Back to Du "Cubisme" index
Back to Souvenirs index


It was in 1909 that I began fully to understand the nature of my artistic discontent. Up until then, from the time when the Créteil group broke up, my troubles in this respect had been only on the surface. Impressionism no longer satisfied and would never satisfy me again, of that I was quite sure. But what to replace it with? I was utterly unable to know. What I glimpsed intuitively was that the secret could be found in 'drawing'. So 1908 and 1909 were years in which I sacrificed the pleasure of painting to the austere and almost exclusive regime of drawing. I drew passionately, no matter what, no matter where. And no matter how. Sketches, more developed studies, compositions large and small, using pencil, charcoal, brush. But, as André Lhote would say, these drawings remained at the level of direct studies. My eye and my hand came together to seize the flexibility of lines and the game of values. But lines and values remained superficial, anecdotic, without inner meaning, and soon I was feeling, as I traced them out and gave them their place in the scheme of things, only a mediocre satisfaction without a future.


This regime of drawing which I had imposed on myself certainly had the effect of distancing me from the Impressionist technique. I was no longer working in analysis and in the fine modulation of tones demanded by Impressionism. I looked for a simplification of colour that would complement my desire to simplify the forms. I ended up realising, with greater or lesser success, paintings that were more consciously willed, that were made out of oppositions and sacrifices. Tonality gave way to colour and the line enfolded the drawing better but, despite everything, I still felt the extent to which it remained dependent on the Impressionism with which I had begun. I did not want to go off on a false trail; and I was quite unable to deceive myself.

Dissatisfied with myself, paying no attention to what was going on around me because of certain suspicions that were really unjustified, it was chance that assumed the task of giving to the helm the twist that was needed to point me in the right direction. Chance? Was that really what it was? Of all my friends in the Abbaye, Alexandre Mercereau was the one who had most appealed to me. His character, his honesty and his generosity had won me over and I was devoted to him with the deepest of friendships. Among the Créteil writers it was he who possessed the best aesthetic sense. He knew all the important painters of the new generation since he had organised several exhibitions of modern painting abroad. So it was through him that I came to know some of the young artists of my generation, among them Le Fauconnier and Jean Metzinger.

I had seen Le Fauconnier during the hashish evening in the Delta. (1) But we had not got into conversation. Later, quite a long time afterwards, I met him again in the more reassuring atmosphere of the soirees organised by Alexandre Mercereau. And a mutual sympathy quickly led to a real friendship. Le Fauconnier took care of his appearance, and it was striking. He was quite a tall, thinnish fellow, a little stooped, with tawny hair and a reddish complexion wrapped up in broadly cut and almost flowing tweed suits. Lively and intelligent eyes sparkled behind large, high magnification spectacles in the tumultuous waves of a glowing red beard. His words were touched with a light northern accent - he came from the Artois - and they were at once profound and mischievous. He had a surprising way of walking as he advanced with great strides, slightly bowed, and pitching more or less from side to side. His head was arrayed in a way calculated to emphasise his personality: he wore a sort of traveller's cap, half bonnet, half balaclava, with ear muffs, after the manner of those strange pieces of head gear favoured by Cézanne and Van Gogh. In 1908, Le Fauconnier could have been numbered among the fauves. I remember some fine canvasses, still lives, figures, brightly coloured, bold in manner, which were not very far removed from certain works by Matisse and which could be see exhibited in the Salle des Concerts Rouges. They were the direct works - doubtless more a product of arrangement than of composition - of a young, talented painter who was just beginning, having broken completely with the false official teaching which a Jean Paul Laurens - to whom, like so many others, he had gone naively - was handing out for good or ill at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts.

(1)   Probably the house on the rue du Delta where Gleizes lived for some time after the closure of the Abbaye.

In 1909, Le Fauconnier, also troubled by doubts of an aesthetic order, was clearly seeking to internalise the plastic values of his earliest paintings. It was then that we met up, on my side feeling very distinctly that through him I could finally manage to resolve my own little internal drama. A picture of Le Fauconnier's which made a deep impression on me was the Portrait of the Poet, Pierre Jean Jouve, shown at the Salon d'Automne in 1909. I took from it straightaway a lesson. Drawing, which had seemed to me to hold the key to my longings but which I could not master, was revealed to me in Jouve's portrait, in its true nature. This portrait was not an exact likeness of the model, but a totally different interpretation which, far from removing the appearance, made it stand out more clearly through the heavy emphasis laid on certain of the characteristics, and a rigorous elimination of all unnecessary details. The colour no longer owed anything to Impressionism, it was no longer shimmering, it was no longer the whole, it supported by simple harmonies of a brown tinged with violet, the structure of the drawing.

