- Albert Gleizes: For and Against the Twentieth CenturyBy Peter Brooke
- Albert Gleizes: 1881-1953By Michel Massenet
- Albert Gleizes: The Birth and Future of CubismBy Pierre Alibert
Important Art by Albert Gleizes
In this early work, the twenty-one-year-old Gleizes had seemingly taken on board some of the influence of Impressionism. We see this in his brushwork and also in his choice of a single-perspective viewpoint; Gleizes places us in the midst of the foreground, at a safe distance from the pathway that centrally winds down. Yet at the same time there is a preference here for asymmetry and a compositional irregularity which lends his picture a naturalistic feel that ties it to the realistic traditions of landscape painting. The fluctuating sky, with clouds scudding and bellying on a windswept and bright autumnal day, sees Gleizes's exploring the effects of light, but this is countered by the repoussoir ("pushing back") effect of the group of trees on the right that unbalances the composition by edging the scene to the left out into the further distance.
The thick impasto of the foreground vegetation is quickly applied giving the image a tactile, material, grounding. We do see in the distance an impressionistic quality where the sky meets the land, and the elements seem to blend, but this effect also accurately represents the climatic tumult of a windy day. While the painting itself now seems rather conventional, Gleizes's "crooked" landscape signals a burgeoning artistic ambition for creating an individual vision. This is most evident in the trees that show a strong feeling of the importance of line, and in the sky with its rich in painterly qualities. These would both become recognizable tendencies in Gleizes's later work.
This image might be considered one of Gleizes's best proto-Cubist works. It seems at first to reveal a growing concern with Fauvism and the paintings of André Derain or Henri Matisse. In this respect, Gleizes's sky, a bright crimson that is pock-marked with purples and blues, can be read as a vigorous expression of the artist's subjectivity. The opportunity to render his sky in sweeping brushstrokes is complimented by a young painter who announces himself in the bold purple diagonal band that jets ever upward to the right. This sky can be seen thus as an early attempt by Gleizes to announce himself.
In the Fauvist style, the impasto layering seems to thwart the orderly and conventional recession of the walkway into the picture space, particularly where it meets the boathouse; it almost stands up before the viewers' eyes. The shape of the great tree at the head of the receding trees, meanwhile, seems an unnatural topiary and anticipates Gleizes's Cubist work. His tree is drained of colour but this "muting" allows the artist to concentrate on other matters: specifically a concern with abstract forms and naturalistic tones. The curator Daniel Robbins wrote, that in his pre-Cubist "treatment of inclusive landscapes" Gleizes was trying to "solve the problem of balancing many simultaneous visions on a painted surface" and that he "mitigated the distortion of distance by linear perspective, by flattening the picture plane". When placed within arc of his career, the painting sits as early evidence of the artist's intuitive sense of compositional poise and expression that would soon come to dominate his creative thinking.
La Femme aux Phlox stands as a revolutionary moment in Gleizes' art. A seated woman stares down intently reading and is flanked by two vases of flowers. After having seen Henri Le Fauconnier's Pierre Jean Jouve of 1909, Gleizes's artistic direction changed. Le Fauconnier's portrait flattened forms and compressed the picture space but Gleizes has moved beyond his inspiration with the help of examples by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. But in contrast to Braque and Picasso, whose Analytical Cubism was all but obliterating coherent representation in favor of picture fragmentation, Gleizes's forms are distinctly and immediately recognizable here. He uses the visible world and its objects as a foundation for the elaboration on his new obsession with form. The sleeve of the woman's garment, for example, is exploited as an exercise in volume using strong lines and contrasting tones. The vase to the left has a dense sculptural appearance, as is the woman's head that is the embodiment of her intense concentration.
Gleizes does not hesitate to introduce spatial depth to his nascent style: the woman's raised right arm itself recedes in space and prompts the viewer to look behind her to what seems to be a window. In tension with his spatial depth here is perhaps a contraction of time, as the folds of the woman's reading material suggests the movement of the turning of pages - a fusing of past and present via a physical expansion of the flat Cubist form. Robbins wrote, "Continuing his new interest in the figure, Gleizes strove to manipulate a genre subject with the same sobriety and broad scale that had always informed his landscapes [and that] exterior nature is here brought into a room and the distant vista seen through the window is formally resolved with a corresponding interior shape".