[Book 1:] the Cubist Painters

By Cowling, Elizabeth | The Modern Language Review, April 2004 | Go to article overview

[Book 1:] the Cubist Painters


Cowling, Elizabeth, The Modern Language Review


[Book 1:] The Cubist Painters. By GUILLAUME APOLLINAIRE. Trans. by PETER READ. [Book 2:] Apollinaire and Cubism. By PETER READ. Forest Row: Artists Book-works. 2002. X + (Book 1) 86 pp., 45 plates; (Book 2) 152 pp. 20 [pounds sterling]. ISBN 0-946311-12-9.

Guillaume Apollinaire planned to call this, his only book on art, Meditations esthetiques--a title that captures well its intuitive and prophetic tone and reflects the fact that it was patched together from earlier articles, revised, and reordered for the occasion. Such was the pulling-power of the intense controversy surrounding Cubism, however, that it was as Les Peintres cubistes that it carne out in Paris in March 1913. The change has created confusion ever since because Apollinaire's choice of artists and his definition of the driving aims of the modern movement overlap only sporadically with focused accounts of Cubism written either by contemporaries, like the 'Salon Cubist' painters Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger, or by later art historians. Thus, Apollinaire gives much more space to Seurat and the Douanier Rousseau than to Cezanne, and to Marie Laurencin than to Robert Delaunay. Other eccentricities include his ill-fated attempt to separate 'the Cubists' into four tendencies, mystifyingly termed 'scientific', 'physical', 'orphic', and 'instinctive', the last being a catch-all for anyone forward-looking he could not accommodate in the other three. In short, The Cubist Painters needs an accompanying commentary if one is to understand it, let alone do justice to its many flashes of insight. In Peter Read, renowned especially for his work on Apollinaire's relationships with contemporary artists, it has found not only the ideal translator, but also the ideal interpreter. …

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