Jean Metzinger
Biography of Cubist Painter, Author of Du Cubisme, with Albert Gleizes.
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Woman on a Horse (1911-12)
National Gallery of Denmark.

Jean Metzinger (1883-1956)

Contents

Biography
Training
Paris Avant-Garde
Cubism
Puteaux Group
Section d'Or Exhibition at Galerie La Boetie
Later Life
Retrospectives


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Biography

A figure of some importance in French painting in the lead-up to the First World War, Metzinger was a leading theorist in the Cubism movement, who became famous for his treatise entitled Du Cubisme (1912) written in colaboration with Albert Gleizes (1881-1953). He was a member of the Section d'Or - itself an offshoot of the Parisian Puteaux Group - which consisted of a number of Cubist painters and other practitioners of abstract art from the Paris School. Before his involvement with Cubism, the academy-trained Metzinger experimented both with Seurat's Neo-Impressionism and Matisse's Fauvism movement. If perhaps not distinguished for his fine art painting, he had considerable influence as a Cubist theoretician, and his writings helped to make Cubism the leading type of avant garde art in Europe. After the war he turned to a more representational style, not unlike the compositions of Fernand Leger (1881-1955), before making a return to more concrete art in the early 1940s.

 

Training

Born in Nantes, the son of Eugene Francois Metzinger, his early talent at drawing led to his successful entry to the Academy of Fine Arts in his native city, where he was taught the fundamentals of academic art by the celebrated portraitist Hippolyte Touront. But like most modern artists of the time, Metzinger was far more interested in avant-garde art, notably the Pointillism of George Seurat (1859-91) and his followers Paul Signac (1863-1935) and Henri Edmond Cross (1856-1910). In 1903 he sold three works at the Salon des Independants, using the proceeds to finance his move to Paris, where he began a career as a professional artist.

Paris Avant-Garde

Metzinger exhibited regularly during his early years in Paris: he showed at the first Salon d'Automne in the fall of 1903, and in an exhibition at the gallery owned by Berthe Weill - the first Parisian art dealer to sell works by Pablo Picasso. In 1904 Metzinger exhibited again at the Salon des Independants and the Salon d'Automne, but this time his paintings contained a new geometric structure that gave them greater mathematical harmony. Thus began his transition from imitative art towards a type of painting that reflected the primacy of idea over nature. The process continued in 1905, as he explored the non-natural use of colour along with Fauvist painters Andre Derain (1880-1954) and Henri Matisse (1869-1954). In 1906 he was elected to the hanging committee of the Salon des Independants. In addition, he met and became friends with Albert Gleizes (1881-1953), whose art studio he visited in Courbevoie, and Robert Delaunay (1885-1941), with whom he shared an exhibition at the Berthe Weill gallery in the Spring of the following year. In 1907 he was introduced by the irrepressible Max Jacob (1876-1944) to the French poet and critic Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918), who published one of Metzinger's poems the following year.

Still preoccupied with his particular style of Divisionism, with its colourful quasi-Fauvist mosaic-like geometric patterns, Metzinger continued to show his work alongside progressive 20th century painters including Delaunay (who would go on to invent Orphism), his wife Sonia, Derain, Dufy, Marie Laurencin, Georges Rouault, Kees van Dongen, Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956), Auguste Herbin (1882-1960) and the Bulgarian-born Jules Pascin (1885-1930).

 

 

Cubism

By 1909, as a member of Apollinaire's circle, he had already met and fallen under the influence of Picasso, whose early Cubist painting was already morphing into full-blown Analytical Cubism. At the Salon d'Automne in 1909, he exhibited alongside other early Cubists, including Constantin Brancusi, Henri Le Fauconnier and Fernand Leger. In December he married Lucie Soubiron, while in the Spring of 1910 he showed for the first time at the Salon des Independants. He also began writing theoretical articles about the latest modern art. It was this rather than his painting that was to make him famous. One of his 1910 articles in Pan, for instance, entitled "Cubism and Tradition", was the first to propose that Cubist painting had dismissed traditional perspective in favour of simultaneous multiple views of an object.

Puteaux Group

Although influenced by Picasso and Braque, Metzinger - along with several others, including Delaunay, Gleizes, and Leger, known collectively as the Puteaux Group - adopted a more legible style of Cubism than its two more purist-inclined inventors. And while the latter's new works were shown only to a select group of knowledgable customers at private exhibitions in the gallery of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, and later at the avant-garde art gallery of Leonce Rosenberg (1879-1947), the Puteaux artists wanted to introduce Cubism to the public at large. Accordingly, in 1911, the group held the first formal showing of Cubist art in Salle 41 at the Salon des Independants. Most of the Puteaux Group exhibited. The show caused an uproar: many visitors were scandalized by the unfamiliar abstract paintings. Undaunted, a number of exhibitors formed a new group, known as Section d'Or, to continue promoting their wider vision of Cubism.

Section d'Or Exhibition at Galerie La Boetie

The one and only show staged by Section d'Or took place in October 1912 at Galerie La Boetie. Participants included: Delaunay, Gleizes, Francis Picabia (1879-1953), Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), Juan Gris (1887-1927) and Fernand Leger (1881-1955), among others. To coincide with the show, Metzinger and Gleizes published a brand new treatise on Cubism - the first serious book on the movement - entitled Du Cubisme, which laid down a theoretical basis and justification for the Cubist approach to art. Endorsed by both Braque and Picasso, the book went through 15 printings in the course of 1912 alone. English and Russian editions appeared the following year. The show too proved a huge success, albeit not without controversy, becoming the most important Cubist art exhibition in pre-war France, and paved the way for the Armory Show in 1913, that introduced European avant-garde art to New York, Chicago and Boston. At the same time, Metzinger and Gleizes were seen as the leading theorists of Cubism and their analysis helped to shape how the movement was received around the world.

Later Life

Thereafter, Metzinger continued to exhibit in the principal salons of Paris, as well as foreign venues like the influential Sturm gallery in Berlin founded by Herwarth Walden, the Montross Gallery in New York, the Leicester Galleries and the Hanover Gallery in London, and the Arts Club of Chicago. However, from the end of the Great War, he, like most Cubists, abandoned non-objective art in favour of naturalism, focusing mainly on landscape painting, figurative works and still life paintings. He died in Paris on November 3, 1956.

Retrospectives

A retrospective of Metzinger's paintings, entitled "Jean Metzinger in Retrospect", was held at The University of Iowa Museum of Art, from where it travelled to Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery at the University of Texas in Austin, The David Alfred Smart Gallery at the University of Chicago, and the Museum of Art at the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In May 2012, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the publication of Du Cubisme, the Musee de La Poste in Paris organized an exhibition entitled "Gleizes - Metzinger: Cubism and After". The show featured over 80 paintings and drawings, together with a variety of other materials, as well as fifteen works by other members of the Section d'Or.

Paintings and drawings by Jean Metzinger can be seen in several of the best art museums in Europe.

• For biographies of other modern artists, see: Famous Painters.
• For more about Cubism, see: Homepage.


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