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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Inventing Cubism

Figure in a Chair, Seated Nude, Woman, 1909-10, Pablo Picasso
Sometimes, what we think we know about a topic (art or otherwise) turns out not to really be true, or at least only part of the truth. Take Cubism, for instance. Who "invented" Cubism? The standard "off the shelf" answer to that would be Pablo Picasso (top). And, if you want to get technical, you might add, "in conjunction with Georges Braque" (bottom). You would, of course, be right...up to a point. That is to say, Picasso and Braque didn't invent/discover/develop (whatever verb you prefer) Cubism entirely on their own. They had help from another pair of Paris artists working in the same style, the same media, and at virtually the same time, though the exact date as to the creation of an individual paintings (month and day) is always difficult to ascertain. Ever hear of Albert Gleizes or Jean Metzinger? I didn't think so.

Woman to Phlox, 1910, Albert Gleizes-easily mistaken for Picasso or Braque.
Albert Gleizes Self-portrait, 1919
During the summer of 1909, Albert Gleizes (right), Jean Metzinger (below, right), Fernand L├ęger, Robert Delaunay, and Henri Le Fauconnier began to meet at Le Fauconnier's house to discuss breaking away from Neo-Impressionism and its emphasis on color toward the "research and development" of an art with a greater emphasis on mass and form. Gleizes 1910 Woman to Phlox (above) could be said to have resulted from these discussions. They didn't call it Cubism. If that term even existed at the time, it was probably only in the mind of Picasso. In fact, notably missing from the group was the presence of Picasso and Braque, though Picasso was, ironically, what we might call the "leader" of the group. The difference was, while these other artists were mostly just talking about what would later come to be called "Cubism," Picasso and Braque were painting it.

Naked at the Fireplace (black and white photo) 1910, Jean Metzinger
Jean Metzinger
All four artists, Picasso, Braque, Gleizes, and Metzinger, undoubtedly knew one another and were probably familiar with each others work. Though Gleizes and Metzinger worked together (probably not sharing a studio as did Picasso and Braque) but they were good friends and no doubt met and observed one another's work on a daily basis. And, Like the work of Picasso and Braque, the paintings of Gleizes and Metzinger from this period are virtually indistinguishable (Metzinger's paintings are slightly more colorful). Naked at the Fireplace, (black and white photo, above) typifies what Metzinger was doing with Cubism. The important point is to compare their paintings, Picasso (top), Gleizes (second one down) and Metzinger (above) and Braque's (bottom). Picasso's entry may have come a few months earlier than the second two, but, in looking at them, I think it would be fair to say the second pair, Gleizes and Metzinger deserve equal credit, or at least an honorable mention in the fickle annals of art history along side the other two guys.

Portrait of Jacques Nayral, 1911, Albert Gleizes
And why haven't Gleizes and Metzinger, and even Braque (bottom) gotten their fair share of fame and fortune alongside Picasso? Albert Gleizes died in 1953 at the age of 72. Metzinger died in 1956 at the age of 73. Braque died in 1963 at the age of 81. Pablo Picasso died in 1973 at the age of 92. All four were born between the years 1881 and 1883 (Picasso and Gleizes were the oldest, born two months apart). It wouldn't be illogical to suggest that the length of their lifespans may have been a factor. Then too, Picasso (quite apart from his art) was one of a kind, his personality so overwhelmingly dominant as to completely overshadow his Cubist colleagues. In all the fine arts, who you are (the cult of personality) has at least an equal standing as that of what you do or create.
Woman Holding a Mandolin, 1911, Georges Braque


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