Émile Cohl’s Surrealism

Le peintre néo-impressionniste
R: Émile Cohl. P: Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont. Fr 1910

“The Incoherents (Les Arts incohérents) was a short-lived French art movement founded by Parisian writer and publisher Jules Lévy (1857-1935) in 1882, which in its satirical irreverence anticipated many of the art techniques and attitudes later associated with avant-garde and anti-art. Lévy coined the phrase les arts incohérents as a play on the common expression les arts décoratifs (i.e. arts & crafts, but above all, a famous art school in Paris, the National School of Decorative Arts.) The Incoherents presented work which was deliberately irrational and iconoclastic, contained found objects, was nonsensical, included humoristic sketchs, drawings of children, and drawings ‘made by people who don’t know how to draw.’ Lévy exhibited an all-black painting by poet Paul Bilhaud called Combat de Nègres dans un Tunnel (Negroes Fight in a Tunnel). The early film animator Émile Cohl contributed photographs which would later be called surreal.”

“Joking titles like these were commonplace in the Incoherents’ exhibitions. (…) The idea clearly anticipates Cohl’s film by 26 years. The rationale for taking such delight in verbal-visual dissonance was expressed by the Incoherents’ founder Jules Lévy in 1885. Pictorial language, he argued, was foundering from exhaustion. Violent means must be used to revitalize it, including attempts to find visual equivalents to neologisms in puns, rebuses, and wordplay. Certainly, Le peintre néo-impressionniste (which might have been more accurately titled ‘Le peintre incohérent’) goes a long way in this direction. Its humor is not slapstick but dry and intellectual and, strangely enough, elicits much the same response as the punning intertitles of Marcel Duchamp‘s 1926 avant-garde film Anémic Cinéma.”
Donald Crafton: Before Mickey: The Animated Film 1898-1928. University of Chicago Press 2015, p. 78

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