Albert Gleizes ( 8 December 1881 - 23 June 1953) was a French artist, theoretician, philosopher, a self-proclaimed founder of Cubism and an influence on the School of Paris. Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger wrote the first major treatise on Cubism, Du "Cubisme", 1912. Gleizes was a founding member of the Section d'Or group of artists. He was also a member of Der Sturm, and his many theoretical writings were originally most appreciated in Germany, where especially at the Bauhaus his ideas were given thoughtful consideration. Gleizes spent four crucial years in New York, and played an important role in making America aware of modern art. He was a member of the Society of Independent Artists, founder of the Ernest-Renan Association, and both a founder and participant in the Abbaye de Créteil.Gleizes exhibited regularly at Léonce Rosenberg’s Galerie de l’Effort Moderne in Paris; he was also a founder, organizer and director of Abstraction-Création. From the mid-1920s to the late 1930s much of his energy went into writing, e.g., La Peinture et ses lois (Paris, 1923), Vers une conscience plastique: La Forme et l’histoire (Paris, 1932) and Homocentrisme (Sablons, 1937).
Born Albert Léon Gleizes and raised in Paris, he was the son of a fabric designer who ran a large industrial design workshop. He was also the nephew of Léon Comerre, a successful portrait painter who won the 1875 Prix de Rome. The young Albert Gleizes did not like school and often skipped classes to idle away the time writing poetry and wandering through the nearby Montmartre cemetery. Finally, after completing his secondary schooling, Gleizes spent four years in the 72nd Infantry Regiment of the French army (Abbeville, Picardie) then began pursuing a career as a painter. Gleizes began to paint self-taught around 1901 in the Impressionist tradition. His first landscapes from around Courbevoie appear particularly inspired by Sisley or Pissarro.Although clearly related to Pissarro in technique, Gleizes' particular view-points as well as the composition and conception of early works represent a clear departure from the style of late Impressionism. The density with which these works are painted and their solid framework suggest artes with Divisionism which were often noted by early critics.
Gleizes was only twenty-one years of age when his work titled La Seine à Asnières was exhibited at the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1902. The following year Gleizes exhibited two paintings at the Salon d'Automne. In 1905 Gleizes was among the founders of l'Association Ernest-Renan, a union of students opposed to military propaganda. Gleizes was in charge of the Section littéraire et artistique, organizing theater productions and poetry readings. At the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon (Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, 1906), Gleizes exhibited Jour de marché en banlieue. Tending towards 1907 his work evolved into a Post-Impressionist style with strong Naturalist and Symbolist components.
Gleizes and others decide to create an association fraternelle d'artistes and rent a large house in Créteil. The Abbaye de Créteil was a self-supporting community of artists that aimed to develop their art free of any commercial concerns. For nearly a year, Gleizes along with other painters, poets, musicians and writers, gathered to create. A lack of income forced them to give up their cherished Abbaye de Créteil in early 1908 and Gleizes moved to rue du Delta near Montmartre, Paris. In 1908 Gleizes exhibited at the Toison d'Or in Moscow. The same year, showing a great interest in color and reflecting the transient influence of Fauvism, the work of Gleizes became more synthetic with a proto-Cubist component.
Albert Gleizes, 1911, Portrait de Jacques Nayral, oil on canvas, 161.9 x 114 cm, Tate Modern, London. This painting was reproduced in Fantasio: published 15 October 1911, for the occasion of the Salon d'Automne where it was exhibited the same year.
Gleizes' Fauve-like period was very brief, lasting several months, and even when his paint was thickest and color brightest, his concern for structural rhythms and simplification was dominant. His geometric simplifications at this time were more akin to Pont-Aven School and Les Nabis principles than to Paul Cézanne. His landscapes of 1909 are characterized by the reducing of forms of nature to primary shapes.
During the summer of the same year his style became linear and stripped, broken down into multiple forms and facets with attenuated colors, close to that of the painter Henri Le Fauconnier. In 1910 a group began to form which included Gleizes, Metzinger, Fernand Léger and Robert Delaunay. They met regularly at Henri le Fauconnier's studio on rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, near the Boulevard de Montparnasse. These soirées would often included writers such as Guillaume Apollinaire, Roger Allard (fr), René Arcos (fr), Paul Fort, Pierre-Jean Jouve, Alexandre Mercereau, Jules Romains and André Salmon. Together with other young painters, the group wanted to emphasise a research into form, in opposition to the Neo-Impressionist emphasis on color. From 1910 onwards, Albert Gleizes was directly involved with Cubism, both as an artist and principle theorist of the movement.
The crucial years
Gleizes' evolvement in Cubism saw him exhibit at the twenty-sixth Salon des Indépendants in 1910. He showed his Portrait de René Arcos and L'Arbre, two paintings in which the emphasis on simplified form had already begun to overwhelm the representational interest of the paintings. The same tendency is evident in Jean Metzinger's Portrait of Apollinaire in the same Salon.When Louis Vauxcelles wrote his initial review of the Salon he made a passing and imprecise reference to Gleizes, Jean Metzinger, Robert Delaunay, Fernand Léger and Henri le Fauconnier, as "ignorant geometers, reducing the human body, the site, to pallid cubes." Guillaume Apollinaire, in his account of the same salon at the Grand Palais (in L'Intransigeant, 18 March 1910)remarked "with joy" that the general sense of the exhibition signifies "La déroute de l'impressionnisme," in reference to the works of a conspicuous group of artists (Gleizes, Delaunay, Le Fauconnier, Metzinger, André Lhote and Marie Laurencin). In Gleizes' paintings of the crucial year 1910, writes Daniel Robbins, "we see the artist's volumetric approach to Cubism and his successful union of a broad field of vision with a flat picture plane. The effort to grasp the intricate rhythms of a panorama resulted in a comprehensive geometry of intersecting and overlapping forms which created a new and more dynamic quality of movement.
Gleizes then exhibited at the 1910 Salon d'Automne with the same artists, followed by the first organized group showing by Cubists, in Salle 41 of the 1911 Salon des Indépendants (La Femme aux Phlox (Woman with Phlox)) together with Metzinger, Delaunay, Le Fauconnier and Léger. The result was a public scandal which brought Cubism for the first time to the attention of the general public (Picasso and Braque were exhibiting in a private gallery selling to a small circle of connoisseurs). In a review of the 1911 Indépendants published in Le Petit Parisien (23 April 1911), critic Jean Claude writes: