Salon Cubism - History and Concepts
Beginnings 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.
Henri Le Fauconnier also played a leading role in the development of Salon Cubists as he influenced Albert Gleizes first forays into Cubism, as seen in Gleizes’s Portrait of Arcos (1909) with its flat simplified forms and reduced color palette. Gleizes met Le Fauconnier in 1909 and subsequently introduced his friends, Delaunay, Leger, and Metzinger to the artist, and the group often gathered in Le Fauconnier’s studio, hammering out their artistic ideas while Le Fauconnier was working on his signature work Abundance (1910), a large Cubist work depicting an allegorical scene of a nude carrying a large tray of fruit.
The Salon Cubists, particularly Jean Metzinger and Albert Gleizes, the leading theoreticians of the movement, were influenced by the mathematical concepts of Maurice Princet. An actuary and amateur mathematician, in 1906 Princet became close friends with Metzinger, as well as other artists like Pablo Picasso, who lived and worked in Bateau-Lavoir. The building in the Montmartre district of Paris became famous for the number of noted writers, intellectuals, and artists who lived and gathered there, and was a hub for the early development of Cubism.
Dubbed "the mathematician of cubism," Princet introduced the Cubists to the idea of the "fourth dimension" via Henri Poincaré’s work and Esprit Jouffret’s Elementary Treatise on the Geometry of Four Dimensions. Jouffret’s text, based upon Poincaré's Science and Hypothesis (1902), described how four dimensional geometric shapes could be created on the two dimensional page by using multiple perspectives. According to the art historian Linda Henderson, the idea of a fourth dimension liberated the artists from depicting reality via one-point perspective and allowed them to reveal a new, higher, reality. As Metzinger wrote of Princet, "beyond his profession, it was as an artist that he conceptualized mathematics, as an aesthetician that he invoked n-dimensional continuums. He loved to get the artists interested in the new views on space...." Princet was so influential upon the development of the movement that the art critic Louis Vauxcelles called him "the father of cubism."
1910 Salon d’Automne
At the 1910 Salon d’Automne, Jean Metzinger exhibited Nu à la cheminée (Nude) (1910), introducing to the public the radical Cubist style that Picasso, Braque, and others had been developing in their studios. Metzinger, along with Henri Le Fauconnier and Fernand Léger, exhibited in Room VIII of the Salon, and the impact of their work seen in proximity to each other led other artists such as Roger de la Fresnaye and the sculptors Alexander Archipenko and Joseph Csaky to join the ranks of the Salon Cubists.
Nu à la cheminée (also Nu dans un intérieur, Femme nu, and Nu) (Nude) (1910) aroused critical controversy such that the art critic Jean Calud called it a "a puzzle, cubic and triangular...beyond comprehension." However, the poet and art critic Roger Allard praised the "analytical synthesis" of the nude and felt that a new movement of French art, focusing on form, not color, had appeared in the works of Metzinger, Gleizes, Le Fauconnier, and Robert Delaunay.
Metzinger’s article Notes sur la peinture (1910) also introduced the theoretical underpinnings of the new style and became a foundational text, defining the Cubist concept of simultaneity, or mobile perspective. Metzinger explained that artists like Braque, Delaunay, Gleizes, Le Fauconnier, and Picasso allowed themselves "the liberty of moving around objects," and combining that mobile perspective in a single image.
1911 Salon des Indépendants
The group of artists that coalesced at the previous Salon d’Automne organized to display their works as a group to publicly launch Cubism. They campaigned extensively to suspend the Salon’s rule that required works be hung alphabetically and succeeded in taking over the show from the Neo-Impressionists. Showing in Room 41 at the exhibition, each of the five artists, Delaunay, Leger, Gleizes, Metzinger, and Le Fauconnier, displayed their paintings. At the insistence of the poet and art critic, Guillaume Apollinaire, the artist Marie Laurencin also exhibited with the group.
Le Fauconnier’s Abundance (1910) was singled out for attention, making him "one of the most audacious artists in all Europe and as the originator of a new movement in painting," according to art historian David Cottington. While the painting does not look so daring to our contemporary eyes, especially in comparison with some of Picasso’s work from this time, according to Cottington, Abundance became "the best-known Cubist picture in Europe before 1914" because its allegorical subject in a Cubist treatment seemed to make possible a modern reconfiguration of the French classical tradition.
Room 41, as Apollinaire, said "left a deep impression on the public," and Gleizes characterized the reaction to the show as an "explosion." He wrote, "While the newspapers sounded the alarm to alert people to the danger, and while appeals were made to the public authorities to do something about it, song writers, satirists and other men of wit and spirit provoked great pleasure among the leisured classes by playing with the word ‘cube,’ discovering that it was a very suitable vehicle for inducing laughter which, as we all know, is the principle characteristic that distinguishes man from the animals." The exhibition made Gleizes, Metzinger, Léger and Delaunay, instantly and internationally famous, and the group was dubbed the "Salon Cubists."
