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Aesthetic Rivalries

Word and Image in France, 1880–1926


Linda Goddard

This book explores interaction and competition between painting and literature in France, from the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth, offering new readings of works by key figures including Paul Gauguin, Stéphane Mallarmé, Pablo Picasso and André Gide. Combining close visual and literary analysis with a broader examination of critical discourse, the volume uncovers a mutual but often contentious exchange of ideas. The author challenges habits of periodisation, drawing attention to the links between Symbolist and Cubist criticism. Issues such as the debate about ‘literary’ painting, the role of art criticism and artists’ writings, as well as themes such as newspapers and gold, alchemy and forgery, are shown to connect the two centuries. In examining how the rejection of mimesis in painting affected literary responses to the visual arts, the book explores a shift in power from the verbal to the visual in the early decades of the twentieth century.


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Chapter 3 - Art in Theory: Word and Image in Early Cubist Criticism 113


Chapter 3 Art in Theory: Word and Image in Early Cubist Criticism If the ‘Idée’, with its neoplatonic heritage and literary associations, was a keyword in Symbolist theoretical debate from around 1886, the early critics of Cubism from 1910 onwards were united in their devotion to an apparently opposed concept: that of ‘reality’. While the Symbolist critic Albert Aurier could declare in 1892 that art should abandon physical real- ity and attend to ‘that idéiste substratum which is everywhere in the uni- verse and which, according to Plato, is the only true reality, the rest being mere semblance’,1 in 1910 Jean Metzinger announced that Picasso, in his investigation of the material world from a ‘mobile’ perspective, ‘owns up to being a realist’.2 In his 1886 Symbolist manifesto, the poet Jean Moréas had proposed that art and nature were linked only obliquely, by means ‘of the sumptuous simars of outward analogies’,3 while in his review of the 1911 Salon des Indépendants, Guillaume Apollinaire picked up on Metzinger’s reference to multiple perspectives and concluded that ‘this discipline is not incompatible with reality’.4 However, despite this apparent contrast, the Cubists’ definition of ‘reality’ was not as distant from the Symbolist Idée as it might at first seem. Assessing his contribution to the 1913 Salon d’Automne, Albert Gleizes described his debt to the material world as follows: ‘And I will insist on 1 ‘ce substratum idéiste qui est partout dans l’univers et qui, selon Platon, est...

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