The picture produced in me a long period of reflection and I am greatly in its debt. My further relations with Le Fauconnier proved to be very profitable. I left the desert and came back into the world. Our conversations, marked by our common love for painting, confirmed me in my researches and gave them a sense of direction. In addition to the masters of the Renaissance, my own contemporaries - other than the Impressionists - seemed to me to be teachers and counsellors who could open the ways to which, intuitively, I aspired. The Impressionists had helped me for several years to let off steam but I could not continue any longer working with the sensibility alone; I urgently needed to find other foundations that would be more solid and, consequently, able to bear the weight of the efforts that would be repeated throughout my life. The exchanges of opinions among young artists of the same age, with the same formation, who already had behind them a certain weight of experience, could only be fruitful for all of us. For my own part, I was soon able to appreciate it.

Studying old masters is difficult. It cannot be done on the basis of appearances. Copies, whether faithful or free, can only have a very slight interest, that of an exercise for the eye and for the hand. They do not speak directly to the understanding. They do not uncover the different stages of artistic creation. For a student, it is not the final result that matters, but the different steps that follow one another in order, in a way that is consistent [constante], enabling him to conduct the nebulous sketch, the initial idea, right up to the resolution of the problem, which is the finished work. This knowledge of structures had been possessed by the masters of other times, those of the Renaissance who, at that moment in our lives as young painters, seemed to us the most accomplished. In the studios of our own time, whether those of the Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts, or those of the Academies running along beside them, teaching was limited to vague recipes and tricks which could only produce more or less skilful presentations of more or less complicated or pretentious subjects. We had an ambition which subterfuges of this kind could not satisfy. Our efforts and the thoughts they provoked in each of us could benefit from each others' criticism and praise. The secrets of the masters would perhaps be revealed through the fact that we agreed in submitting the subject - the 'anecdote' as we called it in those days - to the laws of plastic construction, to such an extent that we were ready to sacrifice the first, the subject, to emphasise the simplified structures that resulted from the application of the laws. My friendly relations with Le Fauconnier helped me a great deal to clear away all the Impressionist undergrowth with which I was surrounded. His paintings were not without an effect on my own.

1909 was, then, a year that I could mark with a white stone. It brought the final end of everything that still tied me, despite myself, to Impressionism. My drawing became something deliberate, willed, as I obliged myself to use line only as an element belonging to a totality which was the picture, independent of whatever it might represent. Lines and volumes, densities and weights, balancing of the parts between themselves, those were our concerns and our aspirations. Whence, as a visible consequence of our attitude, the geometrical, stripped down appearance of our pictures, to which the dull colour - reduced to various modulations of grey barely enlivened with light inflexions of terre vert and yellow ochre - added an austerity that was disconcerting to those around us, used as they were to the amiable fireworks of the Impressionists.

I was now working much more in the studio than from nature. On the basis of direct studies I tried to derive something with more of a bone structure, more composed, in a word, more plastic. I was more drawn towards reflecting, meditating upon, studying the formal capacities that could be found in a subject taken from life. I understood that what up until then I had taken for an end was only an invitation to a work of manifesting on a plane that was of a quite different order, that of painting, an action stimulated by laws of its own and stimulating in turn its own kind of pleasure. I drew simplified plans of landscapes and of people in which, it is easy to see, there is a confusion between two different attitudes - the one in which the subject serves as the starting point for the painted work, the other in which, straightaway, the pictorial object imposes its habits of being and dictates the changes that must be made in a subject that has become at the least accessory. It is clear that, though we may have felt the need for a radical reversal of the positions of the subject in relation to the object, we were not yet in a position to achieve it, and we could only sketch it out in an empirical manner. We were still dominated by the subject and it was through the subject that we tried to arrive at something that could not be defined but was still more solid. It was that 'something' which the masters of the past, those of the Italian Renaissance, had known and which lay behind the constructions whose final resolution in wonderfully organised presentations was so moving that even in our own time we could still find in them a material for contemplation.

