Georges Braque
Biography, Paintings of Co-Founder Of Cubism.

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Houses at L'Estaque (1908)
Kunstmuseum, Berne.
An early form of Cubism.

Georges Braque (1882-1963)

Contents

Biography
Early Life
Prototype Cubism
Analytical Cubism
Synthetic Cubism
Still Lifes
The 'Ateliers' and Other Late Works
Reputation and Legacy
Collections
Cubist Painters



Violin and Candlestick (1910)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
An example of Analytical Cubism.

BEST ABSTRACT ART
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of abstraction, see:
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For a list of the most influential
styles/periods, see:
Abstract Art Movements.

WORLDS TOP ARTISTS
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Biography

A key figure in modern French painting, the artist Georges Braque is chiefly remembered for his abstract art, notably his pioneering work on Cubism - one of the most revolutionary and influential movements of modern art - which he founded in the late 1900s in collaboration with Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). Initially a follower of Fauvism, Braque was greatly influenced by the work of Paul Cezanne, which led him to initiate a type of prototype Cubist painting in landscapes he completed at L'Estaque. After this he worked closely with Picasso with whom he formulated Analytical Cubism and later, Synthetic Cubism. Among Braque's most notable paintings are: Houses at L'Estaque (1908, Berne); Nude (1907-8, private collection); The Portuguese (1911, Kunstmuseum, Basel); Man with a Guitar (1911, Museum of Modern Art NY); The Musician (1917-18, Kunstmuseum, Basel); Fruit on a Tablecloth with a Fruit Dish 1925, (Musee National d'Art Moderne, Paris); and Woman with a Mandolin (1937, MoMA, NY). One of the great abstract painters of the 20th century, Braque was exceptionally innovative in his early career, producing works involving collage, papier colle, printmaking and sculpture. He was also influenced by Primitivism/Primitive Art. His favourite genre, however, remained still life (nature morte), as exemplified by numerous Cubist works, his Gueridon series (1927-30) and his Atelier series (1949-55). Indeed he must be among the best still life painters of the modern age. He was associated with the Ecole de Paris.

MODERN ARTISTS
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Georges Braque, see:
Modern Artists.

WORLD'S BEST MODERN ART
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painting, see:
Greatest Modern Paintings.

WORLD'S BEST ART
For a guide to easel art, see:
Fine Art Painting.
For a guide to oils, see:
Oil Painting.

Early Life

Braque was born into a working class family and spent his childhood in Le Havre before starting work as a painter and decorator, a trade that both his father and grandfather had followed. He received no formal training as an artist, being wholly self-taught, but his apprenticeship is evident in his knowledge of materials and in the workmanlike and deliberately matter-of-fact approach of the paintings of his Cubist period and later. In 1900 he moved to Paris where, in the winter of 1905-6, he became a follower of Fauvism. He later admitted that it was Henri Matisse (1869-1954) and Andre Derain (1880-1954) who had opened up new paths in painting for him. In 1906, after producing several expressionist paintings, he stayed in Antwerp with the fellow Fauvist Othon Friesz, and in the summer of 1907 he went south to La Ciotat and L'Estaque where he painted a series of small seascapes in an elegant Fauvist style (La Ciotat, 1907, Musee National d'Art Moderne, Paris).

 

Prototype Cubism

In late 1907, two events occurred that prompted Braque to change course radically: the retrospective exhibition for the late Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) at the Autumn Salon and his meeting with Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), whose radical painting Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1906-7, MoMA, New York) affected him profoundly. The large Nu Debout (Standing Nude) (1907, Paris, private collection) which he painted that winter shows this double influence and also, perhaps, that of African art. During the following summer he painted a series of landscapes at L'Estaque, in which the colour was simplified and in which perspective and design were reduced to a few compact geometric forms - the cubes that the art critic Louis Vauxcelles remarked upon when the paintings were exhibited at Kahnweiler's gallery in November 1908 (Houses at L'Estaque 1908, Kunstmuseum, Berne).

In the landscape painting which he completed in Normandy in 1908, and at La Roche-Guyon (Chateau de la Roche-Guyon, 1909, private collection), the forms used are less starkly opposed and appear more as a mosaic of planes. This was because Braque at the time was trying to paint the space between objects, instead of interpreting them by modelling them in space, as traditional perspective does; this, for him, was the main purpose of Cubism. This Cubist 'search for space' led him to abandon landscapes for still life which seemed to offer him space that was almost tactile and reflected, as he himself said, his urge to touch rather than to see things. The still life pictures that he painted in 1910 are characterized by their austere colours and by the placing of the constituent parts of the objects on a single plane (Violin & Candlestick, 1910, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Glass on the Table, 1910, private collection).

Analytical Cubism

From late 1909 onwards, Braque worked closely with Picasso and together the two men formulated the theories of Analytical Cubism. So close, in fact, was their working relationship that it is difficult to distinguish the contribution of each. Braque's still life painting, typically of musical instruments, became increasingly simplified, with objects broken down into hard, shining facets to suggest a simultaneous view of their various aspects. In his 1911 paintings, volumes are flattened and reduced to a geometry of sharp angles and barely perceptible curves, while broken brushstrokes are employed to unite the surface of the painting and give it a vibrant appearance. The introduction of trompe l'oeil features, such as lettering, besides serving a decorative purpose, enhanced the physical aspect of the canvas seen as a painting surface (The Portuguese, 1911, Kunstmuseum, Basel). Another important work from the period is Man with a Guitar, 1911, (MoMA, NY) which is considered one of his masterpieces.

