Bonhams : Albert Gleizes (French, 1881-1953) Sans titre
Albert Gleizes (French, 1881-1953) Sans titre

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Lot 23AR
Albert Gleizes
(French, 1881-1953)
Sans titre

£ 200,000 - 300,000
US$ 260,000 - 390,000
Albert Gleizes (French, 1881-1953)
Sans titre
signed and dated 'Alb Gleizes 24-28' (lower right)
oil on panel
160.1 x 70cm (63 1/16 x 27 9/16in).
Painted circa 1924-1928


  • The authenticity of this work has kindly been confirmed by Madame Anne Varichon, and that it relates to no. 1215 in the catalogue raisonné.

    A. Varichon, Albert Gleizes, 1881-1953: catalogue raisonné, Paris, 1998, no. 1215, p. 395 (illustrated p. 394).

    'To paint is to give life to a flat surface; to give life to flat surface is to endow its space with rhythm.' (A. Gleizes, 'La peinture et ses lois: ce qui devait sortir du Cubisme', La Vie des Lettres et des Arts, March 1923, p. 41).

    Albert Gleizes was in almost every sense a radical Cubist, yet he was perhaps the most enduring and committed proponent of them all (C. Green, Cubism and its enemies, London, 1987, pp. 84-89). Throughout his career Gleizes never ceased to define himself as a Cubist and, while his work reflected formal developments, in theoretical terms he remained faithful to his conceptualisation of its tenets. Like his paintings, Gleizes had many facets. He cemented his position as a forerunner of the Cubist movement with Jean Metzinger in their highly influential treatise on the nature of Cubism, Du Cubisme in 1912, and he continued to explore and interrogate the possibilities of Cubist practice concurrently as a painter, writer, teacher and founder of artistic communities.

    Du Cubisme was to propel Gleizes to the centre of the Paris avant-garde scene in 1912. However by 1919 the cohesiveness of the Cubist movement was destroyed and Gleizes found his theory leading him in new, authentic directions which even the champions of Cubism would have struggled to appreciate (C. Green., op. cit. p. 89). Consequently, his work from this period is unlike anything that was being done by his contemporaries, and was rarely seen as he deliberately set himself apart from the capricious tendencies of the Paris art world. Furthermore, his marriage to Juliette Roche provided him with a financial security which enabled him to work independently without concern for artistic fashions and material gain.

    In the beginning of the 1920s Gleizes extended and clarified his earlier conceptualisations on the function of art and its implications for Cubism. He formulated his theory in a text entitled La Peinture et ses lois first published in the periodical La vie des lettres, then later as a book in 1924 (the year of the present work). Gleizes concluded during this decade that the organisation and composition of the painting was more important that the subject itself. It was the relationship between form and shape and the internal rhythms generated within the painting which could most acutely parallel the sensed rhythms pertaining to time and space within the universe. These abstract rhythms gestured towards a universal and collective art which would engage the spectator on a fundamental perceptive level, appealing to 'people who can only respond to paintings by means of their feelings, their tenderness.' (A. Gleizes quoted in P. Brooke, Albert Gleizes, for and against the twentieth century, London, 2001, p. 102).

    Abstraction for Gleizes was not however an end in and of itself, and he approached it conceptually rather than visually. Many of his paintings from this period retain representational elements usually based on the motif of landscape or the human figure. Sans titre issues from a series of paintings titled Figure en bleu that Gleizes completed at this time. In these works the flat, interlocking shapes have, on occasion, been inflected just enough to coalesce into a Cubist representation of 'woman'. In some iterations from the series we can detect the notional elements of facial features: the curve of a nose, an arch of an eye, yet these suggestions disintegrate in subsequent examples, such as Sans titre, into a vibrant disequilibrium of colour and shape.

    In contrast to the austere, sombre palette of his Cubist contemporaries, Gleizes' compositions from the twenties are characterised by a confident luminosity which invests his painting with additional dynamism. Sans titre is composed primarily of large geometric forms in green, red and blue which converge towards a large black area to the lower centre. These sumptuous configurations are then animated by a lively surface pattern, in which the variation of line and shape from staccato to lyrical, curved to angular, is heightened by the dissonance and harmony of abutting colour.

    It was this unique sense of animation and his brilliant use of colour which won Gleizes the admiration of his critics. Guillaume Apollonaire declared that ' what above all characterises the art of Albert Gleizes. He brings to contemporary art a moving originality. Before him, this was not found among many modern painters. This splendour stirs the imagination. It provokes the imagination and, considered from a visual point of view, it represents the infinity of all things.' (G. Apollinaire, The Cubist Painters: Aaesthetic Meditations, 1913, New York, 1944, pp. 50-51).

    The large and impressive format of Sans titre also echoes Gleizes' concerns at the time for a collective and communal art. The mural and more specifically the mural art of the Middle-Ages was of particular interest to him as he sought to abolish the distinction between easel painting and decoration, a distinction which he believed to be a false and pernicious one (D. Robbins, Albert Gleizes 1881-1953: A Retrospective Exhibition, exh. cat., New York, 1964, p. 22).

    In 1924 he drew up designs for a mural project in the amphitheatre of the École de la Pharmacie in Paris (Fig. 1). The tripartite structure of the three colourful panels arranged around a black cube resembles the composition of Sans titre in which the black section to the lower centre is framed above and to the sides by colour and a more concentrated surface pattern. In addition the tripartite nature of both works recalls the formation of triptychs from the Middle-Ages, an art form that Gleizes considered could only be matched by Cubism in its ability to make possible a universal and collective art.

Saleroom notices

  • Please note the following additional provenance and exhibitions: Provenance Germaine Henry Collection, Paris. Emile Perrel Collection, Paris. Thence by descent to the previous owner. Exhibited Verviers, Société Royale des Beaux-Arts, and elsewhere, La peinture sous le signe d'Apollinaire, 22 October - 5 November 1950, no. 19.
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