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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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Coda - Visual and Verbal Simultaneity in the Early Twentieth Century 233


Coda Visual and Verbal Simultaneity in the Early Twentieth Century When Gide’s character Strouvilhou pondered, in 1926, ‘by what miracle painting got ahead, and how literature got so far behind?’, he voiced an anxiety about the growing prominence of visual art that was increasingly manifest among contemporary writers.1 In a 1929 article on André Masson, Carl Einstein registered the pre-eminence of painting in similar terms to Strouvilhou, opening his analysis with the observation that ‘In this genera- tion, it is the literary men who are limping laboriously behind the painters’. While visual artists had broken with tradition, undermining ‘conventional grammar’, writers remained mired in ‘the swamps of syntax’. Citing Picasso as evidence of this role reversal, Einstein concluded that ‘We have slipped behind the painters […] Instead of laying their head on the line, writers believed in language’.2 However, this perception that visual art had outstripped literature did not emerge with the Surrealist movement. Although Strouvilhou’s disgruntled observation suggests a sudden disruption to the conventional hierarchy, over a decade earlier two prominent poets, Blaise Cendrars and Apollinaire, revealed a similar sensitivity to the advantages of painting. Cendrars, who had come into contact with Apollinaire and Delaunay during 1912, confessed in his poem ‘Journal’ (August 1913): ‘I even wanted 1 ‘par quel prodige la peinture était en avance, et comment il se faisait que la littérature se soit ainsi laissé distancer?’, Gide, Les Faux-monnayeurs (1926), 1994 edn, p. 319. 2 ‘Pour cette génération, ce sont les litt...

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