Jean Metzinger: 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.

Sometimes you take a new idea and run with it. That's what French artist Jean Metzinger did with a modern art style called Cubism. In this lesson, explore Metzinger's life and work.

Early Years and Exploration of Styles

Have you ever gotten into a new fashion style or type of music and made it your own? The same thing can happen with artists. It certainly did to a French painter named Jean Metzinger (1883 - 1956).

Portrait of Jean Metzinger
portrait of Jean Metzinger

As a boy, Jean Metzinger displayed a talent for drawing and began taking art lessons. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in his hometown of Nantes and experimented with different painting styles.

In 1903, he sold several paintings and gained the confidence to move to Paris to pursue an art career. It was an exciting time to be a young artist there because the city was alive with ideas and creative types. At the beginning of the 20th century, Paris was truly the center of the contemporary art world.

Early in his career, Metzinger explored several art styles including pointillism, with its many dots of color and Fauvism, which featured bright slashes of aggressive color. Some of Metzinger's works resembled mosaics made of colorful dabs of paint.

Early landscape painting by Jean Metzinger, 1906
early landscape painting

Metzinger exhibited regularly in galleries around Paris, meeting other artists in the process. Among the most influential were Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, artists who'd recently developed a new art style unlike anything seen before.

Metzinger and Cubism

Around 1907, Picasso and Braque invented the style that came to be called Cubism, which abandoned depictions of objects and scenes with the illusion of three-dimensional space, and instead fractured them into multiple simultaneous views rendered as shards and angles.

By 1909, Metzinger began working in this style as well, just as Cubism was taking the European art world by storm.

Cubist compositions are full of geometric shapes like triangles, squares and cubes (which is how it gained its name), bold lines, and muted earth-tone colors like grays, browns and greens. Cubism distorts the space around objects, and put pieces of those objects in multiple planes. It certainly didn't look like art found in the past.

Metzinger wholeheartedly embraced Cubism. He soon met other artists, including Robert Delaunay and Albert Gleizes, who worked in a similar style. They, along with other Cubists, began meeting informally at a fellow artist's studio outside of Paris. Around this time, Metzinger also began writing about Cubism. In 1910 an article of his in Pan magazine represented a first attempt to describe Cubism and its idea of simultaneous views.

Dancer in a Cafe by Jean Metzinger, 1912
Metzinger Cubist painting

This group of young Cubist artists were the ones who really introduced Cubism to a broader audience. Even though Picasso and Braque had created it, their work was only seen by a small, select group of artists and art dealers.

Cubism and the Paris Art Scene

In 1911, the Cubists exhibited a roomful of work at the Salon des Independants, a major Paris art show. It caused a scandal and the room in which the work was displayed, Room 41, became notorious. People had no idea what to make of the strange images with broken forms and few recognizable elements.

The Cubists viewed the Salon des Independants as a success. As a result, they formed a more official group called the Section d'Or (Golden Section), with the goal of promoting and spreading Cubism. The members of the Section d'Or also interpreted Cubism a bit more loosely than Picasso and Braques did, working in brighter color and larger scale.

The Blue Bird by Jean Metzinger, 1912 -1913
The Blue Bird

In 1912, this group had its one and only exhibition, the Salon de la Section d'Or. It included more than 200 Cubist paintings and was one of the most important contemporary art exhibits of its time.

In the same year, Metzinger, along With Albert Gleizes, wrote the influential book Du Cubisme (On Cubism), which was an attempt to explain the theories behind the unusual fractured images. The book proved very popular and immediately went into several printings.

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