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Mainie Jellett

Exercises in translation and rotation 


Mainie Jellett has left behind a remarkable collection of drawings dating back to the years 1922-4 when Gleizes was working out the basic ideas of his Painting and Its Laws (see Links). Painting and Its Laws lays down the conditions of a painting which will respond both to our capacity to enjoy the relations of objects in space - translation - and to enter into time and movement - rotation.

Fundamentally the whole construction of the work of art derives from the proportions given by its outer limit. Normally these are provided by the height and breadth of a rectangle but often in Jellett's exercises, irregular and concentric shapes are used. From 1923 onwards Gleizes encouraged paintings and drawings with several 'elements' - in which several constructions were juxtaposed, the eye passing from one to the other. Gleizes' work with Jellett (already an experienced artist by the time she went to him) was very close and often it is clear that they are both working on the same constructions and borrowing freely from each other's ideas.

The original collection is divided between the National Gallery in Dublin and the Ulster Museum in Belfast. I am grateful to Bruce Arnold for introducing me to it.

'Automatic' constructions. These follow very closely a series of diagrams in Painting and its Laws, which show the development of a workable construction on the basis of the pure principle, with a minimum of intervention on the part of the artist.
Drawings with one element. These are probably the earliest examples, dating back to the first lessons, late 1922/early 1923.
Drawings with two elements
Drawings with four elements. A series showing the evolution of a complex construction from an initial simple arrangement of rectangles. The final construction is very close to Le Centre Noir, a major painting by Gleizes of 1925, in the Musée des Beaux Arts in Lyon. The examples shown are a rather schematic copy of Jellett's original.