Les Casbahs du Haut Atlas (étude n°2), 1931
b. 1883, Algiers, Algeria
d. 1960, Bailly, Oise, France
Henry Valensi was an artist and theorist of the Cubist movement, and is known as the founder of Musicalism. Born in Algiers, Valensi grew up in Paris, studying painting at the Julian Academy with Jules Lefebvre and Tony Robert-Fleury, and in 1905 he had his first exhibition at the Salon des Orientalistes. After traveling widely in North Africa, Turkey, and Russia, Valensi returned to Paris and became a member of the Puteaux Group, which appealed to his fascination with the mathematical and scientific foundations of Cubism.
In 1912, along with Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes, Juan Gris, Fernand Léger, Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia, and others, Valensi organized the Salon of the Golden Section—named for the mathematical principle of the golden ratio—and the exhibition saw great success. During the first World War, Valensi served as a war artist, and many of his paintings of the Dardanelles Campaign were purchased by the French government and are now in the collection of the Bibliothèque de Documentation Internationale Contemporaine. Following the war, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti organized a retrospective of Valensi’s work in Rome, and in 1925 Valensi exhibited in the final edition of the Golden Section, which also featured work by Pablo Picasso and Robert and Sonia Delaunay. Between 1959 and 1960, Valensi bequeathed eighteen important paintings to the collection of the Musée National d’Art Moderne/ Centre Pompidou in Paris.
Valensi remained dedicated to the interdisciplinary innovation of abstraction, and in 1932 he founded the Association des Artistes Musicalistes. Called both “effusionist” and “musicalist,” the style of movement is typified by rhythmic divisions, symphonic compositions, and the conception of color as a vibrational material. Named by Guillaume Apollinaire as Orphism, and enlivening the space between Cubism and Futurism, Musicalism defined itself as visual art to listen to. Along with Léopold Survage, Ernst Klausz and František Kupka, Valensi pushed Musicalism to define a new interdisciplinary conception of painting, sensation, and space.