Section d'Or
Cubist/Orphist Puteaux Group of Artists, Galerie La Boetie, Paris.

Pin it

Nude Descending Staircase (1912)
By Marcel Duchamp.
Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The most famous piece of concrete art
produced by the Section d'Or group.

Section d'Or Cubist Group (active 1912-14)


What Was the Section d'Or Group?
History and Development of Cubism
Wider Cubist Agenda of the Section d'Or
Puteaux Group at the Salon des Independants
Formation of Section d'Or: Exhibition at Galerie La Boetie
Attempt at Post-War Revival

For details of art movements
and styles, see: History of Art.
For a quick guide to specific
styles, see: Art Movements.

For a list of the Top 10 painters/
sculptors: Best Artists of All Time.
For the best oils/watercolours,
see: Greatest Paintings Ever.

For a guide, see: Definition of Art.

What Was the Section d'Or Group?

In fine art, the term "Section d'Or" refers to a Paris-based group of 20th century painters associated with Cubism, and a derivative called Orphism, who worked in loose association from 1912 to about 1914. The name of the group - which was also the name of the group's short-lived journal - was proposed by Jacques Villon as a reference to the ancient mathematical ratio known as the golden section, the Section d'or. The name reflected the Cubists' general interest in geometric forms, although only Villon and Juan Gris actually applied such scientific concepts to their painting. The group staged only one exhibition (1912) at the Galerie La Boetie. The main members of Section d'Or, all of whom participated in the 1912 show, were: Robert Delaunay (1885-1941), Albert Gleizes (1881-1953), Francis Picabia (1879-1953), Andre Lhote (1885-1962), Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), Jean Metzinger (1883-1956), Juan Gris (1887-1927), Raymond Duchamp-Villon (1876-1918), Fernand Leger (1881-1955), Louis Marcoussis (1883-1941), and Roger de la Fresnaye (1885-1925). The Section d'Or group emerged out of the wider Puteaux Group (a spin-off from La Societe Normande de Peinture Moderne), that also included the painters Frank Kupka (1871-1957), Le Fauconnier (1881-1945), Jean Marchand (1882-1941), and the sculptors Joseph Csaky (1888-1971) and Alexander Archipenko (1887-1964), who congregated in the studios of Duchamp-Villon and Jacques Villon, in the Parisian suburbs of Puteaux and Courbevoie.



History and Development of Cubism

The founders of early Cubism (1907-9) - Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Georges Braque (1882-1963) - abandoned the single viewpoint perspective of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, and instead sought inspiration from two alternative sources: the later paintings of Paul Cezanne, for structure, and African sculpture for its abstracted geometric and symbolic qualities. NOTE: For an explanation of how Courbet's Realism and Monet's Impressionist painting led to abstraction, see: Realism to Impressionism (1830-1900).

Analytical Cubism
The first phase of Picasso and Braque's output (1909-12), is known as Analytical Cubism. In this period the pair generally avoided subjects and colours with overt emotional qualities, opting instead for subdued, monochromatic palettes and neutral subjects like nudes or still lifes. These were reduced and fragmented into quasi-abstract compositions of interpenetrating planes, in which multi-faceted solids seemed to move backwards, tilt upwards and towards the viewer, all this occurring simultaneously, utterly confounding traditional expectations of the representation of depth. Several other artists, notably Juan Gris, also participated in this phase. Indeed, although Picasso and Braque preferred to conduct their experiments in relative solitude (exhibiting only to a narrow circle of buyers, carefully selected by their agent Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler), their work was well known to other artists, and it wasn't long before Cubism evolved from a style into a movement.

Synthetic Cubism
In 1912, after flirting with non-objective art, Braque and Picasso moved towards a mode of expression in which the subject while more recognizable, was laden with symbolism. In this second phase of Cubism - known as Synthetic Cubism (flourished 1912-14) - instead of reducing objects and space to abstract multi-faceted objects, they re-constructed (synthesized) pictures from fragments of various different materials, using collage and papiers colles (compositions of cut-out pasted papers). This 'synthetic' phase coincided with the activities of the Section d'Or group.