The Puteaux Group
In 1911, Gleizes, Metzinger, and Delaunay began meeting in Puteaux, a suburb of Paris, where the artist Jacques Villon, the older brother of the sculptor Raymond Duchamp-Villon and the artist Marcel Duchamp, lived. The three brothers, all then exploring Cubism, became the hub of the group. The Puteaux Group, as it came to be called, also included Le Fauconnier, Sonia Delaunay, František Kupka, Francis Picabia, Juan Gris, Jean Marchard, and the sculptors Joseph Csaky and Alexander Archipenko.
During these gatherings on Sunday afternoon, and the Monday follow-up discussions at Gleizes’s studio in the nearby suburb of Courbevoie, the artists refined the theoretical basis of Salon Cubism and its artistic tenets. As art historian David Cottington explained, their "discussions ranged widely across the philosophies of Bergson and Nietzsche, the social purpose and epistemic status of art, the questions of dynamism and modernity, [but] it was mathematics - or, more narrowly, number and geometry - that provided the intellectual cement that held these considerations together." The emphasis on number and geometry led to Princet giving informal lectures to the group on mathematical concepts, which played a fundamental role in developing their ideas.
The group also favored the "scientific clarity of conception" of Georges Seurat’s Neo-Impressionism that emphasized the impersonal mathematical harmony of painting. Seurat’s noted works, monumental in scale, employed a vibrant color palette based upon his color theory, and the Salon Cubists followed suit, setting their work apart from the intimate and subdued Cubist still lifes and landscapes of Picasso and Braque. As a result, the group was also dubbed the "Epic Cubists."
Following the public launch of Cubism at the 1911 Salon, the Puteaux Group took up the name Section d’Or, as suggested by Jacques Villon. Meaning "the golden section" or "the golden ratio," the new name emphasized that their Cubism was the final culmination of the Western tradition of the concept of the golden ratio that went back to the ancient Greeks. In coming up with the name, Villon was influenced by his reading of Leonardo da Vinci’s Trattato della Pittura (1651) recently translated into French by Joséphin Péladan.
The group began planning their first exhibit to showcase the vitality of Cubism and to show that it was deeply attuned to the modern era and the culmination of Western art. The 1912 Salon de la Section d'Or took place at the Galerie La Boétie in Paris and exhibited over 200 works by Delaunay, Gleizes, Metzinger, Francis Picabia, Andre Ohote, Marcel Duchamp, Juan Gris, Raymond Duchamp-Villon, Fernand Leger, Louis Marcoussis, and Roger de la Fresnaye. Many of the artists included their earlier works, and the show also became a major retrospective of Salon Cubism and its development.
The exhibition also included an Art Décoratif section, one of the earliest examples of the inclusion of the decorative arts, which showcased La Maison Cubiste (Cubist House,) with its façade designed by Duchamps-Villon. André Mare designed the two interior rooms where paintings like Metzinger’s Woman with a Fan (1912) were displayed in what was called the "Salon Bourgeois." The Cubist House had such an impact that the public subsequently began to refer to anything modern as "Cubist," and Walter Pach, president of the Armory Show in 1913 in New York City, called Duchamps-Villon’s design, "an example of what possibilities are contained in a style like the present one whose philosophy is a base."
Du Cubisme (On Cubism)
In conjunction with the 1912 exhibit, Metzinger and Gleizes published Du Cubisme (On Cubism) (1912), which explained the Cubists’ use of "multiple perspective." By breaking the image into faceted planes, the artists wanted to create an experience of simultaneity and psychological fluidity. As they wrote, "In order that the spectator, himself free to establish unity, may apprehend all the elements in the order assigned to them by creative intuition, the properties of each portion must be left independent, and the plastic continuum must be broken into a thousand surprises of light and shade." In trying to understand the object itself from multiple perspectives, the viewer created the "total image." Art historian Mark Antliff explains that Metzinger and Gleizes incorporated Bergsonian notions of intuition and simultaneity into their understanding of both the artist’s and the viewer’s selves, writing "Thus the Bergsonian notion of simultaneity presented in Du Cubisme is yet another manifestation of the utopian aspirations that pervade the early modernist conception of the artist’s role in society."
On Cubism defined Cubism as a term for the first time and was the first extensive treatise on the theoretical and stylistic foundations of the movement. On Cubism had a great impact on the art world and public consciousness of the movement, as it went through 15 printings in 1912 alone and was published widely in translation, appearing in English in 1913.
