Albert Gleizes: Paintings, Cubism & Biography

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Have you ever tried to explain an idea to people? Did they get it? An artist named Albert Gleizes spent much of his career explaining Cubism. In this lesson, explore Gleize's life and art.

Early Years and Influences

Sometimes, you come into contact with an idea that stays with you the rest of your life. That's what happened to French artist Albert Gleizes.

Portrait of Albert Gleizes
Albert Gleizes

Albert Gleizes (1881 - 1953) was born in Paris. As a young man, he was interested in theater and performing. His father, worried that young Albert wouldn't be able to earn a living, made his son work with him in his fabric design studio. Perhaps this early experience, in work focused on pattern, line, color and form, opened the Albert's eyes to possibilities of different kinds of art.

Gleizes served in the French military between 1901 and 1905. At the same time, he taught himself to paint. After military service ended, he settled in Paris to pursue a life as an artist. At first, Gleizes created landscapes in an Impressionist style. But many new artistic ideas were swirling in Paris at this time, and artists were challenging older styles. Around 1909, Gleizes met and began interacting with a group of artists exploring a new type of art called Cubism.

The New Style of Cubism

Gleizes soon began painting in a Cubist style. But what was Cubism? Cubism was a modern art style invented around 1907 by two artists, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Using geometric forms, line and a limited palette of earth-based colors (greys, greens, browns), Cubism abandoned traditional pictorial art, which showed recognizable scenes or figures in an illusion of three-dimensional space.

Instead, Cubism fractured figures into multiple simultaneous perspectives. It showed things from many angles and viewpoints and often reduced shapes to geometric forms. It gained its name from the fact that elements in the paintings often looked like triangular shards or angular cubes.

Woman and Phlox by Albert Gleizes, 1910
Gliezes Cubist work

A Career Based on Cubism

Picasso and Braque invented Cubism, but their work was seen by a small select group. Cubism gained wider exposure to the public when other artists began exploring it.

They included people Gleizes met in Paris like Fernand Leger, Robert Delaunay and Jean Metzinger. These Cubist artists began gathering together and painting in similar styles. In 1911, they exhibited work in a show called the Salon des Independants. It wasn't a juried show and no one limited what could be exhibited. The Cubists placed their works together in one space, Room 41.

When the exhibit opened, Room 41 became notorious for its strange fractured art. People had no idea what to make of Cubism. The public had many comments, most negative and critical of paintings full of broken unrecognizable forms. But the Cubist artists viewed it as a great success.

In 1912, spurred on by the Salon des Independents experience, Gleizes and Metzinger collaborated on a book titled Du Cubisme or On Cubism, in which they explained the new art style and the theories behind it. That same year, several Cubist artists, including Gleizes and Metzinger, began meeting with others at the studio of artist Jacques Villon in Puteaux, outside of Paris.

Football Players by Albert Gleizes, 1912 - 1913. In this case, football means rugby.
Gleizes football players

The artists in Puteaux formed the Section d'Or or Golden Section, a group focused on exploring a Cubist style less limited by Picasso's original monochromatic palette. In 1912, they held an exhibit, the Salon de la Section d'Or, which featured more than 200 Cubism works. It became one of the most important exhibits of its time. Unlike earlier Cubist works, some Section d'Or members, including Gleizes, painted on a large scale. One example is The Football Players, done between 1912 and 1913. It's around 7 feet high and 6 feet wide! Such big canvases gained even more notice.

Then, World War I upended Europe. Gleizes served in the French military from 1914 to 1915. Then, he and his wife moved to New York, where they remained until the war was over. After traveling in Barcelona, Spain, where Gleizes had his first solo exhibit, the couple returned to France around 1919.

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