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Monday, May 18, 2015

Jean Metzinger

Clairiere, ca. 1903, Jean Metzinger--the Neo-impressionist.                             
El Pavo Real, 1906,
Jean Metzinger--the Pointillist
When we think of Cubism, most people think first (and often only) of Pablo Picasso. Sometimes, those more familiar with the subject, also mention Georges Braque. Otherwise, that's about it. I suppose that's only natural and not entirely unfair, but it's also unfair not to mention that neither artist worked in a vacuum. Cubism was a development...a movement, not an invention or a "eureka" moment akin to a scientific discovery. Picasso and Braque may have been leading the way but a close study of the presumed dates attached to their works and those of others would indicate that, at best, they were but a few months ahead of the pack. Yes, they influenced others, but it's also important to note they were influenced by others. Paris in the early 1900s was a hotbed of wildly creative painting, sculpture, and theoretical thinking.
Lles Ibis, 1907, Jean Metzinger--the Fauvist.
Jean Metzinger, ca. 1912
It would be fairly accurate to say that while Picasso and Braque painted Cubism, Metzinger wrote the manifesto, Note sur la Peinture (Note on Painting), which he published in 1910. In this essay Metzinger set down the basic theoretical foundation of the movement long before the name "Cubism" was attached to it. He proposed the basic idea of painting from more than one viewpoint much as a motion picture camera moved around, "painting" a picture from 360 degrees (it's no accident this concept came shortly after the advent of "motion" pictures). The artist was to observed the subject then paint it from memories (plural). Two years later, Metzinger and his painting partner, Albert Gleizes, formalized the movement's theoretical basis still further with their 1912 treatise, Du "Cubisme" (The "Cubism"). Whether they coined the term or merely glued it on is uncertain, but in any case, the name stuck.

Landscape, 1912, Jean Metzinger--the Cubist.
Nature Morte, 1911, Jean Metzinger
Jean Metzinger came to Cubism over a long and winding trail. Born in 1883 (two years younger than Picasso), Metzinger grew up in Nantes (western France near the coast) heir to a distinguished military family tree. Jean and his younger brother both were highly intellectual. Jean Metzinger studied not just painting but mathematics and music as well. His brother became a cellist. Around 1900, Jean Metzinger enrolled in Paris' Academie des Beaux-Arts studying under the distinguished portrait painter, Hippolyte Touront, from whom he seems to have learned little. His instructor was "old school." Metzinger was only interested in the "what's happening now." As mentioned before, there was, indeed, a lot beginning to happen on the renegade left-bank of the Seine; and Metzinger seems to have dabbled in all of it as evidenced by his Neo-Impressionist Clairiere (top) from 1903, his Pointillist El Pavo Real, from 1906, and his Fauvist Lies Ibis from 1907. He seems to have "arrived" by 1911 as seen in his Nature Morte (left), and his Landscape (above). It matters little, except perhaps to art historians, that Picasso had, so recently, "been there, done that."

Still-life with Fruits and Pitcher,
1917, Jean Metzinger
Table by a Window, 1917,
Jean Metzinger
As the 20th-century "teens" moved into the twenties, it's difficult to say who was leading whom as Picasso and Metzinger both broke out into Synthetic Cubism--shapes flattening, into collage-like compositions. Metzinger's pieces may be somewhat more colorful and prone to patterning, but I'd hate to be faced with a roomful of the two artists' works and asked to differentiate between them. In later years, both artists departed from strictly Cubist painting into a variety of other styles and content, Metzinger having only slightly fewer, less distinct "periods" than did Picasso. Like Picasso, Metzinger embraced rather monumental figural works (below left and right, exclusively female in Metzinger's case), while slipping back to revisit slightly different incarnations of Cubism from time to time as seen by his Nautical Still-life (bottom) from 1953. Jean Metzinger died in Paris in 1956 at the age of seventy-three. Picasso died in 1973 at the age of ninety-one.

Nu Aux Hortensias,
1935, Jean Metzinger
Suzanne Phocas con Sombrero,
1940, Jean Metzinger
Nautical Still-life, 1953, Jean Metzinger, 1950s Cubism, one of his last works.


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