This oil on canvas painting, completed in 1922 by Amedee Ozenfant, depicts several still life objects, namely a guitar, several glasses and cups, and a vase. The background of the work is black, while the still life objects are a dull green, blue, and white. In this work, Ozenfant achieves a restoration of order through the incorporation of mathematics in the design of his painting, through which he realistically depicting common objects.
Formerly a Cubist, Ozenfant branched away from the movement after the realization that Cubism was losing sight of the true meaning of art. Openly attacking the school in one of his many contributions to the French publication L’ Espirit Nouveau, Ozenfant wrote that Cubism “had degenerated into nothing more than into a form of elaborate decoration.”1 Ozenfant explained this claim by stating, “Cubism has only showed their accidental aspects, to such an extent that on the basis of this erroneous idea it even re created arbitrary and fantastic forms.”2 By this Ozenfant means that Cubist painters have so completely skewed or exaggerated minor aspects of objects that the objects are no longer recognizable, and in the process the viewer is left with nothing to associate with. In other words, the art is good for nothing more than a decoration.
Ozenfant’s response to this regression was the formation of the Purist movement. One of the major ways Ozenfant attempted to restore order was simplicity. To achieve this desired simplicity, Ozenfant turned to mathematics, particularly geometry. Through the incorporation of geometry, Ozenfant was able to establish symmetry. . Many of Ozenfant’s ideas concerning symmetry are based on the Greek Fibonacci numbers, which attribute symmetry to nature. “Biological systems, though operating at the edge of chaos, are extremely ordered.”2 Ozenfant, in a publication of L’ Espirit Nouveau, illustrated this idea by using the example of a bees building perfectly symmetrical cone nests. In Accords, Ozenfant uses blurry white shadows of the still lives to create a grid like pattern against the black background. This gives a very ordered and balanced feel to the work.
Ozenfant also believed the manner in which topics are depicted in paintings also had a large influence on the viewer’s reaction to a work. Unlike Cubism, Ozenfant did not stretch the limits of reality in the depiction of items in paintings. In Accords, Ozenfant clearly paints a guitar and various containers. There is no skewing of form or composition that would lead a viewer to be led to false interpretation of the subject matter.
Through the incorporation of geometric aspects and a realistic depiction of subject matter, Ozenfant achieves a return to order from the chaos created by false interpretation and irregular design. It was through his distaste of what Cubism had created that Ozenfant constructed a criteria of what art should be, and in doing so became a founding father of the Purist school of art.
Arnason, H.H., and Marla F. Prather. History of Modern Art. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc, 1998.
Amedee Ozenfant, “From Foundations Of Modern Art,” Art In Theory, ed. Harrison Wood,
Charles Paul (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 1992), 369.
“Preaching Painter.” Time 32, no. 1 (July 4, 1938): 28. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed March 27, 2012).