Jean Metzinger (24 June 1883 – 3 November 1956) was a French artist who lived and worked in Paris for most of his professional career. Inspired by the work of Georges Seurat and Paul Cézanne, he is one of the founders of Cubism, along with Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Albert Gleizes. Early on, Metzinger worked in the Divisionist and Fauvist styles with a strong Cézannian component, leading to some of the first proto-Cubist works. From 1908 Metzinger experimented with the faceting of form, a style that would soon become known as Cubism. His early involvement in Cubism saw him both as an influential artist and principal theorist of the movement. The idea of moving around an object in order to see it from different view-points is treated in Metzinger's Note sur la Peinture, published in 1910.
Note sur la Peinture (1910)
Jean Metzinger, Note sur la peinture, Pan (Paris), October–November 1910, 49–52. Translation in Mark Antliff and Patricia Leighten, A Cubism Reader, Documents and Criticism, 1906-1914, The University of Chicago Press, 2008, pp. 75–83
- Already, a conscious courage is coming to life. Here are some of the painters: Picasso, Braque, Delaunay, Le Fauconnier. . . they are highly enlightened, and do not believe in the stability of any system, even if it were to call itself classical art. . . Their reason is poised between the pursuit of the fleeting and a mania for the eternal.
- Cézanne showed us forms living in the reality of light; Picasso gives us a material report of their real life in the mind. He establishes a free, mobile perspective, in such a way that the shrewd mathematician Maurice Princet has deduced an entire geometry.
- It used to be said of a woman: why she's a Velázquez infanta! Now it is said: she's a Renoir blonde! I have no doubt that, in the future, it will be proclaimed: she's as exuberant as a Delaunay, as noble as a Le Fauconnier, as beautiful as a Braque or Picasso.
Du Cubisme (1912)
Jean Metzinger and Albert Gleizes, Du "Cubisme", Edition Figuière, Paris, 1912 (First English edition: Cubism, T. Fisher Unwin, London, 1913), From Du Cubisme, Paris, 1912. English translation in Robert L. Herbert, Modern Artists on Art, Englewood Cliffs, 1964, Art Humanities Primary Source Reading 46
- To understand Cézanne is to foresee Cubism. Henceforth we are justified in saying that between this school and previous manifestations there is only a difference of intensity, and that in order to assure ourselves of this we have only to study the methods of this realism, which, departing from the superficial reality of Courbet, plunges with Cézanne into profound reality, growing luminous as it forces the unknowable to retreat.
- Some maintain that such a tendency distorts the curve of tradition. Do they derive their arguments from the future or the past? The future does not belong to them, as far as we are aware, and one be singularly ingenuous to seek to measure that which exists by that which exists no longer.
- Unless we are to condemn all modern painting, we must regard cubism as legitimate, for it continues modern methods, and we should see in it the only conception of pictorial art now possible. In other words, at this moment cubism is painting.
- Let the picture imitate nothing; let it nakedly present its raison d'être. We should indeed be ungrateful were we to deplore the absence of all those things flowers, or landscape, or faces whose mere reflection it might have been. Nevertheless, let us admit that the reminiscence of natural forms cannot be absolutely banished; not yet, at all events. An art cannot be raised to the level of a pure effusion at the first step.
- If we wished to relate the space of the [Cubist] painters to geometry, we should have to refer it to the non-Euclidean mathematicians; we should have to study, at some length, certain of Riemann's theorems.
- We do not mechanically connect the sensation of white with the idea of light, any more than we connect the sensation of black with the idea of darkness. We admit that a black jewel, even if of a dead black, may be more luminous than the white or pink satin of its case. Loving light, we refuse to measure it, and we avoid the geometrical ideas of the focus and the ray, which imply the repetition-contrary to the principle of variety which guides us-of bright planes and sombre intervals in a given direction. Loving colour, we refuse to limit it, and subdued or dazzling, fresh or muddy, we accept all the possibilities contained between the two extreme points of the spectrum, between the cold and the warm tone.
- We are frankly amused to think that many a novice may perhaps pay for his too literal comprehension of the remarks of one cubist, and his faith in the existence of an Absolute Truth, by painfully juxtaposing the six faces of a cube or the two ears of a model seen in profile.
- But we cannot enjoy in isolation; we wish to dazzle others with that which we daily snatch from the world of sense, and in return we wish others to show us their trophies. From a reciprocity of concessions arise those mixed images, which we hasten to confront with artistic creations in order to compute what they contain of the objective; that is of the purely conventional.
Cubism was born
Jean Metzinger, Le Cubisme était né, Souvenirs, Chambéry, Editions Présence, 1972. Translated by Peter Brooke. It is not known when these texts were written, whether intended as part of a projected autobiography or as detached occasional pieces. They were given to the publisher Henri Viaud by Metzinger's widow, Suzanne Phocas.
- I sought refuge in my schoolbooks, among the flowers of Greek poetry, or the magical figures of geometry.
- This science gave me a taste for the arts. It is Number that gives value to sounds and silences, lights and shadows, forms and spaces. Michelangelo and Bach seemed to me like divine mathematicians [calculateurs]. Already I felt that only mathematics enables works that can last. Whether as a result of patient study, or of a stormy [fulgurante] intuition, number alone can reduce all our diversities of feeling to the strict unity of a mass, a fresco, or a sculpted head.
- The house was filled with the piano and violin. I turned towards the art of painting.
- My conviction was justified: art, that which lasts, is based on mathematics.
- Nearly conscious in someone like Michelangelo, or Paolo Uccello, quite intuitive in painters such as Ingres, or Corot, it works on the basis of numbers which belong to the painting itself, not to whatever it represents.
