Jean Metzinger Monograph
Researched and written by Alexander Mittelmann
Art lovers, gain new insight into the life and art of Jean Metzinger, his entourage, and the evolution of modern art in general. Set to be released in eBook form (printed versions will also be available), three sequential volumes cover the artist’s career spanning from 1902 through 1956, and his subsequent legacy; including over 600 reproductions of Metzinger’s work, new discoveries, fresh information, original research, interpretation and commentary, with in excess of 700 primary, secondary and tertiary sources.
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Metzinger’s notoriety began at the outset of his career as a Divisionist painter and poet. Following a brief Fauve period, he produced a distinct brand of proto-Cubism from 1907 to 1908 and wrote about multiple perspective in 1909: predating his Note sur la peinture (Oct.-Nov. 1910) by nearly one year. Metzinger produced the first Cubist portrait in 1908. By the fall of 1909, the works of three artists could be considered Cubist. For Metzinger, Cézanne and mathematics played the decisive roles in this transition from Divisionism to Fauvism, and from proto-Cubism to Cubism. In his memoir, he wrote: “I dreamt of painting glasses from which no one would think of drinking, unclean beaches where no one would swim, nudes definitively chaste. I wanted an art that presented itself as a representation of the impossible.”
By 1908 through the spring of 1909 the abstract schematization visible in the work of Metzinger stood out. Cézanne, while not completely vacated from the spirit of the times, had now been brutally surpassed, replaced with something all together more radical. As the leading figure of the movement vis a vis critics and public alike, Metzinger bore the full brunt of critical onslaught, and as a result he thrived.
Metzinger’s role at the forefront of a revolution, the early schematization of form and color, the parallels present in his poetry, the attacks leveled against him, are just some of the topics of Volume I, culminating with an analysis of the major publications on Cubism, a tour of the massive Cubist exhibitions in Paris, Barcelona, Berlin, Prague, Moscow, major cities in the United States, and their global repercussions.
Metzinger deserves his rightful place in the history of art. The facts themselves bring this to light. He was more than just a theorist and painter, he was an intellect, a poet, a critic, a sensitive human being who understood the world around him, who translated the world he saw and more importantly, the world he felt into more than just words and images. Metzinger’s interest in mathematics, literature and art combined to form an unprecedented body of work; symmetrically balanced, precisely proportioned, intelligently colored and impeccably drafted, yet at the same time he drew from his emotions, his sensibility, from life, with a refined elegance that only he was able to obtain.
The nucleation of Cubism in 1913-14 signaled a dynamical shift in both theory and practice. Metzinger was at the center of this new phase in the history of art; what he called a new harmony or new perspective; subsequently referred to as Crystal Cubism. The entire manifold became mobile. Rather than representing static objects or scenes from multiple frames of reference, the entire picture plane and topological space became mobile, comoving and dynamic. Metzinger constructed œuvres based on his laws of displacement, reversal [retournement] consisting of various symmetry transformations inherent in the underlying geometric armature. Metzinger’s new perspective was a generalization of the more limited pre-1914 mobile perspective, now reduced to special case.
A major revaluation of the fundamental principles of painting had only just begun; with Metzinger at its helm. Gris, Severini, Gleizes, Lipchitz, Rivera, Blanchard, Herbin, Valmier, Survage, Villon, Lhote, Marcoussis, and others associated with Galerie L’Effort Moderne and beyond, adopted and adapted Metzinger’s principles.
Stemming from the crystallization of fundamental principles developed by Metzinger throughout the war, the artist was keen to utilize his discoveries, however covertly, from 1918-19, through the mid-1920s; something the artist dubbed réalisme “conceptualiste”. ‘The multiplicity of signs,’ Metzinger writes, ‘should allow the viewer to reconstruct the object in its full reality. It is a question of bringing about a mental synthesis and not, as has been incorrectly said, an optical synthesis. In fact, the signs are fragmentary images treated differently depending on whether they relate to variable notions (situation, direction relative either to another object, or to the limits of the painting) or to permanent notions (horizontality of the surface of a table, etc.)’ (Jean Metzinger, Le Cubisme, est-il mort? 1921)
The third volume explores Metzinger’s mechanized Neoclassicist phase, from 1924 to 1930. Léonce Rosenberg writes: “Metzinger’s current works have order, purity, nobility and a professional conscience… Metzinger is a classic and that is why he enjoys all my active sympathy… classic” not solely through appearances but in combination with principles. All art is “classical” Rosenberg continues, “when its internal life and its external life are in perfect equilibrium, and equally for the means and intention.” (Léonce Rosenberg, Bulletin de L’Effort moderne, November 1927 n. 39)
Order, purity, nobility remained a hallmark of Metzinger’s subsequent monumental-figure stage, extending from 1930 through the mid-1940s, interspersed with periodical appearances of undiluted Cubism. The artist Suzanne Phocas, now Suzanne Metzinger, became his inspiration of choice.
During the 1940s Metzinger began a new series of works based on mobile perspective, differing significantly in style and technique from his earlier works; characterized by simultaneous depictions from multiple reference frames—representing more than just the ‘total image’ of things perceived. Emerging from a succession of moments in time [la durée] and spatial displacements, ‘dynamism is made possible through a use of color’ and form of ‘real life as lived in the mind.’ (Jean Metzinger, Note sur la peinture, Pan: 60, no. 10, Paris, October–November 1910)
Metzinger writes in 1940: It is the ‘magic of the colored forms that, as the words of a poem, develop their significance beyond [au delà] the object they represent.’ (Jean Metzinger, Cézanne et la Peinture, Sud-Est, 5th October 1940)
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