Final Paper: Jean Metzinger's Le Port (The Harbor)
Fall 2017 – Sections (81007, 81011, 81012)
Mr. Jason Hose, MA Art Education
Brief Artist Biography
Jean Metzinger was born on June 24, 1883 in Nantes, France. He was the eldest
son of Eugène François Metzinger and Eugénie Louise Argoud. The Metzinger's were a
relatively famous military family due to Jean's great-grandfather's experience serving
under Napoleon Bonaparte. However, Jean's mother had hopes that one day he would
become a medical doctor. Unfortunately, after the untimely death of his father, Jean
threw himself into his studies. He pursued interests in mathematics, painting, and music.
By the year 1900, Jean was enrolled as a student at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in
Nantes where he apprenticed under the portrait painter, Hippolyte Touront. It was not
long before Jean moved to Paris using the money had made selling three of his
paintings, and by the time he was twenty years old, he was successfully supporting
himself as a professional painter. He exhibited his art regularly around Paris, and by
1906 Metzinger had officially made a name for himself. Jean Metzinger would continue
to prosper and evolve throughout his career and become known as one of the foremost
painters in cubism.
Introduction to Le Port
I chose Metzinger's Le Port (The Harbor) for a couple of reasons. The first being
that I thought the vertical panels were unique. It was something I had not seen before
(surprisingly) either in cubism or in abstract art. For me, it drew me in because it was a
fascinating example of cubism that wasn't totally lost to the abstract realm. Le Port,
although a cubist painting, is still a landscape: sharing the same moment from different
angles of the same port spread out across several panels. The second thing was his
use of color. Overall, the painting feels somewhat bleak and industrial, however, the use
of red and white paint really made this piece of artwork “pop” for me and make it feel as
though it were still abstract and relevant.
Section I Description
Le Port was painted in 1912 which was at the height of Metzinger's cubism period.
The painting itself is rather large, and the canvas dimensions are 33 ½ x 39 ½ inches.
Metzinger also used oil paints for this artwork – a popular choice among his peers. The
painting is split into six vertical segments each depicting a different scene of the same
industrial harbor from different viewpoints. The images depicted in each segment
include buildings and warehouses, sailboats, commercial ships, bridges, sky and ocean
water. Metzinger uses a variety of lines, ranging from sharp to thick, straight to curved,
and horizontal to vertical and diagonal in order to create shapes and bring this painting
to life. His use of color in this painting is reminiscent of cubist painters because they
vary from cool, warm, and neutrals shades with bright pops of color to enhance various
elements of the painting. The same can be said about his use of shape and texture. The
painting is crowded to the very edges of the canvas with geometrical shapes which
Metzinger emphasizes by adding texture using color.
Section II Analysis
Le Port can be analyzed as a whole or within its segments which is another thing
I found interesting about this painting. It's almost like the viewer is able to see multiple
paintings or only one. Each segment contains a small glimpse of the bustling harbor
which contains various hints of buildings, ships, bridges, sky and water. It is an
intriguing arrangement because it gives the viewer multiple perspectives of the same
location, perhaps at the same moment or different times during the day or even different
times in the year. Some perspectives are far off and distant, whereas others are up
close and fill the entire segment. Metzinger uses a mixture of squares, rectangles, and
triangles to depict his harbor scene, and it works quite well in the abstract sense. There
is a sense of mechanical-ism among the shapes that are somehow relaxing. The artist
also uses darker colors as well as neutral colors to maintain a gloomy feel about the
scene, but it is important to note that he also adds stark whites and vivid reds
throughout the painting to create a sense of balance and contrast. Instead of using
leading lines, Metzinger uses various angles of the bridges at the top of the painting to
help lead the viewer across the painting, taking in each segment as if they were reading
a book. It is an interesting tactic because the viewer is able to view the painting from left
to right and top to bottom.
Section III Interpretation
It is not always easy to interpret an artist's motive for a piece of artwork,
especially when it comes to cubist or abstract painters, and Metzinger's Le Port is no
exception. Metzinger is known to have painted other harbor and sailboat type paintings,
however this painting is different. In a sense it is mechanical, by breaking up the
painting into segments and painting specific aspects from the harbor, we are able to see
the everyday functions of the port. Why would he choose to do that? One reason I can
think of after reading more about the artist and his work, is that he was obsessed with
the idea of bringing cubism and reality together. He didn't believe that natural forms
should be completely obscured by abstraction, and instead he committed his work to
marrying the two elements together to create balance and harmony.
Section IV Judgment
Upon first inspection, Le Port seems to be a relatively straightforward painting.
We see a bustling harbor, and it is the perfect description of turn of the century
industrialism. When I first looked at this painting, I was immediately drawn to the artist's
depiction of its commercialism because it is brooding, industrial, and cramped. It is not
an image I could imagine myself relaxing to because some elements are a bit jarring
like the use of dark colors and sharp, angular shapes. And yet, even though I can
almost sense the hustle and bustle of the moment, it is still somehow calming. I think it
is because there is so much to look at within it, and that is another reason why I like this
painting I really appreciate that the artist took great care in finding an equilibrium
between a realistic form and abstract art, and in my opinion it is very well done. I could
I do not know what to do.
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