Albert Gleizes
Biography of Cubist Painter: Section d'Or, Puteaux Group.
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Woman with Animals (1914)
Madame Raymond Duchamp-Villon
Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice

Albert Gleizes (1881-1953)

Contents

Biography
Early Life
Cubism and the Avant-Garde
Puteaux Group at the Salon des Independants
Section d'Or at Galerie La Boetie
Du Cubisme
New York
1920s: Theoretical Writing, Lecturing
1930s/40s: Abstraction-Creation, Murals
Exhibitions


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Biography

Best known for his involvement with the Cubism movement, Gleizes was one of the Cubist painters who belonged to the Parisian Puteaux collective and who exhibited at the latter's show at Salle 41 of the 1911 Salon des Independants. The following year, along with Jean Metzinger (1883-1956), he co-wrote the first treatise on Cubism entitled Du Cubisme, whose publication was timed to coincide with the famous group show of the Section d'Or, a Cubist group of which he was a founder member. It is his theoretical analysis of Cubism, rather than his painting, for which Gleizes is best known and upon which his reputation in 20th century French painting is based. After the Great War he continued to concern himself with abstract art, using heraldic structures as well as geometric Cubist-type forms. He also wrote a number of other books including La Peinture et ses lois (Paris, 1923), and Vers une Conscience Plastique: La Forme et L'Histoire (Paris, 1932). His theoretical writings were appreciated above all in Germany, notably at the Bauhaus School of design. He was also a founder member of several post-war groups of abstract artists, including Abstraction-Creation, a successor to the short-lived group Cercle et Carre, which was formed in Paris, in 1931. Later in life he devoted himself to combining Medieval with modern art and, following his reconversion to Catholicism, he turned more to religious paintings, albeit executed in a Cubist manner.

 

 

Early Life

Born Albert Leon Gleizes, the son of a fabric designer (and nephew of Leon Comerre, a talented portrait painter who won the Prix de Rome in 1875), he joined his father's industrial design studio after completing secondary school. It was during his military service (1901-5) that he taught himself how to paint. His initial focus was on landscape painting in the plein-air style of Impressionists such as Alfred Sisley (1839-99) and Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), although his style soon moved away from Impressionism towards Divisionism. He first exhibited his work in 1902 at the age of 21, at the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Paris, and at the Salon d'Automne in 1903 and 1904.

In 1905 Gleizes helped to establish l'Association Ernest-Renan, a union of students opposed to militarism. In 1906 he exhibited at the Musee des Beaux-Arts in Lyon. The same year, Gleizes and a group of artist friends set up the Abbaye de Creteil, a self-supporting community, just outside Paris, that aimed to produce non-commercial art free of bourgeois values. He produced a number of Post-Impressionist paintings laden with symbolism. Unfortunately, neither he nor his friends sold anything and in 1908 the Abbaye closed due to a lack of money.

Gleizes moved back to Paris where began to explore Fauvism and experiment with colour. However, despite his interest in bright colour pigments, his primary interest lay in structure and composition rather than expressive elements. Moreover, his interest in geometrics and symbolism at this time placed him closer to the Pont-Aven School and the decorative idiom of the Nabis rather than to either Matisse or Cezanne.

 

 

Cubism and the Avant-Garde

In 1909, Gleizes began mixing more widely within the Parisian world of avant-garde art, meeting contemporaries like Robert Delaunay (1885-1941), Henri Le Fauconnier (1881-1945), Fernand Leger (1881-1955), Jean Metzinger (1883-1956) and Raymond Duchamp-Villon (1876-1918). By 1910, a group had formed - comprising Delaunay, Gleizes, Metzinger and Leger, as well as writers like Apollinaire, Roger Allard and Rene Arcos - that met regularly at Le Fauconnier's studio near the Boulevard de Montparnasse. They shared a common interest in the primacy of structure rather than colour and discussed the new style of Analytical Cubism which had evolved out of the heavily structured early Cubist painting of the great modernist pioneers Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Georges Braque (1882-1963). Indeed, from hereon, Gleizes became intimately involved with Cubism, both as a painter and one of the movement's chief theorists. Along with his fellow abstract painters, he exhibited at the Salon des Independants in 1910, being joined by Andre Lhote (1885-1962) and Marie Laurencin (1883-1956). In addition, in the Autumn of the same year he also showed at the Salon d'Automne with the same artists.

Puteaux Group at the Salon des Independants

Beginning in 1911, a group of Cubist painters and sculptors - an offshoot of La Societe Normande de Peinture Moderne - began meeting regularly at the studios of Raymond Duchamp-Villon (1876-1918) and Jacques Villon (1875-1963), in the Parisian suburbs of Puteaux and Courbevoie. In addition to Gleizes, Leger and Metzinger, members of the group included Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), Juan Gris (1887-1927), Frank Kupka (1871-1957) and the Russian sculptor Alexander Archipenko (1887-1964). Unlike Cubism's famous co-founders, Picasso and Braque, whose narrow style of abstraction was carefully introduced to a small circle of knowledgable collectors through the gallery of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, the Puteaux group wanted to introduce Cubist art to the public at large. Accordingly, the group staged a major exhibition in Salle 41 of the 1911 Salon des Independants. The show caused outrage among the visitors, most of whom had never seen a Cubist painting before. The Salon des Independants exhibition was followed by shows at the Gallery Dalmau in Barcelona, the Valet de Carreau in Moscow, the Salon de la Societe Normande de Peinture Moderne in Rouen, and finally the October 1911 Salon d'Automne in Paris, where Gleizes met Picasso for the first time.

