- Auguste Herbin
- signed Herbin and dated 9-19 (lower centre)
- oil on canvas
Private Collection, Basel
Private Collection, USA
Acquired from the above
We are grateful to Geneviève Claisse for providing additional cataloguing information for this work.
Executed in the aftermath of the First World War Composition monumentale is a groundbreaking work in Herbin's œuvre. In the years prior to the war he had been directly exposed to the birth of Cubism having moved to the Bateau-Lavoir studios in 1909 where he associated with Pablo Picasso and Georges Braques. At the Salon des Indépendants of 1910 his work was exhibited in the same room as that of Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger and Fernand Léger. However, by 1919 Herbin had emerged as one of the leading figures of the post-cubist era.
By the end of the war Cubism, which had dominated avant-garde art since its inception was under scrutiny. Purism, a movement founded by Amédee Ozenfant and Le Corbusier circa 1918 reassesed the principals that had guided the earlier style. Whilst retaining its subject matter, the new movement advocated an emphasis on the geometry and harmony of pure form whilst introducing a machinist aesthetic. Le Corbusier's involvement would, by the early 1920s, extend the movement's influence to the built environment, but as demonstrated by the present work there was already a well defined synthesis between art and architecture.
For Herbin, Purism's modernity and roots in the machine age dovetailed with his adherence to Communist doctrine and his belief that the role of the artist is to make public art tied to architecture to which end he said 'I think we will not have a true Communism until we have a monumental art'. Composition monumentale with its strongly architectural modelling brings this treatise to fruition, whilst the title itself and the size of the work say much about Herbin's desire to create large scale works akin to mural painting as a vehicle to close the gap between artists and the people.
By 1919 Herbin was advised and represented by the famous dealer and promoter of Cubism and Neo-Plasticism, Léonce Rosenberg who had founded his Galerie de l'Effort Moderne to promote the work of a group of post-cubist artists including Georges Valmier and Jean Metzinger. Though he would later move away from such abstract compositions the present work is a masterpiece of Purism and a landmark in Herbin's œuvre.