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Jean Metzinger Photo

Jean Metzinger Artworks

French Painter, writer, theorist, poet

Born: June 24, 1883 - Nantes, France
Died: November 3, 1956 - Paris, France

Progression of Art

Baigneuses: Deux nus dans un paysage exotique (c.1905)
c.1905

Baigneuses: Deux nus dans un paysage exotique

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.

Oil on canvas - Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Madrid

La danse, Baccante (c.1906)
c.1906

La danse, Baccante

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".

Oil on canvas - Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo

Deux Nus (1910-1911)
1910-1911

Deux Nus

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.

Oil on canvas - Gothenburg Museum of Art, Gothenburg

Au Vélodrome (1912)
1912

Au Vélodrome

The Sotheby's specialist Thomas Boyd-Bowman described Metzinger as "a bit of a magpie, and amalgamator of the innovations of Cubism and Futurism" and that this work "exemplified his adept synthesis of avant-garde principles to vividly evoke the speed and dynamism of the modern age". Indeed, Au Vélodrome depicts the finish of the 1912 Paris-Roubaix cycling race and its winner, Charles Crupelandt. The foreground is dominated by Crupelandt wearing a green and black striped cycling jersey on a black bicycle. Through different shapes and transparencies, the crowds in the background can be seen through the figure of the cyclist. The excitement of the finish line and impression of speed is seen both in the cyclist's pose (leaning over the handlebars) but also in the inclusion of the spinning back wheel of another racer, just out of view to the left of the canvas. Here the artist makes full use of Cubist tropes, such as geometric shapes, multiple planes, and changing perspectives.

Metzinger's use of transparency and multiple viewpoints simultaneously creates the impression of a series of photo-finish frames displayed together. The painting blurs foreground and background, but also time: the track visible through the wheels and Crupelandt's body hints at the past and present moment fused as one. This portrayal illustrates Metzinger's interest in quantum mechanics and mathematics at this time in his career, further recognized by the curator Erasmus Weddigen's interpretation that the number four seen in the crowd of spectators alludes to Metzinger's theories of the fourth dimension in art. It was exhibited for first time at the Third Exhibition of Contemporary French Art at the Carstairs Gallery in New York in 1915, where it was sold to the American collector John Quinn. Quinn sold it a decade later to the American art dealer J. B. Neumann, who in turn sold it to the prolific American socialite and art collector Peggy Guggenheim in 1945, where it still resides in the permanent collection of her museum in Venice, Italy.

Oil on canvas - Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice

La Femme au Cheval (1911-1912)
1911-1912

La Femme au Cheval

In this painting, Metzinger continues his exploration of the "mobile perspective" by portraying a female nude from multiple viewpoints. La Femme au Cheval conforms in fact to many of the stylistic preferences - multiple planes, volumetric, both rectilinear and curvilinear, forms - one would expect to see in an example of Analytic Cubism. The figure is shown feeding a horse to the right of the canvas; to the left geometric planes create an unidentifiable setting in which the woman and horse are immersed. At the figure's feet are some familiar objects: a vase, plants, and flowers. Metzinger's preference here is for a more subdued color palette - though one can still see splashes of vibrant color in the inclusion of the blue flowers - using sensuous and earthy tones to create a sense of light bouncing from the central figure.

Metzinger's portrayal of multiple aspects of a subject on one canvas has parallels with the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, as proposed by the Danish physician Niels Bohr. Bohr's theories considered the relationship of the observer and the idea that a complete understanding of an object may require examining it from various points of view. His work influenced Metzinger's considerations of the fourth dimension in painting and the active role of the viewer in the understanding of an artwork. Exhibited at both the Salon des Indépendants and Salon de la Section d'Or, the painting was acclaimed by many, including Apollinaire, who subsequently featured it in his only book The Cubist Painters, Aesthetic Meditations (1913). This work later even played a supporting role in the development of 20th century science when, in 1932, Bohr purchased the painting, seeing it as the expression of his "fourth dimension" theory of quantum mechanics in art.

Oil on canvas - Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen

Melon et compotier (1916-1918)
1916-1918

Melon et compotier

Metzinger was at the forefront of a style that became known as Crystal Cubism (given its name by the poet and critic Maurice Raynal). Though it started to take shape during the war years, Crystal Cubism is linked with the so-called "Return to Order" (or "Interwar Classicism") that followed in the wake of the chaos of World War One. Led by Metzinger and Gleizes, Crystal Cubism also included "purer" Cubist paintings by Braque, Picasso and Juan Gris and it was a style typified by reduced and more colorful geometric planes.

In this example, Metzinger utilizes the common Cubist form of the still life, hitherto associated mostly with the works of Picasso and Braque. This scene displays a bowl of fruit, glass, and carafe, built together with a strong focus on geometry to create a sense of interconnectedness. The multi-faceted planes in this work are more angular than Metzinger's past work and makes more use of block colors rather than shading. The image is flat and uses thick, expressive, brushstrokes, while the layered objects carry a sense of glass-like transparency.

Following the First World War, Metzinger confirmed his move towards more traditional subject matter (such as still lifes). Indeed, this work was exhibited at Léonce Rosenberg's Galerie de l'Effort Moderne in Paris in 1919, following Metzinger's signing of an exclusive contract with the art dealer. As such it represented the new appetite for a more ordered style of Cubism (and a more structured style of modern art generally). Though the Crystal style did not allow for a sense of dynamism or mobile perspective, Metzinger's geometry remains non-Euclidean (non-parallel) and he, in the ever-defining spirit of Cubism, continues to deny his viewer any traditional sense of perspective.

Oil on canvas - Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

c. 1927

Femme au Faisan

Having secured a fifteen year contract with Léonce Rosenberg's gallery, Metzinger had enough financial security to allow him to push the boundaries of Cubism beyond its Crystal (or Pure) phase. Metzinger's work became much more individualistic as he began to introduce a greater realism into his work. It was a shift that allowed for scenes of domestic/urban life rendered in contrasting bold colors. As The Sotheby's specialist Thomas Boyd-Bowman describes, "Forms in these works become progressively streamlined and contain geometrically simplified elements that embody the Art Deco aesthetic of the early 1920s and 30s as well as the impact of the Purism of Ozenfant and Le Corbusier during this time". Boyd-Bowman aligned Metzinger's works of this period in fact with the general "search for classical beauty and balance that characterized the so-called rappel à l'ordre [call to order]" that was influencing "many avant-garde artists working in Europe in the aftermath of the First World War".

The historian and curator Joann Moser added that " the unusual iconography of these works distinguishes them from the work of any other artist and engages the viewer's imagination to a degree that many [of Metzinger's] earlier works do not [and that the] introduction of spatial complexities ... counterbalances the strongly decorative appearance of these works". Boyd-Bowman points out, however, that "The bold use of primary colors and incorporation of Neo-Classical architectural references underscore the dialogue between Metzinger and his friend and contemporary Fernand Léger" and deferred to Léger's biographer Douglas Cooper who drew comparisons with "the conceptual underpinnings" of Femme au Faisan with Léger's work of the same period which had "exchanged the monumental for the living".

Oil on canvas - Private collection


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Content compiled and written by Alexandra Banister

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Tony Todd

"Jean Metzinger Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Alexandra Banister
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Tony Todd
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First published on 28 Apr 2021. Updated and modified regularly
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