After painting a series of pictures, some of which are still in existence today, I was still dissatisfied and yet better prepared for experiments that would go deeper. It was in 1910 that, for the first time, I showed in the Salon des Indépendants and completely abandoned the salon of the Nationale, where there was nothing more for me to do. I sent to the Cours-la-Reine a full figure, a full sized portrait of the poet René Arcos, as well as two landscapes of the area round Paris, simple collections of masses in restrained colours. From that moment onwards, I can see it clearly now, my researches passed from the surface to the interior of the plastic problem. So 1910 brought another white stone to my life, as it would mark a stage which, if it was not conclusive, would at least be very positive. Above all in the second half of that year, when I painted the canvasses which would appear in the Salon des Indépendants of 1911.

I had met Jean Metzinger and Robert Delaunay in 1910, at Alexandre Mercereau's. But I wasn't yet connected with them. I only had the vaguest knowledge of their work. I had hardly seen the pictures they showed together at the Salon des Indépendants in that same year in which, all the same, I had myself taken part. Most importantly, I had read an account which had struck me, written by Jean Metzinger for the young literary review, Pan, run by two young poets, [Marcel Rieu] and Jean Clary. It was at the Indépendants of 1910 that Metzinger showed a portrait of Guillaume Apollinaire which he (2) later claimed was the first Cubist portrait.

(2)   It is not clear if Gleizes is referring to Metzinger or to Apollinaire but Apollinaire makes this claim in Les Peintres Cubistes.

At the Salon d'Automne of 1910, with Metzinger and Le Fauconnier, we showed some paintings and some drawings. Without any intention of demonstrating anything in favour of anything, the hanging committee put Metzinger in a corner of the periphery and, in a nearby room, Le Fauconnier and myself. Next door to us was Jean Marchand. Jean Metzinger had sent a canvas entitled Nu à la cheminée, Le Fauconnier two landscapes from Plouma'nach (3) myself a landscape from the area round Paris and a very geometrical drawing. In fact our canvasses did not really have much in common. The most daring was certainly that of Metzinger. Nonetheless, the connection there was between them did not escape the attention either of the hanging committee or of certain journalists, as can be seen in this cutting from La Presse which I still have in front of me, in which it is said: 'the geometrical follies of MM Le Fauconnier, Metzinger and Gleizes." (4)

(3)  Note by Gleizes: while the Salon was still open one of these landscapes, some rocks by the sea, was bought by the famous Russian collector Schukin for the price, important at the time, of 600 French francs, in gold.

(4)   Note by Gleizes: The article by Roger Allard, 'Salon d'Automne, 1910' written in the young review produced in Lyon, L'Art Libre, directed by Joseph Billiet, should also be mentioned.

It was around this time that we came to know Fernand Léger. He had shown in the 1910 Salon d'Automne two ink drawings of nudes copied from nature in which curves and straight lines opposed each other violently. For him as for ourselves what we showed at the Automne was only very imperfectly representative of the point we had reached in our evolution. There were paintings in our studios that had a quite different meaning. It was from this moment onwards, October 1910, that we discovered each other seriously, including Robert Delaunay, who had been struggling for some time with the Eiffel Tower. And that we understood what we had in common. The need to see each other, exchange ideas, act together began to be felt as an imperative. Visiting each other we saw to what extent our aspirations were similar. They could be summed up in a rejection of Impressionism to which all of us had, to a greater or lesser degree, paid hommage. Impressionism had marked us all directly or indirectly. What could be more normal? Around 1900 it had triumphed over all its enemies. Apart from those who held to the official art, there was no-one now who questioned its validity. What was seen in the salons and the most important of the galleries (Durand-Ruel and Rosenberg were the proof) had to have an effect on the sensibility of the young painters. Its consequences - pointillism for example - had interested certain among us. So Metzinger worked for a while in the spirit of Divisionism. There are some very interesting paintings of his that belong to this period. Le Fauconnier, after a short period with J. Paul Laurens at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, experienced it under the influence of Matisse, whose youthful glory was beginning to shine. It was not long before Fernand Léger, who had been momentarily tempted to study architecture at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, decided on painting, and he too approached it through Impressionism.


