Czobel’s studio was just behind Picasso’s in the race for disorder. But. Then, Czobel has to work and cook and sleep and hang his clothes and entertain his friends in his one room. Let’s scrape the yellow ochre off a chair, wipe it with his shirt, and sit down, while Czobel nervously folds and refolds the black silk handkerchief about his neck, smilingly explaining that he cannot possibly explain. He is painfully inarticulate; he struggles like a dumb beast to express himself, then boils over into German.
In the center of the room is a revolting picture of a woman. Did I say woman? Let us, in decency, call it a female. Czobel, no doubt, like Braque, would prefer to call it Woman. She is naked and unashamed, if one can judge by her two large eyes. Others of her ilk lie about. As a rule, they are aged 89. They have very purple complexions, enlivened with mustard colored spots and yolk-yellow throats; they have orange and blue arms. Sometimes, not often, they wear bright green skirts.
Czobel himself has a green throat, but it’s only the reflection of his green canvas coat. Back to the plough, poor little Czobel, say I in English, and Czobel sweetly smiles.
But there was one picture I really wanted to buy. It satisfied some shameful, unnamed desire in my breast. It was called Le Moulin de la Galette, and is supposed (by Czobel) to represent that lively ball on a gala night. I had been there myself, but I saw no Aztec children waltzing; I saw no ladies with eyes like gashes cut with a carving knife. All the figures were outlined with a thick line of color. His men were apparently all brothers—to the ape. But let us not take poor Czobel too seriously. Not even Les Fauves do that.
But Friesz is a man we must take seriously, for Friesz is a serious person, and , if he would, could paint. He is a tall, straight blonde, looking like a musician, with clear-cut features, waving hair and an air of gentlemanly prosperity. He is dressed sprucely, except for his rubber overshoes, evidences of the chill, watery Parisian spring. Very gentle, almost winsome. He has huge portfolios of reproductions of Cezanne’s pictures; he has many of his own drawings, neatly mounted. He has the work of other painters framed upon his walls. It is evident that he is well-to-do.
His studio is long and wide and high, with ecclesiastical-looking Gothic doors, and out of it another room with many beautiful things. Amongst them, of course, are African-carved gods and devils of sorts. Since Matisse pointed out their "volumes" all the Fauves have been ransacking the curio shops for negro art. But Friesz has a quaint taste of his own, for, hung across the window panes, like transparencies, are funny old magic-lantern slides, "hand-painted," made in Germany. They might be examples of Matisse’s later manner. Friesz is not only exquisitely courteous, he has a mind. He speaks well. Listen. We must not call it any longer a school of Wild Beasts.
"It is a Neo-Classic movement, tending towards the architectural style of Egyptian art, or paralleling it, rather, in development. The modern French impressionism is decadent. In its reaction against the frigidity and insipid arrangements of the Renaissance, it has gone itself to an extreme as bad, and contents itself with fugitive impressions and premature expressions. This newer movement is an attempt to return to simplicity, but not necessarily a return to any of the primitive art. It is the beginning of a new art. There is a growing feeling for decorative values. It seeks to express this with a certain ‘style’ of line and volume, with pure color, rather than by tones subtly graded; by contrasts, rather than by modulations; by simple lines and shapes, rather than by complex forms.
We’re getting nearer, now, though still the theory is apparently inconsistent with the practice. Friesz is the nearest to the Cezanne; he’s not yet quite clear of tonality. He has only just begun to go wrong. But let’s drop in on Herbin who paints still life and cafés. He’s near at hand.
Barely around the corner, it’s true, but what a contrast to Friesz’s elegance and aristocratic surroundings! Herbin lives in a garret higher than Braque’s, smaller than Czobel’s, but as sweet and neat and clean as an old maid’s bedroom. It is, in fact, bedroom as well as studio. A rose-colored hanging conceals his couch. There’s but one small window, a skylight in the roof, but the place is pleasant with pots of flowers. A shelf is filled with bright-colored vases. A Chinese slipper holds a bunch of fresh green leaves. But the mark of the Wild Beast is over all the room, for Herbin’s own pictures are hung there, and the wall is gaudy with palette scrapings. I back into them and have a green smooch forever afterwards to remember Herbin by.
Herbin is almost sad. Not that, quite, though; not even quite melancholy, though he is poor and a hermit. He has no friends, and wants none, this small-featured, bright-eyed poet-person, with longish hair and sparse beard, immaculately clean in dress, scrupulously polite in his hospitality. It seems unfair to describe him, for his aloofness was noble, yet I must draw my picture of life, as he draws his. He sees nobody, never goes to the cafes, is interested in nothing but himself and his work, and a good book or two. There was a completeness about his attitude that forbade pathos.
