Lot 338
  • 338

JEAN METZINGER | Violon et flûte

300,000 - 400,000 GBP
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  • Jean Metzinger
  • Violon et flûte
  • signed JMetzinger (lower right)
  • oil on canvas
  • 81.3 by 60.5cm., 32 by 23 7/8 in.
  • Painted circa 1918.


Galerie Kleinman & Cie, Paris
Galerie Art Vivant, Paris 
Private Collection, Chicago (acquired from the above in 1958; sale: Christie's, New York, 8th November 1995, lot 179)
James Annenberg Levee, Florida (sale: Christie's, New York, 14th May 1999, lot 687)
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner


Paris, Galerie Art Vivant, Un Grand Cubiste Metzinger, 1952, no. 42
Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, Treasures of Chicago Collectors, 1961, n.n. (as dating from 1916)


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"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Violon et flûte is a highly significant example of Jean Metzinger’s work from circa 1918. Distorting the codified rules of perspective was one of the principal preoccupations of Cubism, and the present work offers a fractured representation of reality through the traditional subject of the still life. The eponymous violin and flute are the primary subjects of the composition, around which Metzinger introduces various other archetypal Cubist elements, such as text and trompe l’œil texture, all painted within a central oval. In sharp contrast to the rectangular shape of the canvas, the use of the oval frame acts as a kind of mise-en-abîme device, creating a further dimension of depth and drawing attention to the idea of narrative within the work. Using tones of deep blue, ochre, dark brown and black, the viewer is confronted with the various potentialities of colour to demarcate depth and movement. Metzinger also inserts fragments of what appears to be a musical score, and blocks of papier-peint, elements borrowed from Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso’s early iterations of Analytical Cubism which moved towards creating a synthesis of text and sound within painting. In the background of the composition, behind the oval form, lie two distinct planes of light and dark, framing the scene with the notion that flat colour has the power to construct pictorial space. The artist makes use of such compositional strategies in some of his other works from this time; a more figurative example of which is Woman with a Coffee Pot, currently held in the collection of the Tate Modern, London (fig. 1). With Albert Gleizes, Metzinger co-authored the seminal Du Cubisme published in 1912. This was the first text on the Cubist movement, and featured works by Paul Cézanne, Fernand Léger, Marie Laurencin, Juan Gris, Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, and Georges Braque among others. In Du Cubisme, Metzinger declares: 'To establish pictorial space, we must have recourse to tactile and motor sensations, indeed to all our faculties. It is our whole personality which, contracting or expanding, transforms the plane of the picture. As it reacts, this plane reflects the personality back upon the understanding of the spectator, and thus pictorial space is defined: a sensitive passage between two subjective spaces. The forms which are situated within this space spring from a dynamism which we profess to dominate. In order that our intelligence may possess it, let us first exercise our sensitivity. There are only nuances. Form appears endowed with properties identical to those of colour. It is tempered or augmented by contact with another form, it is destroyed or it flowers, it is multiplied or it disappears' (translated in Robert L. Herbert (ed.), Modern Artists on Art, New York, 1986, p. 8). By focusing on the nuances of form and colour, Metzinger highlights the continuous movement of perspective and reality. In Violon et flûte, the artist achieves a truncated but cohesive composition of elements by emphasising the equal importance of colour and form.

Metzinger’s text laid the theoretical foundations for a pivotal exhibition held in 1911 at the Salon des Indépendants. Considered to be the first Cubist show, the exhibition formally heralded a new era in painting through its open defiance of the traditional, more naturalistic modes of representation. Displayed in Salle 41 of the Salon, it featured works by Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes, Robert Delaunay, Henri le Fauconnier, Fernand Léger and Marie Laurencin. These artists were from a group known both as the Section d’Or and the Puteaux Group, after the Parisian suburb of Puteaux, where the artists had first met at the studios of Marcel Duchamp and Albert Gleizes. The group championed a form of Cubist painting which did not conform to the narrow interpretation of Cubism established by Picasso and Braque. Instead, it employed the de-constructive techniques and geometric compositional style of both artists, without restriction to their limited repertoire of subjects. It also rejected the more esoteric categories of Analytical or Synthetic Cubism, and their respective approaches to the pictorial object. 

Violon et flûte is a rare and important example of Metzinger’s work of this period, and epitomises his concerns of creating works that crystallised multiple facets of vision and form.