- Jean Metzinger in RetrospectBy Joann Moser
- Modern Artists on ArtBy Robert L. Herbert
- Cubism and its historiesBy David Cottington
- CubismBy Guillaume Apollinaire and Dorothea Eimert
- Painters of the Section d'Or: The Alternatives to CubismBy Richard West
- Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and CriticsBy Herschel B. Chipp
- The Fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modern ArtBy Linda Dalrymple Henderson
Important Art by Jean Metzinger
Painted shortly after Metzinger's arrival in Paris, this work depicts two female nudes, one facing the viewer, the other with her back turned, in a verdant and tropical setting. It is Fauvist in its use of color yet Divisionist in its composition. Whilst the figures are treated with natural tones on their skin and hair, the setting uses bold and typically Fauvist hues - reds, blues, greens, oranges - to convey warmth and exoticism. Metzinger used thick brushstrokes and impasto to create a mosaic-like composition: the divided and fragmented brushstrokes creating "syllables" from which Metzinger constructed a coherent language of the painting. As in a mosaic, the foreground and background are flattened and there is minimal perspective, much like the work of Seurat.
Baigneuses is consistent with other works by Metzinger during the height of his Neo-Impressionist and Divisionist period. As well as obvious nods to Seurat, this work shows the influence of both Paul Cézanne and Paul Gauguin in its subject matter and its rendering. The fragmentation of brushstrokes that come together to create a coherent whole pre-empts Metzinger's later Cubist style (with its precision and dependence on geometry and structure). Writing in 1907, the artist said of these cubes of color: "I make a kind of chromatic versification and for syllables I use strokes". Crucially, this painting clearly aligned Metzinger with other modern artists in Paris at this time in its refusal to reveal nature "as seen", but rather "as experienced", by the artist/viewer.
Using large blocks of a similar size but contrasting bold colors, Metzinger pieces together a mosaic-like scene of a classical female nude in a natural setting. The title of the work denotes a classical subject matter and reflects the artist's admiration for Ingres and David: Baccantes were the female followers of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, typically portrayed nude and dancing. The cubic brushstrokes give the work a syllabic rhythm and create a geometric field which lacks depth, rendering the concept of perspective or a foreground/background divide irrelevant.
This painting signifies a step beyond the Divisionism and Neo-Impressionism of Signac, Seurat, or Cross, as Metzinger moves closer to the Cubist preference for geometric order. Whilst the mythological narrative is one common to classical artists, Metzinger renders the Baccante in a very modern way. The denial of perspective, the static pose of the figure, and the use of unnatural and daring colors show Metzinger's rejection of the belief that art should be an imitation of life. The American art critic Gelett Burgess was particularly touched by this work describing it as a "gorgeous mosaic of pure pigment, each little square of color not quite touching the next, so that an effect of vibrant light should result".
The term Analytical Cubism was first introduced in 1920 by the art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler in his book Der Weg zum Kubismus (The Rise of Cubism). Though it followed the publication of Metzinger and Gleizes's Du Cubisme (by some eight years), it is considered the first authoritative text on the historical development of Cubism and in it Kahnweiler broadly separated out the Analytical phase (1910-12) from the Synthetic phase (1912-14) of the movement. The Analytic phase, to which Deux Nus belongs, described a process whereby the artist fractured the subject into multi-layered, angular, surfaces and by so doing brought their still lifes and portraits close to a point of total abstraction (the Synthetic Phase is defined rather as a "flat" style based on picture collage that often incorporated fragments of found everyday objects).
Metzinger returns to the subject of the female nude in this Analytic work which depicts a pair of women: one forward facing; the other turned away. As with previous works, the artist has merged together the foreground and background to create one indistinguishable plane. However, contrary to his earlier works on this theme, here the setting is undeterminable and not obviously exotic, and the vivid Fauvist colors have been subdued (as was the preference of Braque and Picasso) by a palette of light greens, grays, and browns. The figures are shown from multiple, fragmented viewpoints simultaneously, in what Metzinger himself termed "mobile perspective".
Deux Nus was first exhibited at the 1911 Salon des Indépendants, alongside the work of Gleizes, Le Fauconnier, Delaunay, and Léger. In his role as the secretary of the Salon, Le Fauconnier ensured that these five artists' works were hung together, resulting in the term "Cubism" being introduced into the lexicon of modern art for the first time. Following the exhibition, the critic Roger Allard wrote of this piece: "This canvas exudes a real intimacy, thanks to the integration of the setting into the principal strokes". Deux Nus confirms Metzinger's move away from Divisionism, although he still uses cubes to build a coherent whole picture and indicates a preoccupation with mathematics. Around this time in his career, Metzinger was starting to write about the theory behind his art, linking it to the principles of non-Euclidean (referring to a lack of parallel lines) geometry.