I believe that nothing happens arbitrarily either in nature or in Society. Nor do I believe there is anything absolutely useless either in the thought or in the acts of humanity.

Frequently where we see only perturbations, as in geological convulsions, there is only the harmonious development of a law; these perturbations are an element of progress and that is why I don't quite agree with certain of my colleagues who persist in judging the latest phase of the evolution of plastic expression from the fixed bias of a formulated criteria that does not take into consideration the past, nor looks into the future.

The Futurist Brothers: Marcel Duchamo, Jacques Villon, Raymond Duchamp-Villon
The Futurist Brothers: Marcel Duchamo, Jacques Villon, Raymond Duchamp-Villon

Since the appearance of this new manifestation in art I have been studying it, seeking its derivations, investigating the path it follows and whither it is going. It seems to me that this is what we should wish to know.

What this movement has realized up to the present time I regard as a secondary consideration, inasmuch as the works produced might in themselves be bad while the principles upon which they are based might be good and their final success merely dependent upon the appearance of a superior genius who would employ these principles expressively instead of haltingly. And one must not forget that all novelty creates alarm, even when expressed by a genius, and is always opposed by the old, established principles if for no other reason than that of self-preservation, the enemy of all change.

The marked tendency of this new art, as far as painting and sculpture are concerned, is retrogression, for it wants to revert to primitive art. However, this need not necessarily be scored against it for is it not true that we ofttimes take a step backward that we may have more space in which to accelerate our impulse forward and thus reach a greater distance? May not this be true of this movement? Time alone can tell.

At the head of this movement we find three personalities whose work is imbued with a certain originality, who are spontaneous and follow their own inclination. Behind them we see many walking in their footsteps in the vain belief that they accompany them; grotesquely burlesquing their work in the belief that they complete and carry it forward. These three personalities are CÚzanne, Gauguin, and Van Gogh.

The revolt against the false idealism of the romantic school of painters in France, brought about in the latter half of the nineteenth century by the conquests of natural sciences, resulted in a glorification of realism that found a striking expression in the work of Courbet, Monet, Manet, and Degas. The intense hostility and fierce opposition aroused by these men in their quest of truth and the subsequent acceptance of their work by the public as well as by officialdom is now a matter of history and need not be rehearsed here. But there was one man who was more radical, more uncompromising, more fanatical in his search of the ultimate reality than any of the men who made up that glorious company of innovators known as the Impressionists.

Constantin Brancusi: Portrait Of Mlle. Pogany
Constantin Brancusi: Portrait Of Mlle. Pogany

His name was Paul CÚzanne, friend and fellow-townsman of Emile Zola, who hailed from Aix, in Provence, whence both went up to Paris to conquer the world. Zola came, saw and conquered, becoming as much a part of Paris as the Eiffel Tower, but CÚzanne they could not abide although they put up with Manet and even Claude Monet, and after a time he returned to the more amicable hills of Provence where he became the local enigma.

CÚzanne is a primitive by nature and not by theory. His life, his education, the place in which he lived and his attitude toward art prove this. He led a simple life, always isolated. He was one of the most prominent members of the Impressionist group, though not one of the most active; he was opposed to all that meant school, going his own way, pursuing his own ideal.

CÚzanne is not quite as original as some of his most ardent admirers would have us believe. In many ways his work recalls Greco, but I don't mean to imply that he consciously or unconsciously imitated him; rather, I believe it was more of a kinship of feelings and ideas than an imitation, though his admiration of the Spanish master is clearly shown by the numerous copies he made of him.

Paul Cezanne: Woman with Rosary
Paul Cezanne: Woman with Rosary

He became known first as a landscape painter and if his landscapes excited the ire of the critics, when they came to know him as a figure painter they accused him of profaning art. I find in him a notable spontaneity, a great sincerity, which may be due to his impotence no less than to his genius.

Like Strindberg in his later misanthropic years, he shut himself off from all intercourse with his fellow men, and year by year, in his two studios in Aix, he laboriously evolved the art that was finally to revolutionize the current conception of form. However, the world did not trace a path to his door although he was not wholly without honor. Huysmans is outspoken in his admiration of him and does not hesitate to assert that CÚzanne contributed more to accelerate the impressionist movement than Manet, and Zola dedicated to him his Salons which are now to be found in a volume of essays on art and literature bearing the provocative title of Mes Haines, and finally, in the year 1901, there was exhibited in the Champ de Mars Salon a picture by Maurice Denis entitled Hommage a CÚzanne, after the well-known hommages of Fantin-Latour.

But it was left for a later generation to pay him the supreme compliment of imitation, obscuring his virtues and exaggerating his faults and he who was in his day rejected, despised and laughed off the artistic map of Paris has now forced upon him the doubtful honor of fathering this whole new movement in France, that has been labeled with the misleading misnomer: Post-Impressionism. As a matter of fact the men who are at the present moment engaging the attention of Paris and the art world in general have little or nothing to do with what is generally recognized as Impressionism and its exponents; rather, they are anti-Whistlerian, Pseudo-Primitives. If an appellation is needed I think Pseudo-Primitives will more truly characterize them than the confusing and irrelevant one now in general use. At all events it would be more nearly justified by the sources from which they derive their inspiration and artistic sustenance, which I think will be apparent to any one who examines these works in the light of what has been achieved in primitive art.