the radical Neo-Impressionist style and were influenced by the color theories of Georges Seurat. Metzinger was also influenced, as were most of the Cubists, by the works of Cézanne, which had been exhibited in major Salons in Paris from 1904-1907. Cézanne’s work became the bridge between Metzinger’s earlier Neo-Impressionist work and his Cubist fracturing of the image into multiple perspectives.
Important Art and Artists of Salon Cubism
Le Fauconnier presents the viewer with an allegory of the plentitude of nature and the fertility of womanhood in the large-scale oil painting. A nude woman bears an oversized platter laden with fruit on her head, and a nude child with his arms full of apples stands next to her. The figures occupy a landscape in which a lake with boats, the spires of a castle, mountains, and a city street can be glimpsed, and the foreground is littered with fallen fruit.
Le Fauconnier does not depict the scene from multiple perspectives as would be typical of Picasso and Braque, but instead he analyzes the volume of the figures and landscape. The faceted bodies of the figures and the landscape convey a common density and weight. While patches of red and blue throughout the composition create movement through the image, the underlying greys and browns further unite the figures and the landscape as seen in the similarity between the woman’s shoulders and arms and the cubic mountains in the upper right of the painting. The figures are meant to embody the earth’s abundance, as if they too had materialized from the same substance.
At the 1911 Salon des Indépendants, Le Fauconnier’s work made him the public face of the new avant-garde art, and his monumental approach to an allegorical subject and his preoccupation with volume and weight were important influences upon Salon Cubism.
The monochromatic and abstracted treatment of a traditional genre scene created a scandal when it was shown at the 1911 Salon des Indépendants, where viewers thought the painting outlandish. A woman sits in a room between two vases filled with flowers. She concentrates on the unfolded paper or cloth she holds in her lap. Behind her, a window opens onto a view of the landscape beyond. The reductive color palette, combined with the angled planes of multiple perspectives, creates a blurring between the interior of the room and the exterior view and between the figure and her surroundings.
Gleizes felt that the figure was not important in itself but functioned only as a "figurative support," as he wrote, to be "subordinated to true, essential qualities that correspond to the plastic demands of painting." Here, the woman’s clothing and body become cubic volumes, sculpted in cylindrical forms, creating not so much the sense of layered planes of vision, as layered planes of dense materiality. As the art historian, Daniel Robbins has written, "We see the artist's volumetric approach to Cubism and his successful union of a broad field of vision with a flat picture plane." As Gleizes himself wrote, he was most interested in "an analysis of volume relationships," wanting to convey solidity and structure, and it was this emphasis on synthesizing the materiality of the world according to the sensations the artist felt that contributed not only to Cubism but also toward further abstraction.
Metzinger depicts a nude woman, wearing a pearl necklace petting the ear of a horse while her right hand offers the horse a treat. The scene is placed in a landscape, though a window is visible in the upper right of center and a vase and various flowers and fruits are in the foreground. The setting of the woman and the horse is ambiguous. The model’s block upon which the woman sits coupled with the vase in the foreground and what appears to be a window suggests the two are inside, perhaps in the artist’s studio, but the landscape elements in the foreground and what appears to be a tree in the top left indicate that the pair could also be outside.
The large painting embodies Metzinger’s idea of simultaneity, combining different perspectives at the same time. To counter the traditional reliance on Euclidean geometry that formed the basis of traditional linear perspective, Metzinger thought one must look to non-Euclidean geometry and the fourth dimension to depict modern experience. As he and Gleizes were to write in Du Cubisme (1912), "There are as many images of an object as there are eyes which look at it; there are as many essential images of it as there are minds which comprehend it." Furthermore, following the vitalist ideas of Henri Bergson, Metzinger relied on the viewer’s "creative intuition" to contemplate the multidimensional fragments over time in order to create the total image.
The Danish physicist Niels Bohr who received the 1922 Nobel Prize for his work in quantum mechanics and atomic structure eventually owned Woman with a Horse. Bohr hung the painting in his office, and was further influenced by his reading of Du Cubisme (1912). As Arthur I. Miller wrote, Metzinger’s work and thought inspired Bohr "to postulate that the totality of an electron is both a particle and a wave, but when you observe it you pick out one particular viewpoint."