Synthetic Cubism

In 1912, by attaching three pieces of wallpaper to the drawing Fruit Dish and Glass (drawing, private collection), he introduced collage to his works (or papier collé). This use of coloured adhesive paper, an innovation which allowed him to reintroduce colour to his paintings but in a way that separated the colour from form, signalled the new stage of Synthetic Cubism (Guitar and Cinema Programme, 1913, Picasso Collection), although this is a term that more properly applies to the works of Juan Gris (1887-1927) and should be used with caution in relation to Braque. His pictures of this period are remarkable for their lightness: comprising abstract structures of superimposed planes, they suggest space without depth, on which objects are evoked by a few fragmented marks (Homage to J.S. Bach, 1912, private collection).

Still Lifes: Art Between the Wars

Braque was mobilized into the army in 1914 and, after being seriously wounded the following year, did not resume work until 1917.

Fortunately, by this time, as the Frenchman who co-founded the Cubist movement, Braque was already recognized and successful. From about 1918 onwards, he largely abandoned collages and the rigours of Cubism for a more personal style, involving mainly still life, until his death in 1963.

After the war he began to paint what were in essence still lifes in which qualities of good taste and dignity overcame the boldness and creative vigour of the years 1907-14. The pictures were still Cubist in style, with objects broken down into elements and planes, then reassembled into vigorous plastic and decorative patterns (The Musician, 1917-18, Kunstmuseum, Basel). He also experimented with large seascapes and beach scenes with grounded boats (Cliffs, 1938, private collection), recalling memories of walks near the house that he had bought at Varengeville, near Dieppe, in 1930. The human figure rarely appears in the paintings of this period, except in the fine series of Canephores (1922-7, inspired by the Greek convention of figures with baskets on their heads), Braque's tribute to the Neoclassicism of the 1920s and probably an imitation of Picasso's giants.

 

During the inter-war years, Braque established himself as France's leading painter, the inheritor of the national virtues and depository of the classical tradition, which he later defined in his Cahier de Georges Braque: 1917-1947. Along with this Neoclassicism went the group of works inspired by the art and culture of ancient Greece: the etchings for Hesiod's Theogons (1931), the four remarkable engraved plaster casts (platres graves) on mythological themes, also made in 1931 (Herakles, Aime Maeght Collection, Paris), and most of the sculptures.

In fact, Braque's art after 1920 is notable for its stylistic coherence, most of his output consisting either of relatively small works, or of large, more ambitious works, often elaborated over a long period. There is no evolution in the true sense but rather a succcession of new themes linked each time with a new method of expressing relationships between line and volume, form and colour. His series of Gueridons (table-top still lifes) and the sombre, richly textured still lifes of 1918-20, which often feature a bunch of grapes juxtaposed with a musical instrument (Still Life with Guitar, 1919, private collection, St Louis), were followed by paintings of fireplaces and marble tables (Still life with Marble Table, 1925, Musee National d'Art Moderne, Paris) in greens, browns and blacks, which are mainly concerned with expressing volumes. Fruits and fabrics in the still lifes combine into rounded forms that are almost Baroque in their curving line.

After 1928, Braque's colours tend to become lighter and, in general, his pictures have a more fluid and less sensual feel (Blue Mandolin, 1930, City Art Gallery, St Louis). Their free and floating line has strong echoes of Picasso's curvilinear Cubism of 1923-4 (Still Life with Pipe, Kunstmuseum, Basel). The two tendencies joined together just before the war in great, brightly coloured ornamental paintings, full of imagination and animation (Still life with Mandolin, 1938, private collection, Chicago). At the same time human figures start to reappear. Portrayed from two aspects, full face and in profile, corresponding to a shadowy and a lit side, they resemble the earlier works of Picasso (The painter and his model, 1939, private collection, New York).

The 'Ateliers' and Other Late Works (1942-62)

The advent of war stimulated the creation of more serious works, reflecting the austerity of the times (The Kitchen Table, 1942, Musee National d'Art Moderne, Paris). After 1947, Braque's output was frequently interrupted by illness, but between 1949 and 1956 he completed his series of Ateliers (Studios): eight canvases that try to sum up the themes and experiments of his past work (Atelier VI, 1950-1, Maeght Foundation, St Paul-de-Vence). The bird motif that appears in some of these paintings reappears as the theme of the decoration that Braque carried out (1952-3) for the Etruscan Hall in the Louvre. It appears to symbolize his need, towards the end of his life, to escape from the enclosed world of all his other painting.

He also executed cartoons for stained glass in the Chapel of St Dominique at Varengeville and for the Chapel of St Bernard at the Maeght Foundation in St Paul-de-Vence.

Reputation and Legacy

Regarded today as a giant of modern art, Braque's fame rests essentially on his contribution to Cubism - the most important of all modern art movements - which went on to influence numerous other movements including German Expressionism (before 1914), Futurism (1909-14), Delaunay's Orphism (1910-13), Larionov's Rayonism (1912-14), the short-lived Vorticism (1914-15), and De Stijl (1917-31), to name but six. In addition, as a testament to his genius, Georges Braque became the first living artist to have his works exhibited in the Louvre in 1961.

Collections

As befits one of the great 20th century painters, Braque's works hang in the best art museums in Europe and the United States, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the French National Museum of Modern Art at the Pompidou Centre, Paris, the Kunstmuseum in Berne, and the Moderna Museet, Stockholm, as well as in most major galleries around the world.

For a list of the highest prices paid for works of art by famous painters: please see: Top 10 Most Expensive Paintings.

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