1882 – 1963
“The painting is finished when the idea has disappeared.” -Braque
Georges Braque fascinates me for two reasons primarily: he was instrumental in the formation of cubism but is often overlooked and his nature as a quiet, reserved inventive man is consistently expressed in the evolution of his work (he also has some of my favourite quotes). Braque began painting by training as a house painter and a decorator in the family tradition, but through this entry point he began to study artistic painting at the Institute of Fine Arts in Le Havre. After finishing a certification in Le Havre, he went on to study at the Humbert Academy in Paris and it was here that he experienced his first major change in style. Up until this point, Braque had primarily been working in an impressionistic style, a style which emphasized freely brushed colors over the rules of academic painting, but at the Academy he encountered the “Fauves” and was heavily influenced by their style. Fauvism can be described as utilizing bright colors to represent emotional responses in a piece, practiced by such artists as Matisse and Derain. After his exposure to this artistic group, Braque worked with some fellow artists from Le Havre to quiet down the style and make it more to his liking. In the piece below, Le Viaduc de L’Estaque, we can see how Braque has moved away from impressionism with the defined lining in the piece and the overall composition to embrace Fauvism with his brilliant use of color to emphasize the subject of his painting. Interestingly compared to other Fauvist artists, Braque is very sparingly using his color palate in order to not distract from the subject in any way. This is a trend expressed throughout his life’s work, a focus on the use of color in shades and values, but with caution against using too many colors with many pieces being completely monochromatic. In this piece the muted blue/green framing elements are sharply contrasted by the red/orange focal colors.
In 1907, Braque gained some notice by exhibiting his Fauvist works and while in Paris for his exhibit had the opportunity to visit the retrospective gallery of Cezanne, who had passed just the year before. Braque became heavily influenced by the work of Cezanne and was began to experiment with geometric simplification and new ideas of color usage to show dimensionality. Braque also experimented with the idea of simultaneous perspective and sought to question the artistic norms of the time. During this time, Braque met Pablo Picasso and they immediately began working closely together. For a period of around 6 years Picasso and Braque painted side by side and together developed a totally new style. Both artists had been impressed by the work of Cezanne and their shared focus allowed them to heighten each other’s work while bringing different perspectives. Braque was more concerned with analysis and contemplation of a piece while Picasso was concerned with trying to express animation. Together they invented first Analytical Cubism and then Cubism itself. Interestingly, for a two year period the artists’ works were so similar that we still cannot determine the exact ownership of some of them today.
“The things that Picasso and I said to one another during those years will never be said again, and even if they were, no one would understand them anymore. It was like being roped together on a mountain.” -Braque
The painting below, La guitare, is an example of Analytical Cubism and truly an insight into the way that Braque practiced the style in this time period. The piece is monochromatic with a shattered, simultaneous perspective of the guitar showing all the aspects of the item being examined and allowing the viewer to consider it in a new way. The Cubist style also had a large allure in that it granted the artist more control over the reading that their viewers would draw from the piece, as Ernst Gombrich put it the style could “enforce one reading of the picture – that of a man-made construction, a colored canvas”. La guitare has always been an amazing piece to me as it is at the same time crystal clear what the subject of the piece is and totally novel as you are seeing a guitar depicted in a totally new way. The piece also impresses me in the rich texture and depth being displayed with only one color and simple geometric shapes.
In 1914, Braque parted ways with Picasso and served in the French Army for the beginning of World War I. While in battle he was severely injured and spent some time recovering. In 1916, Braque picked up painting and once again began muting the style he had been working in, except this time the style he had helped create! During this period, Braque drew from his early experience in Expressionism and Fauvism to break the rules of Cubism with brilliant colors and rich textures. He also expanded his artistic focus in this period to include many new mediums, including sculpture, printmaking, and stained glass. The piece below, Etude De Nu, fascinated me because it is a study drawing from this period that really exhibits how his background is influencing his work. While still using many of the techniques he developed in cubism to portray his subject, Braque did not fracture the image and instead represented the woman in the drawing in an impressionistic way by focusing on the realistic depiction of changing light and some element of movement in the piece instead of the harsh perspective based analysis he had pioneered. I was also extremely impressed by the way that Braque uses simple lines to give a very complete impression of the female subject by varying his line weights and adding in charcoal afterwards. Interestingly, though the overarching influence is definitely cubist, I truly felt that this piece was extremely realistic in its portrayal and carries a lot of emotional weight.
In August of 1963, Braque passed in Paris after a long, quiet, and prolific career. Braque is buried in the cemetery of the church whose stained glass he designed.
Braque, Georges, Brigitte Léal, Gary Tinterow, and Alison De Lima. Greene. Georges Braque, 1882-1963: Paris, Grand Palais, Galeries Nationales, 16 Septembre 2013-6 Janvier 2014, Houston, the Museum of Fine Arts, 16 Février-11 Mai 2014. Paris: Réunion Des Musées Nationaux-Grand Palais, 2013. Print.
Butler, Karen K., Georges Braque, Renée Maurer, Patricia Favero, Uwe Feckner, Gordon Hughes, Narayan Khandekar, Erin Mysak, and Éric Trudel. Georges Braque and the Cubist Still Life 1928 - 1945 ;. Munich: DelMonico , Prestel, 2013. Print.
Zurcher, Bernard, and Simon Nye. Georges Braque, Life and Work. New York: Rizzoli, 1988. Print.
Chipp, Herschel Browning., and Georges Braque. Georges Braque, the Late Paintings, 1940-1963. Washington, D.C.: Phillips Collection, 1982. Print.
"Georges Braque, 1908, Le Viaduc de L'Estaque (Viaduct at L'Estaque), oil on canvas" Wikimedia Commons. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Mar. 2014.
"Georges Braque, 1909-10, La guitare (Mandora, La Mandore), oil on canvas" Wikimedia Commons. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Mar. 2014.
Braque, Georges. "Study of a Nude (Etude De Nu)." MoMA.org. Gift of Patrick and Tania Cramer, n.d. Web. 02 Mar. 2014.