Futurism: room guide, room 5, Paris: Orphism Room 5, Paris: Orphism

Robert Delaunay The Cardiff Team, 1913 Abstracted figures with advertising hoardings and shapes of ferris wheel, aeroplane and Eiffel Tower in the background.

Public controversy over Cubism was at its height in Paris during 1911-12, just as Futurism arrived. The avant-garde Salons where the Cubists’ work was concentrated (though neither Picasso nor Braque showed in them) became the target for press criticism and public mockery. In defence of the new art, the painters Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger published On Cubism, which set their work within the tradition of radical French art from Courbet and Manet to Cézanne. They did not want to be associated with the Futurists, and actively opposed their conflation of ‘plastic dynamism with the hubbub of the street’.

As distinct from Gleizes and Metzinger’s view of a stable Cubism, the poet and critic Guillaume Apollinaire’s The Cubist Painters: Aesthetic Meditations identified the crucial move towards abstraction. He saw this ‘pure painting’ as already present in the work of Picasso and Braque. Seeking to unite the avant-garde in the face of conservative criticism, the poet called this new synthesis Orphism. By naming the new movement after Orpheus, a poet and musician in Greek mythology, Apollinaire gave it a lyric, rather than representational, role. Robert Delaunay was the principal figure, though Apollinaire grouped Fernand Léger, Francis Picabia and others under the new term. For some this implied a convergence with Futurism. While Léger admitted an admiration for the Italians, Delaunay bitterly rejected them and claimed publicly that he had introduced simultaneity into visual art. In turn Boccioni declared: ‘Orphism… is just an elegant masquerade of the basic principles of Futurist painting.’