Section d'Or at Galerie La Boetie

In early 1912, a number of Puteaux artists with a wider vision of Cubism who were dissatisfied with the monochromatic, narrow-focus Cubism of Picasso and Braque, formed themselves into a new group known as "Section d'Or". The main members of this new group were Delaunay, Gleizes, Metzinger, Gris, Leger, Duchamp, Duchamp-Villon, and Francis Picabia (1879-1953). Although all were exponents of Cubism, several would go on to explore separate styles. Delaunay, for instance, developed the idiom of Orphism (Orphic Cubism) to satisfy his demand for colour.

The group's main achievement was the successful Salon de la Section d'Or, staged in October 1912 at Galerie La Boetie, which became the most important Cubist art exhibition in pre-war France. Featuring some 200 paintings and sculptures, it coincided with the publication of the first book on Cubism, entitled Du Cubisme (1912, translated into English and Russian in 1913), written by Jean Metzinger and Albert Gleizes, which sold out fifteen times before the end of the year. The show established Cubism as the leading movement of modern art in Paris, and led to the inclusion of many Section d'Or artists in the huge Armory Show, the following year.

Du Cubisme

An important theme of Gleizes' book Du Cubisme was that while sensations were critical in understanding the outside world, the sensation offered by classical painting was too limited, because it provided only one point of view, from a single point in space and time. Cubism therefore rejected absolute space and time in favor of multiple, simultaneous viewpoints. These provided a sense of relative motion, enabling viewers to grasp the dynamic properties of the four-dimensional natural world. Only through Cubist art could one achieve a proper representation of the mobile nature of our living experience. In arguing this way, Gleizes and Metzinger demonstrate a close affinity with Cezanne, who used to insist that everything must be learnt from nature. They advocated the reconstitution of the real world through the adoption of a style of painting which used volumes to convey the solidity and structure of objects, and which recognized the resonant effects of the weight and placement of objects, as well as the inseparability of form and colour.

New York

Gleizes returned to military service in 1914, before being discharged the following year. In the autumn of 1915 he moved to New York with his wife Juliette Roche, where he met regularly with the American Dadaist Man Ray (1890-1976), as well as fellow expatriates Jean Crotti (1878-1958), Francis Picabia, and Marcel Duchamp. The latter - who in addition to achieving considerable fame as a Cubist painter, was also an important of Junk art - impressed Gleizes with his "readymades" series of found objects. In New York, Gleizes produced his own works featuring jazz musicians, skyscrapers, luminous advertising signs as well as a number of the city's architectural highlights. He also encountered a number of American modern artists including the Cubist Stuart Davis (1892-1964), the Russian-born primitivist Max Weber (1881-1961) and the Italian-born Futurist Joseph Stella (1877-1946). In 1916, he sailed to Spain where he had his first one-man show at the Galeria Dalmau in Barcelona.

1920s: Theoretical Writing, Lecturing

Returning to France after the war, Gleizes was discouraged by both the anti-art antics of Dada, and the classical realism of the Salon. Armed with support from Braque, Leger and Archipenko, as well as the Parisian art dealer Leonce Rosenberg (1877-1947), he tried to revive the Section d'Or by organizing a travelling exhibit, illustrating the work of 20th abstract artists. Unfortunately the project failed for lack of interest as did his attempt to set up an artists' cooperative. In response, he turned increasingly to writing - two successful publications included La Peinture et ses lois (1923), Kubismus (1928), and Vers une Conscience Plastique: La Forme et L'Histoire (1932) - lectured widely in Germany, France and Poland, and served on the committee of the Unions Intellectuelles Francaises. In addition, in 1924, he helped to set up the Academie Moderne, in collaboration with Leger and Amedee Ozenfant; and in 1927 established the Moly-Sabata artist colony. He also experienced a spiritual awakening, which caused him to spend considerable time and energy trying to express Christian themes using Cubist-style religious art - an endeavour which proved signally unsuccessful. Meanwhile, Dada and later Surrealism dominated art throughout Europe.

1930s/40s: Abstraction-Creation, Murals

In 1931, following the decline of Cercle et Carre (Circle and Square), the Parisian exhibition society dedicated to abstract art, Gleizes joined Jean Helion, Auguste Herbin and Georges Vantongerloo is setting up Abstraction-Creation, an association of abstract sculptors and painters, that acted as a forum for international non-representational art, to counteract the all-pervading influence of Andre Breton, high priest of Surrealism.

Later in the decade, Gleizes completed a number of significant commissions. They included the murals for the 1937 Paris World Fair. In 1941, he sold several works to Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979), the wealthy American art collector, before enduring four years of Nazi Occupation. In 1949 and 1950 he executed the illustration for Blaise Pascal's Pensees Sur l'Homme et Dieu, followed in 1952 by a fresco painting for Les Fontaines chapel at Chantilly. He died in Avignon on 23 June 1953 and was laid to rest in the family mausoleum at Serrieres.

Exhibitions

In 1947, a major Gleizes retrospective was held at the Chapelle du Lycee Ampere in Lyons. In the same year, Paris played host to an exhibition of his work entitled "Gleizes, Cubism and its Culmination in Tradition. In America, the first significant Gleizes retrospective took place in New York, in 1964. Finally, in May 2012, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the publication of Du Cubisme by Gleizes and Metzinger, the Musee de La Poste in Paris opened a show entitled "Gleizes - Metzinger. Cubism and After". The exhibition featured more than 80 paintings and drawings, along with a wide variety of papers, films and 15 works by other members of the Section d'Or.

Cubist works by Albert Gleizes can be seen in several of the world's best art museums in Europe and America.

• For biographies of other French abstract artists, see: Twentieth Century Painters.
• For more details of Cubism, see: Homepage.


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