Sunday, 24 May 2015


“I no longer believe in anything. Objects don’t exist for me except in so far as a rapport exists between them or between them and myself. When one attains this harmony, one reaches a sort of intellectual non-existence – what I can only describe as a state of peace – which makes everything possible and right. Life then becomes a perpetual revelation. That is true poetry.” - George Braque

French artist Georges Braque (13 May 1882 – 31 August 1963) was one of the founders along with Picasso of the Cubist art movement. His piece ‘Nude’ (1907-1908) can be regarded as one of the first works in Cubism. He is one of the revolutionaries of modern art and together with several of his fellow artists at the time generated controversy, but at the same time changed the manner in which people viewed art and made them revise their expectations of what an art work was and what it meant.

George Braque was born in 1882 in Argenteuil, a Seine-side village near Paris. Both his father and grandfather were skilled artists. In 1890 the family moved to the port of Le Havre where Braque led quite a solitary childhood. He went to the local École des Beaux-Arts but failed his exams in 1899, leaving his parents to apprentice their son to a local painter-decorator. In Paris Braque gained a craftsman’s diploma and through a friendship with Raoul Dufy and Othon Friesz became involved in the Fauvist movement.

In 1907 he first saw the work of Cézanne and in the same year met Picasso who had just completed ‘Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon’ (1907). Although not immediately impressed, Braque began experimenting with a fragmented style, eventually completing ‘Nude’ (1907-1908) which can be seen as one of the earliest works in Cubism. Returning to the Mediterranean, and to painting landscapes, Braque was rapidly developing his own distinctive vision, imposing his own take on the landscape rather than replicating exactly what he saw.

For the next few years Braque worked closely with Picasso particularly between 1910 and 1912, experimenting with Cubism and this new technique in which to represent form and space. Musical instruments were frequently depicted such as in ‘Man with a Guitar’ (1911) and a number of still-lifes for example, ‘Still-Life with Pipe and Glass’ (1912). In 1912, realising that he was succumbing to the notion of art for art’s sake, he abandoned Cubism.

Braque and Picasso began experimenting with colour and collage and achieved some impressive results. In 1914, however, Braque enlisted in the French army and fought in the Second World War before being wounded in the head. Returning to the studio in 1917 his work began to change as he adopted a more graceful style, using curves and muted colours. In 1922 an exhibition of his work at the Salon d’ Antomne was acclaimed and by the 1930s his reputation was international.

He continued to paint still-lifes and interiors, with the ‘Studio’ series, begun in 1947, proving one of his most accomplished. The work that Braque produced in collaboration with Picasso is varied in quality though impressive in the radical experiments with technique. Despite working closely together, their approaches were quite different with Braque proving more considered and Picasso more spontaneous. Braque was also concerned with representing a subject in his own way, conveying more than just the image before him.

Braque constantly struggled with the use of colour in regard to form, and it was only after designing a series of stained-glass windows in 1953 that he finally reconciled the two as can be seen in ‘The Studio VIII’ (1954-1955). He was a quiet man but his reputation was such that he received many accolades during his lifetime and was accorded the greatest honour of all in a state funeral when he died in 1963.

The painting above is ‘The Duet’ of 1937 (Oil on canvas. 129.8 x 160 cm. Musée National d’ Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France). From the mid 1930’s the human figure returned in Braque’s work and his personal style became less cryptic/abstract and more immediately engaging for the viewer. In this painting, the two figures are immediately recognisable as singer and pianist rehearsing (quite chauvinistically) a Debussy song. The silhouette-like figures are highlighted by the very decorative wallpaper in the background while the pink and green in the women’s dresses act as magnets for the viewer’s eyes, which move back and forth while exploring the scene.

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