1912 was a halcyon year for French Cubism. It was the year that the French Cubist school formed their group La Section d’Or; it was the year of the first of three ground-breaking exhibitions that united the Cubists artists and presented them to the public; and it was the year that Jean Metzinger together with his colleague Albert Gleizes published Du Cubisme — the most comprehensive and coherent survey to date of the theories and aims of the new movement.
Metzinger and Gleizes developed many of their ideas about the new painting from the weekly discussions held in the home of Jacques Villon in the Paris suburb of Puteaux, where they were joined by Villon’s brothers Marcel Duchamp and Raymond Duchamp-Villon, Robert Delaunay, Henri Le Fauconnier, Robert de la Fresnaye, Juan Gris, Fernand Léger and the Russian sculptor Alexander Archipenko.
Auguste Herbin (1882-1960), Composition aux trois boules, 1917. Signed and dated ‘Herbin avril 17’ (lower left). oil on canvas. 32⅛ x 25 3/4 in (81.5 x 65.5 cm.) Estimate: €400,000-600,000. This work is offered in the Art Moderne sale at Christie’s Paris on 22-23 October
Mathematics and geometry were frequent subjects, and when these artists decided to organize as a group in order to exhibit together, Villon suggested the name La Section d’Or (The Golden Section), taken from the theorems of the mathematical proportion of the human figure in the writings of Pythagoras and Leonardo da Vinci.
André Lhote (1885-1962), Le jardin, 1916. Signed and dated ‘A. LHOTE. 16.’ (lower left). Oil on canvas. 32 x 23 1/4 in. (81.3 x 59 cm.) Estimate: €120,000-180,000. This work is offered in the Art Moderne sale at Christie’s Paris on 22-23 October
While the development of the first wave of Cubist painting was deeply indebted to Cézanne, the Puteaux group strove to distinguish themselves from the narrower style of Cubism developed by Picasso and Braque, and used the colour prism inherited from the Neo-Impressionists. In their eyes, according to Robert Herbet in Neo-Impressionism (1968), Seurat had ‘taken a fundamental step toward Cubism by restoring intellect and order to art, after Impressionism had denied them’.
The 1912 exhibition had been curated to show the successive stages through which Cubism had evolved
The first Salon du Section d’Or exhibition took place at the Galerie la Boétie in October 1912 and included 180 works by 31 artists. This was arguably the most important pre-World War I Cubist exhibition.
The inauguration was held from nine until midnight, invitations were widely distributed prior to the show, and many of the guests had to be turned away on opening night. Lectures by Apollinaire, Hourcade and Raynal were advertised, and a review, also named La Section d’Or, was published and distributed at the opening, with contributions by Guillaume Apollinaire, Roger Allard, René Blum, Olivier Hourcade, Max Jacob, Maurice Raynal, Pierre Reverdy, André Salmon, among others.
Auguste Herbin (1882-1960), Composition, danseuse, 1919. Signed and dated ‘Herbin 19’ (lower left). Oil on canvas. 28 3/4 x 23 5/8 in (73 x 60 cm.) Estimate: €350,000-550,000. This work is offered in the Art Moderne sale at Christie’s Paris on 22-23 October
The 1912 exhibition had been curated to show the successive stages through which Cubism had evolved, and the fact that the treatise on the movement was published for the occasion indicates the artists’ intention of making their work comprehensible to the general public. In great part due to the success of the exhibition, Cubism became recognised as a new avant-garde movement.
Georges Valmier (1885-1937), Paysage, 1920. Signed ‘G.VALMIER’ (lower right). Oil on canvas. 45 3/4 x 32 in. (116.2 x 81.3 cm.) Estimate: €220,000-280,000. This work is offered in the Art Moderne sale at Christie’s Paris on 22-23 October
Varying artists within the Puteaux group would mount two more large-scale Section d’Or exhibitions, in 1920 and in 1925, with the goal of revealing the complete process of transformation and renewal that had transpired since the onset of Cubism. In addition to the Cubists (which already represented a wide variety of styles), the second and third editions of the Section d’Or held at the Galerie La Boétie included De Stijl, Bauhaus, Constructivism and Futurism.
Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler was the principal dealer for Cubist art prior to 1914, and the first major patron of the Cubist idiom created by Picasso and Braque. His gallery opened in 1907, and by 1912, he had succeeded in getting both Braque and Picasso to sign exclusive contracts with him.
Jean Hélion (1904-1987), Composition, 1933. Signed and dated ‘Hélion va 33’ (on the reverse). Oil on canvas. 36 x 28 in. (91.5 x 73 cm.) Estimate: €400,000-600,000. This work is offered in the Art Moderne sale at Christie’s Paris on 22-23 October
Soon after he signed Juan Gris and Fernand Léger, making him the sole dealer for the core Cubist group. It wasn’t until World War I, when all German nationals living in France were declared enemy aliens by the government, that Kahnweiler found himself powerless to reclaim his works in the gallery, and was forced to leave the country.
The Cubist movement instigated the most far-reaching reassessment of spatial conventions in Western art since the development of perspective during the Renaissance
It was at this moment that the young Léonce Rosenberg found himself heir to a gallery on the Avenue de l’Opéra and a small fortune. And so in 1915 Léonce opened his Galerie ‘l’Effort Moderne’ on rue de la Baume, parallel to the rue la Boétie, and began signing up the ‘orphaned’ Kahnweiler Cubist artists, as well as artists such as Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes, Georges Valmier, Henri Hayden and Auguste Herbin.
Albert Gleizes (1881-1953), Composition rythmique, quatre éléments, Painted in 1924-25; grey circles added in 1934. Signed and dated ‘Albert Gleizes 24-25’ (lower right). 75 x 51 1/2 in. Estimate: €120,000-180,000. This work is offered in the Art Moderne sale at Christie’s Paris on 22-23 October
With the support given by Léonce Rosenberg, Cubism reemerged as a central issue for artists after four years of war. The first solo exhibition was held in March 1918, featuring works by Auguste Herbin. In December of the same year, Rosenberg launched a series of Cubist exhibitions, beginning with Henri Laurens, followed in January 1919 with an exhibition of Cubist paintings by Jean Metzinger, Fernand Léger in February, Georges Braque in March, Juan Gris in April, Gino Severini in May, and Pablo Picasso in June, marking the climax of the campaign. This well-orchestrated program showed that Cubism was still very much alive, despite claims by critics to the contrary.
Jean Metzinger (1883-1956), Carafe, champignons et pommes, painted after 1945. Signed ‘JMetzinger’ (lower right). Oil on canvas. 21.⅜ x 25⅝ in. (54.2 x 65 cm.) Estimate: €80,000-100,000. This work is offered in the Art Moderne sale at Christie’s Paris on 22-23 October
The Cubist movement instigated the most far-reaching and revolutionary reassessment of spatial conventions in Western art since the development of perspective during the Renaissance. As such, it remains the single-most important artistic movement of the 20th century, having influenced every subsequent movement, through Abstract Expressionism, on both sides of the Atlantic.
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