- I learned that Cézanne's success was not preventing the Neo-Impressionists from getting support. My knowledge of their technique was entirely literary.
- Often we were joined by Maurice Princet. Although very young, he held an important post in an insurance company which he owed to his knowledge of mathematics. But outside his profession it was as an artist that he thought of mathematics, as a specialist in aesthetics that he evoked continuities in n dimensions. He liked to interest painters in the new visions of space that had been opened up by Victor Schlegel and several others. He succeeded. After having heard him by chance, Henri Matisse was caught reading an essay on hyperspace. Oh! it was only a potboiler [un ouvrage de vulgarisation]! but at least that shows that for the great 'fauve' the days of the painter who knows nothing, who runs towards a pretty subject with his beard blowing in the wind, was passed.
- As for Picasso, the specialist was amazed by the rapidity of his understanding. The tradition he came from had prepared him better than ours for a problem to do with structure. And Berthe Weil was right when she treated those who compared him/confused him with, a Steinlen (3) or a Lautrec (4) as idiots. He had already rejected them in their own century, a century we had no intention of prolonging. Whether or not the Universe was endowed with another dimension, art was going to move into a different field.
- Art belongs to the domain of the unreal and it is only when people try to make a reality of it that it falls apart.
- I wanted an art that was faithful to itself [loyal] and would have nothing to do with the business of creating illusions. I dreamed of painting glasses from which no-one would ever think of drinking, beaches that would be quite unsuitable for bathing, nudes who would be definitively chaste. I wanted an art which in the first place would appear as a representation of the impossible.
- It should be said that such an art would be neither more false nor more true than classical art.
- Albert Gleizes did not know Montmartre, (9) had never seen anything of Picasso or Juan Gris, never heard Maurice Princet construct an infinite number of different spaces for the use of painters, but he described to me the absurdity of the museums in which mournful, extravagantly three dimensional crowds threaten to crush the visitor by jumping out of their frames.
- "What madman, or what clever-dick with the instincts of a counterfeiter was the first to paint a sphere in trompe l'oeil on a surface that is vertical and rigorously flat! And that's what they teach at the Beaux-Arts! How could such idiocies ever have survived the verdict of Pascal?" (Albert Gleizes)
- That was how, in 1906, (11) Albert Gleizes was feeling his way towards Cubism and condemned in advance those who never saw anything in it other than a shibboleth [mot d'ordre]. It was still nothing more than a need he felt, the need not for an intellectual art but for an art that would be something other than a systematic absurdity. Quite clearly nature and the painting make up two different worlds which have nothing in common, and what is quite in its place in the one cannot also be in its place in the other.
- The excuse that the painters were documenting reality was becoming ridiculous. Photographers and film makers went far beyond them. Already it could be said that a good portrait led one to think about the painter not the model.
- Gleizes was only trying to reduce the curvature of natural volumes to adapt them more naturally and rigorously to the surface of the painting, a surface which he believed to be continuous with the wall and, for all practical purposes, with no curvature at all.
- I had measured the difference that separated art prior to 1900 from the art which I felt was being born. I knew that all instruction was at an end. The age of personal expression had finally begun. The value of an artist was no longer to be judged by the finish of his execution, or by the analogies his work suggested with such-and-such an archetype. It would be judged – exclusively – by what distinguished this artist from all the others. The age of the master and pupil was finally over; I could see about me only a handful of creators and whole colonies of monkeys. But I could not ask Gleizes to see it that way. Happily, nothing of his social or mystical opinions remained when he was engaged in the work of painting. The work of reconciling an oval and a lozenge, a yellow and a blue, prevailed and saved him.
- For the image possesses qualities which, under certain circumstances, can make it much more interesting than the object which inspired it. The portrait of a commonplace person can astound us with an air of distinction, reminding us that the best portrait is that which resembles the painter, not the model.
- We could not think of going back to the symbolic measures of the ancients and the primitives. Such cheap magician's tricks did not appeal to us.
- Whether it is Juan Gris taking objects apart, Picasso replacing them with objects of his own invention, or another who replaces conical perspective by a system based on the relations between perpendiculars, all that only goes to show that Cubism was not at all born out of an authoritative theory [mot d'ordre]; that it only marked among a few painters the will to be finished with an art that never ought to have survived the condemnation pronounced upon it by Pascal.
- In fact it is a stupidity, Maurice Princet told me in the presence of Juan Gris, to claim to be able to bring together in a single system of relations, colour, which is a sensation that only needs to be received, and form which is an organisation that has to be understood (14); and, introducing us to the non-Euclidean geometries, he urged us to create a geometry for painters.
- We could not do it in the way he meant. But from the rue Lamarck to the rue Ravignan, the attempt [prétention] to imitate an orb on a vertical plane, or to indicate by a horizontal straight line the circular hole of a vase placed at the height of the eyes was considered as the artifice of an illusionistic trickery that belonged to another age.
- Cubism was born.
- Centre Pompidou - Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, France
- Art Institute of Chicago
- Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art
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- Harvard University Art Museums, Massachusetts
- Los Angeles County Museum of Art Database, LACMA
- Museum of Modern Art, New York City
- Philadelphia Museum of Art
- Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, Netherlands
- Tate Gallery, London, UK
- Jean Metzinger: Divisionism, Cubism, Neoclassicism and Post Cubism
- Culture.fr, un site du ministère de la culture et de la communication
- Culture.gouv.fr, Base Mémoire, La Médiathèque de l'architecture et du patrimoine (works 1–50 of 144)
- Agence Photographique de la Réunion des musées nationaux et du Grand Palais des Champs-Elysées (page 1 of 4)