Nor can Herbin say much of the "movement," if it is a movement. To his mind, it is individualism, and every man works but for himself. He paints for his own satisfaction, at any rate, and the world may go hang. He paints the roundness and heaviness and curliness and plastic qualities of still life; he paints the thing-in-itself. He does not feel the necessity of drawing every twig on a tree, nor yet to present the mere appeal to the eye. Therefore, draw a curved line connecting all the points on the top of a tree, and you have a simple expression of Nature as it appeals to him.
"I don’t distort Nature," he says; "I sacrifice it to a higher form of beauty and of decorative unity." And so we leave Herbin, who should be in the green fields, and not cramped under his scant skylight, and go away not quite knowing whether to envy or pity him.
So, finally, to Metzinger’s abode. Now, Metzinger himself, like Friesz, has gone through the impressionistic stage; so he should know about this new idea. It is not as if he never were tame. He once painted that "mere charm," of which, it would seem, we are all overfed. Metzinger once did gorgeous mosaics of pure pigment, each little square of color not quite touching the next, so that an effect of vibrant light should result. He painted exquisite compositions of cloud and cliff and sea; he painted women and made them fair, even as the women upon the boulevards fair. But now, translated into the idiom of subjective beauty, into this strange Neo-Classic language, those same women, redrawn, appear in stiff, crude, nervous lines in patches of fierce color. Surely, Metzinger should know what such things mean. Picasso never painted a pretty woman, though we have noticed that he likes to associate with them. Czobel sees them through the bars of his cage, and roars out tones of mauve and cinnabar. Derain sees them as cones and prisms, and Braque as if they had been sawn out of blocks of wood by carpenters’ apprentices. But Metzinger is more tender towards the sex. He arranges them as flowers are arranged on tapestry and wall paper; he simplifies them to mere patterns, and he carries them gently past the frontier of Poster Land to the world of the Ugly so tenderly that they are not much damaged—only more faint, more vegetable, more anaemic.
What’s Metzinger? A scrupulously polite, well-dressed gentleman as ever was, in a scrupulously neat chamber, with a scrupulously well-ordered mind. He is complete as a wax figure, with long brown eyelashes and a clean-cut face. He affects no idiosyncracies of manners or dress. One cannot question his earnestness and seriousness or sincerity. He is, perhaps, the most articulate of them all. Let us not call him prim.
"Instead of copying Nature," he says, "we create a milieu of our own, wherein our sentiment can work itself out through a juxtaposition of colors. It is hard to explain it, but it may perhaps be illustrated by analogy with literature and music. Your own Edgar Poe (he pronounced it ‘Ed Carpoe’) did not attempt to reproduce Nature realistically. Some phase of life suggested an emotion, as that of horror in ‘The Fall of the House of Ushur.’ That subjective idea he translated into art. He made a composition of it."
"So, music does not attempt to imitate Nature’s sounds, but it does interpret and embody emotions awakened by Nature through a convention of its own, in a way to be aesthetically pleasing. In some such way, we, taking out hint from Nature, construct decoratively pleasing harmonies and symphonies of color expression of our sentiment."
I think that there I got nearest to it. Let’s regard their art as we regard Debusy’s music, and Les Fauves are not so mad, after all; they are only inexperienced with their method. I had proved, at least, that they were not charlatans. They are in earnest and do not stand for a serious revolt. Now, a revolt not only starts an action, but a reaction, and these Wild Beasts may yet influence the more conventional schools. Whether right or wrong, there is, moreover, something so virile, so ecstatic about their work that it justifies Nietzsche’s definition of an ascendant or renascent art. For it is the product of an overplus of life and energy, not of the degeneracy of stagnant emotions. It is an attempt at expression, rather than satisfaction; it is alive and kicking, not a dead thing, frozen into a convention. And, as such, it challenges the academicians to show a similar fervor, an equal vitality. It sets one thinking; and anything that does that surely has its place in civilization.
Men must experiment in art and in life. Some may wander east or westward from the beaten track, some reactionaries may even go back southward along the trail of the past. But a few push north, ahead of the rest, blazing out the way of progress for the race. Perhaps these Wild Beasts are really the precursors of a Renaissance, beating down a way for us through the wilderness.
But there’s the contrast between their talk and their work! It doesn’t quite convince me yet. But, then, I’m not a painter, and perhaps none but a painter can understand. There’s my clue! And so, as a last resort, as the best way, too, I’ve bought a color box and brushes. I am going to try it out practically on canvas. That’s the only test. I’m going to be a Wild Beast myself! For, mind you, they do sell their paintings, and I may sell mine. Who knows!