Henri Bergson, Neoplatonist, and the Cubist Aesthetic: Part Fourteen

Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, oil on canvas, 1907, Museum of Modern Art, New York

Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, oil on canvas, 1907, Museum of Modern Art, New York

Antliff wrote that the Symbolist poet Tancrède de Visan (who had begun attending Bergson’s lectures before 1904 and who wrote the first extended discussion of the theoretical parallels between Bergson’s philosophy and Symbolism) was the primary Bergsonian theorist within Cubist circles.1 Green thought the Cubists became familiar with Bergson’s theories through the writing of Jules Romains.2 Antliff dates Romains’ familiarity with Bergson to 1906 or earlier.

Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger, Du “Cubisme”, Eugène Figuière Editeurs, 1912

Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger, Du “Cubisme”, Eugène Figuière Editeurs, 1912

In 1911 Alexandre Mercereau affirmed Bergson’s support for Cubism (Vers et Prose, no. 27, October-December, 1913, 39). At the same time André Salmon wrote on Bergson and the Cubists (Paris-Journal, November 29, 1911). Émile Blanche wrote that Bergson was interested in Cubism in 1912 and that the Cubists encouraged that interest, at least Gleizes and Metzinger in the period they wrote Du Cubisme.3 Salmon wrote that Bergson tentatively agreed to write a preface for the catalogue to the Section d’Or exhibition in 1912 (‘La Section d’Or’, Gil Blas, June 22, 1912).

Yet the Cubists appear to have been much more aware of Bergson than he of them, although this too is most probably more complex than it seems.4 For example, Bergson’s difficulty in accepting the Cubists’ radical application of his philosophy to art could have to do with a possible reticence in acknowledging awareness of their work. In an interview published in L’Intransigeant (Paris, November 26, 1911) Bergson stated he had never seen Cubist art. In 1913 he criticised the Cubists for analysing artistic practice instead of intuitively performing it.5 In the same year he said he could not understand a word of Gleizes’ and Metzinger’s writing on Cubism and that he had never seen a Cubist painting before that year.6 Fry wrote that Mercereau was only one of the first among many defenders of Cubism to declare that Bergson had given his approval to it and that Bergson did not agree to write the preface Salmon claimed he did.7

A connection between Picasso, Braque and Bergson was, to my knowledge so far, not admitted by the artists, but on their behalf by fellow artists and critics. Yet there is very strong circumstantial evidence to support the connection, in addition to an analysis of their work and the consciousness with which they marketed it. Picasso from his youth had a fascination for Nietzsche (like so many artists and writers of the time) and there was much in common between the theories of Nietzsche and Bergson. Picasso’s admiration for Jarry and his friendship with Apollinaire would have been two more direct connections with Bergson’s philosophy. Again, Salmon was photographed in Picasso’s studio with Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and Three Women in 1908.8

Pablo Picasso, Still Life with Chair Caning, 1912, oil and oilcloth on canvas with rope frame, Musée Picasso, Paris

Pablo Picasso, Still Life with Chair Caning, 1912, oil and oilcloth on canvas with rope frame, Musée Picasso, Paris

Notes

1. ‘Bergson and Cubism: A  Reassessment’, op. cit., 342

2. Ibid.

3. J. Blanche, Portraits of a Lifetime, New York, 1938, 244-45 in The Relevance of Bergson op. cit., 8

4. For my subject, the interest of the former in the latter is of far greater importance.

5. ‘The Relevance of Bergson’, op. cit., 1

6. G. Beck, ‘Movement and Reality: Bergson and Cubism’, The Structurist, op. cit., 110

7. Cubism, op. cit., 67

8. Reproduced in Cubism, op. cit., facing p. 17

red-star

This essay was written during my enrolment at the College of Fine Arts (now UNSW Art & Design), the University of New South Wales, towards a thesis on the impact of Neoplatonism on Cubism. I did not complete my thesis which, in effect, addressed the basis for an entire cultural re-reading and a turn to intellectual honesty in Western culture with regard to the profound and continuing influence of mysticism on it, terminating my enrolment after years of commitment in 1999 in disgust at the time-serving ignorance, hypocrisy, hostility and abuse I experienced at the College.

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Image sources: 1st/2nd/3rd

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