Salon Cubism: Concepts, Styles, and Trends
During World War I, Jean Metzinger’s style evolved into what came to be called Crystal Cubism, which came into full flower following the war. Seen as part of the era’s "return to order," the term "Crystal Cubism" originated with the French art critic Maurice Reynal. Metzinger’s Soldier at a Game of Chess (1914-15), with its flat simplified multiple planes of color, emphasizes what the art historian Christopher Green has called the "orderly qualities" and "autonomous purity" of Crystal Cubism’s geometric and abstract structure. The emphasis in Crystal Cubism was on the painting as an object in itself, as Green further described, "a single-minded insistence on the isolation of the art-object in a special category with its own laws and its own experience to offer, a category considered above life."
Metiznger along with Juan Gris, who had been closely associated both with the Cubism of Picasso and Braque and the Salon Cubists, popularized this new style. Works like Gris’s Portrait of Josette Gris (1916) used a simplified, monochromatic palette with overlapping geometric planes. Leger and Gleizes and other Salon Cubists, including the sculptors Laurens and Lipchitz, also gravitated toward Crystal Cubism. Green argues that Crystal Cubism was the most influential form that Cubism took, writing, "In terms of a Modernist will to aesthetic isolation and of the broad theme of the separation of culture and society, it is actually Cubism after 1914 that emerges as most important to the history of Modernism."
Though Orphism began around 1911 as the work and theory of Robert and Sonia Delaunay converged with the work of František Kupta, it was officially launched in 1912. Robert Delaunay’s Simultaneous Windows series (1912-1913) and Kupka’s Amorpha: Fugue in Two Colors (1910-1911) exemplified the approach that, as Delaunay wrote, "would depend only on color and its contrast but would develop over time simultaneously perceived at a single moment." The poet and art critic, Apollinaire first used the term Orphism at the 1912 Section d’Or, and as a result, Orphism was seen as a sub-movement, developing out of Cubism. However, Delaunay subsequently was to break with the Puteaux Group and, feeling that his Simultaneous Windows were a major artistic breakthrough, described himself as "the heretic of Cubism." The Delaunays became the major practitioners of Orphism, and, while their work emphasized geometric patterns, often in fractured planes, color and not form was the foundation of the increasingly abstract compositions.
Orphism influenced later artists like Paul Klee in his abstract color shapes and the development of abstraction, in both its geometric and lyrical styles. The Op art of Bridget Riley, Richard Anuskiewicz, and Wen-Ying Tsai were influenced by Orphism’s emphasis upon color to create depth and movement. Sonia Delaunay’s design works, based upon the principles of Orphism, had a wide ranging impact on all fashion and interior design as her Orphic idiom became part of the public consciousness.
Later Developments - After Salon Cubism
Salon Cubism was very influential from its inception until the outbreak of World War I. In 1912, Le Fauconnier became the head of the Académie de La Palette and recruited Metzinger as a teacher. Marc Chagall, Lyubov Popova, Nadezhda Udaltsova, Serge Charchoune, and Varvara Stepanova were among the students. The sculptor Joseph Csaky also attended the Académie de La Palette and credited the school and his teachers for his turn to Cubism. Even beyond Paris, associations with the Salon Cubists influenced the Moscow Knave of Diamonds exhibitions, beginning in 1910, and the group also influenced Josef Capek, a leader of the Cubist school in Czechoslovakia.
Metzinger’s theoretical writing on Cubism, along with Gleizes’, was to have a long lasting influence. By 1920 Metzinger, Gleizes, and others were creating works that, having dropped all reference to the "fourth dimension," were emphasizing the flat pictorial plane, and the image as an abstract object in itself, independent of any referent, governed only by abstract geometrical structures.
Following the publication of Kahnweiler’s The Rise of Cubism (1920) much of the subsequent focus on Cubism followed his emphasis on the works of Picasso, Braque, and Léger and adopted his terms Synthetic and Analytic Cubism. As a result, the independent work and evolution of the Salon Cubists were often critically overlooked, although the movement has been re-evaluated at different times. In his "Decline of Cubism" (1948) Clement Greenberg argued that "cubism is still the only vital style of our time, the one best able to convey contemporary feeling, and the only one capable of supporting a tradition which will survive into the future and form new artists." He felt that movement had declined, as practiced by French artists since the 1920s, but that the experimentation it exemplified "have at last migrated to the United States."
More recently, a number of art historians like Christopher Green, David Cottington, and Peter Brooke have drawn attention to the significant contributions of Metzinger and Gleizes and the other Salon Cubists. As art historian Peter Brooke wrote in 2000, "A general history of Salon Cubism, however, still needs to be written, a history that could be extended to include the wonderful collective phenomenon which Christopher Green has called 'Crystal Cubism' - the highly structured work of the Cubist painters...who remained in Paris during the war, most notably Metzinger and Gris. An opening up of this early Cubism in all its intellectual fullness would... reveal it as being not only the most radical movement in painting of the past century but, still, the most rich in possibilities for the future."