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Robert Delaunay
(1885-1941)

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Robert Delaunay, letter to August Macke, 1912

Direct observation of the luminous essence of nature is for me indispensable. I do not necessarily mean observation with palette in hand, although I am not opposed to notations taken from nature itself. I do much of my work from nature, "before the subject," as it is commonly called. But what is of great importance to me is observation of the movement of colors.

Only in this way have I found the laws of complementary and simultaneous contrasts of colors which sustain the very rhythm of my vision. In this movement of colors I find the essence, which does not arise from a system, or an a priori theory.

For me, every man distinguishes himself by his essence his personal movement, as opposed to that which is universal. That is what I found in your works that I saw this winter at Cologne. You are not in direct communication with nature, the only source of inspiration directed toward beauty.' Such communication affects representation in its most vital and critical aspect. This communication alone, by the comparison of the antagonisms, rivalries, movements which give birth to decisive moments, permits the evolution of the soul, whereby a man realizes himself on earth. It is impossible to be concerned with anything else in art.

I say it is indispensable to look ahead of and behind oneself in the present. If there is such a thing as tradition, and I believe there is, it can only exist in the sense of the most profound movements of culture.

First of all, I always see the sun! The way I want to identify myself and others is with halos here and there halos, movements of color. And that, I believe, is rhythm. Seeing is in itself a movement. Vision is the true creative rhythm. Discerning the quality of rhythms is a movement, and the essential quality of painting is representation the movement of vision which functions in objectivizing itself toward reality. That is the essential of art, and its greatest profoundness.

I am very much afraid of definitions, and yet one is almost forced to make them. One must take care, too, not to be inhibited by them. I have a horror of manifestoes made before the work is done.

Robert Delaunay, letter to Wassily Kandinsky, 1912

1 find what you sent in this year useful. As for our work, I think that surely the public will have to get used to it. The effort it will have to make comes slowly, because it is drowned in habits. On the other hand, the artist has much to do in the realm of color construction, which is so little explored and so obscure, and hardly dates back any farther than to the beginning of Impressionism. Seurat sought for the primary laws. Cezanne demolished the whole of painting since its beginnings - that is to say, chiaroscuro adjusted to a linear construction, which predominated in all the known schools.

It is this research into pure painting that is the problem at the present moment. I do not know any painters in Paris who are really searching for this ideal world. The Cubist group of whom you speak experiments only in line, giving color a secondary place, and not a constructional one.

I have not yet tried to put into words my investigations in this new sphere, where all my efforts have been directed for a long time.

I am still waiting until I can find greater flexibility in the laws I discovered. These are based on studies in the transparency of color, whose similarity to musical notes drove me to discover the "movement of color." All this, which I believe is unknown to everyone, is for me still in my mind's eye. I am sending you a photograph of these endeavors, already outdated, which have so astonished my acquaintances, and which have met with suitable judgment totally free from "impressionism" only in rare connoisseurs. When I was doing this work and I remember that you had asked me about it I did not know anyone able to write about these things, but I had already made some experiments which were decisive. Even my friend Princet was incapable of seeing them, and it has been but a short time since they have begun to become apparent to him. I have confidence in the interpretation that could be produced by his sensitivity, and it seems to me that he has had a strong reaction which will lead to that result. I think, at the moment, that he will be able to reveal the meaning of these things as a result of the work he already began several years ago, which I brought to your attention.

Robert Delaunay, Light, 1912

Impressionism; it is the birth of Light in painting.

Light comes to us by the sensibility. Without visual sensibility there is no light, no movement.

Light in Nature creates the movement of colors.

Movement is produced by the rapport of odd elements, of the contrasts of colors between themselves which constitutes Reality.

This reality is endowed with Vastness (we see as far as the stars), and it then becomes Rhythmic Simultaneity.

Simultaneity in light is harmony, the rhythm of colors which creates the Vision of Man. Human vision is endowed with the greatest Reality, since it comes to us directly from the contemplation of the Universe. The eye is the most refined of our senses, the one which communicates most directly with our mind, our consciousness.

The idea of the vital movement of the world and its movement is simultaneity.

Our understanding is correlative to our perception.

Let us attempt to see.

The auditory perception is not sufficient for our knowledge of the world; it does not have vastness.

Its movement is successive, it is a sort of mechanism; its law is the time of mechanical clocks which, like them, has no relation with our perception of visual movement in the Universe.

It is comparable to the objects of geometry ....

Art in Nature is rhythmic and has a horror of constraint. If Art relates itself to an Object, it becomes descriptive, divisionist, literary.

It demeans itself by imperfect means of expression, it condemns itself, it is its own negation, it does not avoid an Art of imitation.

If all the same it represents the visual relations of objects or the objects between them without light playing the organizing role of the representation, it is conventional. It never reaches plastic purity. It is an infirmity; it is the negation of life and the sublimity of the art of painting.

In order that Art attain the limit of sublimity, it must draw upon our harmonic vision: clarity. Clarity will be color, proportion; these proportions are composed of diverse elements, simultaneously involved in an action. This action must be the representative harmony, the synchronous movement (simultaneity) of light which is the only reality.

This synchronous action then will be the Subject, which is the representative harmony.

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1911/23 Champ de Mars: The Red Tower
1914 Homage to Bleriot




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