The Idea was not New
According to some sources, Delaunay’s decision to display the painting on the floor was also a nod to the Russian avant-garde artist Kazimir Malevich, who had famously exhibited his “Black Square” painting on the floor at a 1915 exhibition in Moscow.
Delaunay’s placement of the painting on the floor was meant to disrupt the viewer’s expectations and invite them to engage with the work in a new way. It was a bold statement that reflected Delaunay’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of traditional art forms and exploring new ways of creating meaning through colour and form.
Enter Georges Rouault
But he hadn’t anticipated the reaction of French artist Georges Rouault, whose work was centred around religious themes painted in a very expressionistic style. He had been drinking heavily and when he stumbled across Delaunay’s painting on the floor, he reportedly exclaimed, “What is this animal doing here?” before proceeding to walk over the painting and insult Delaunay.
Some contemporary sources suggest the incident was sparked by a longstanding artistic rivalry between the two artists. They had once been friends but had grown apart over differences in their artistic styles. Delaunay’s use of vibrant colours and geometric shapes in his abstract art was seen as a departure from the more emotional and sombre work of Rouault.
A Fight Breaks Out
Regardless of the cause, the altercation between Rouault and Delaunay quickly escalated into a physical fight. Rouault reportedly punched Delaunay in the face and he returned the favour, hence his nickname, ‘Mr Punch’. Sonia Delaunay, Robert’s wife, who was also an artist and fashion designer intervened to break up the fight, and the police were called to the scene.
The incident caused a stir in the art world and highlighted the growing tensions between the different artistic movements in Paris at the time. Some saw it as a clash between traditional and modernist art, while others viewed it as a personal dispute between two artists. Regardless of the interpretation, the incident has since become a notable moment in the history of modern art.
Explore other French artists : Henri Matisse, Toulouse Lautrec, Claude Monet