The Wider Cubist Agenda of the Section d'Or

One thing which separated Picasso and Braque from the other Cubist painters, was their narrow focus. They were concerned exclusively with developing new methods of representing reality in fine art painting, whereas most Section d'Or artists identified Cubism with wider mathematical, scientific and philosophical issues, including Einstein's Theory of Relativity and the intuition element in the philosophical theories of Henry Berson. The Duchamp brothers and Jean Metzinger, for instance, believed passionately in the significance of mathematical proportions, and were associated with the mathematician Maurice Princet, himself part of the Cubist intelligentsia. When it came to painting, Section d'Or artists were impressed above all by Georges Seurat (1859-91), founder of Pointillism, in whose works they identified a "scientific clarity of conception", an underlying mathematical harmony. In their eyes, Seurat had championed the primacy of idea over nature and had paved the way for Cubism by restoring intellect and order to art, after the imitative ethos of Impressionism.

Puteaux Group at the Salon des Independants

In 1911, in an effort to promote Cubist art to the general public, the Puteaux artists organized a group show in Salle 41 of the Salon des Independants. Shocked by the alien Cubist forms on display, the viewing public were scandalized and outraged, giving exhibitors a taste of what was to come in 1913, at the Armory Show of European modern art in New York. In addition to the Salon des Independants show, the Puteaux Cubists also exhibited at the Parisian Galerie de l'Art Contemporain under the auspices of the Societe Normande de Peinture Moderne. This show had received a modest amount of press attention, but due to the diversity of the paintings on display it was listed as an exhibition of Fauvism as well as Cubism.

Formation of Section d'Or: Exhibition at Galerie La Boetie

In 1912, following their display at the 1911 Salon des Independants - which led to them being nicknamed "Salon Cubists" - the group named themselves the Section d'Or and staged a second major exhibition - known as the Salon de la Section d'Or - at the Galerie La Boetie. (Another organization - Les Artistes de Passy - was also formed at this time.) All the Puteaux and Section d'Or artists exhibited, but as before, neither Picasso nor Braque were represented, due to prior contractual obligations. Arguably, however, their absence was entirely appropriate. For though it is okay to think of the painters who did exhibit as being, first of all, Cubists, it is inconceivable not to think of Braque and Picasso as being, first of all, painters.

As it was, the 1912 Salon de la Section d'Or was the most important pre-war Cubist art exhibition. More than 200 paintings and sculptures were showcased, many of which illustrated the development of the artists concerned during the period 1909-12, which lent the exhibition the air of a Cubist retrospective. The first treatise on Cubism - Du Cubisme (1912), written by Jean Metzinger and Albert Gleizes - was specially published by Eugene Figuiere to coincide with the show. The book was so popular that it went through 15 printings in 1912 alone. An English translation followed in 1913. The show proved to be a huge success, and helped to establish Cubism as the leading movement of avant-garde art in Paris. If not yet fully comprehensible either to art critics or the public, it certainly attracted the attention of art collectors anxious to possess something of the new style.

Following the Salon, the group began publishing its own magazine, also called Section d'Or. But there were no other official exhibitions (although members showed at the Donkey's Tail Exhibition in Moscow), and within 18 months the outbreak of World War I effectively curtailed the group's activities.

Attempt at Post-War Revival

The enforced wartime absence in neutral Switzerland of Picasso and Braque's influential agent Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, due to his German citizenship, led to the closure of his gallery and the seizure of its stock. It also enabled rival dealers - Leonce (1877-1947) and Paul (1881-1959) Rosenberg - to move in and sign contracts with Picasso and others, thus becoming the main Cubist art dealers. With their support, certain members of Section d'Or including Gleizes, Leger, Archipenko attempted to revive the spirit of the Section d'Or in 1920, in the form of a large travelling exhibition of abstract paintings: the Exposition de la Section d’Or. The concept was to assemble a representative collection that illustrated the evolution of 20th century abstract art in general and Cubism in particular. Unfortunately, the project failed to materialize. However, a second Section d'Or exhibition was staged at the Galerie La Boetie in March 1920, which also included works from Doesburg's De Stijl group, the Russian Constructivism tendency and the newly-founded Bauhaus design school. As events showed, Section d'Or's moment had come and gone. The 1920s belonged first to Dada, and then the Paris-based international Surrealism movement.

Painting and sculpture by members of Section d'Or can be seen in some of the best art museums in the world.

• For a chronological guide to the evolution of abstract painting, see: History of Art Timeline.
• For more about Cubist painting and sculpture, see: Homepage.

© All rights reserved.