I remember a Baignade in the Mediterranean, people half submerged in a blue sea, which proves to what extent he was influenced by Impressionism. Robert Delaunay experienced its effects during his period of apprenticeship with a scene painter; he never accepted, as we forced ourselves to do, the need to renounce light, and the delight of pure, transparent colours. I have said elsewhere what I myself owed to Impressionism.

Our rejection was not a matter of ingratitude. We did not regard Impressionism as having been a mistake. Our admiration for Claude Monet, Sisley, Pissarro remained in its entirety. It was just that painters who were twenty five years old and weary of the facile nature of the rapid sketch, thought painting should not be regarded as exclusively a matter of sensations. So long as they weren't misled as to its real value by what they had been taught in the schools, the lesson of the Masters, which those schools claimed to reveal, was there as a proof that other human faculties could be brought into play alongside sensation and contribute to the construction of works that would be better worked out and more definitive.

These Masters, however, had certain craft secrets which complemented their mental outlook. But no-one in the present time could rise to those heights, and no-one knew the secrets. To seeking out those lost values, the young painters we were at the time devoted themselves with passion and without thought of personal gain. Searching for those foundations, we paid little heed to anything that could please a public for whom art was nothing other than a form of amusement. Hence the stiff appearance of our drawings and the austere character of our colour. We wanted to learn for ourselves and to enter into contact only with those who, by chance, had felt this same void in themselves and were seeking to fill it with materials that would be true. The Masters who seemed to us most suited to draw the connection between ourselves and the Renaissance Masters were David and Ingres. Had Ingres not been haunted all his life by the one who seemed to him the most perfect model of all, by Raphael?

What conversations we had on the subject of these great forebears, how often we tried to work out the process by which their works had evolved! What plans and diagrams we elaborated to try to enter into them. The underlying schematic constructions can be seen in the canvasses we painted at that time. In 1910, Le Fauconnier had painted the Portrait du poète Paul Castiaux; at the end of the year, in his studio in the rue Visconti, we were able to follow all the stages of the elaboration of the famous Abondance, which was to appear in the 1911 Salon des Indépendants.

Le Fauconnier's studio, rue Visconti! What memories it evokes! How many times I climbed up that great, dark stairway, steep as a ladder, that went to his studio. We discussed painting and formed a thousand projects. On certain days or rather evenings Le Fauconnier 'received' his friends and those who took an interest in his labours. At these soirees you could meet Metzinger, Delaunay and his wife Sonia, Léger, Jean Marchand; the poets Paul Fort, Jules Romains, Castiaux, P-Jean Jouve, Arcos, Mercereau, G.Apollinaire, Roger Allard, A.Salmon; the Douanier Rousseau was there every time, his honesty equalled only by his kindness. I remember one evening in which, in a little group which included Jules Romains, we were talking about the human element in literature and the arts. Old man Rousseau, who had joined us and was listening carefully, offered an opinion that was somewhat surprising to our own ways of looking at things. 'A model of humanity', we were informed, 'is Rodin of the Mystères de Paris, which I am reading at the present time.' Romains jumped and, turning away, shrugged his shoulders. (5)

(5)   The hero of Eugene Sue's Les Mystères de Paris is called Rodolph. Robbins (Jean Metzinger: At the centre of Cubism, p.12) thinks the point of this anecdote is that Rousseau had confused Sue with the sculptor Rodin. I am inclined to think it is Gleizes who has misremembered the name 'Rodolph' and that the point of the story is that praising Eugene Sue in front of Jules Romains would be a bit like praising Marie Correlli in front of D.H.Lawrence. It should be said that Gleizes regarded Rousseau with the highest respect. Both he and Robert Delaunay wrote comparing him favourably to Cézanne.

1910 was the year in which, in its last months, a more or less coherent group began to form from certain tendencies which were quite clearly present in our generation but had previously been scattered. Painters saw what they had in common, poets joined them, feelings of sympathy were established, a general atmosphere began to form which would soon produce an action whose effects were to be quickly felt in the surrounding world. Painters and writers would support each other, moved as they all were by a single faith.