Georges Braque

Georges Braque

Georges Braque was French painter, graphic artist and sculptor, one of the main ideologists of Cubism.

Early years

Georges Braque was born May 13, 1882 in Argenteuil, France, in a family of an artisan. He spent his childhood in Le Havre, where attended evening classes of painting at the local École des Beaux-Arts, though he always claimed to be a self-educated person, without formal training. Initially Braque was decorator, inheriting profession of his grandfather and dad. That experience played significant role in further cubistic experiments of the artist, affecting his choice of material, craft-like character and plainness of his works.

In 1900 the young man moved to Paris and in winter of 1905 – 1906 he joined Fauvistic movement. Later he wrote that “Matisse and Derain opened the road for me”. In 1906 together with Émile-Othon Friesz he left for Antwerp and spent summer of 1907 in La Ciotat and L’Estaque, where the painter created series of marine landscapes, elegantly-fauvistic, colorful, but yet well-balanced and a bit unrealistic (“La Ciotat”, 1907).

Proto-Cubistic period

Two occurrence that happened in autumn of 1907 radically changed Braque’s art: these were Cezanne’s exhibition at the Salon d’Automne and acquaintance with Picasso, whose “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” had stricken him and made distance from Fauvism. Their influence, as, probably, influence of African art is visible in his “Standing female nude” (1907 – 1908), painted in winter of the same year.

In summer of 1908 in L’Estaque Georges rendered a series of landscapes, full of vigorous dynamism, simplified in coloring and almost deprived of perspective. Everything was reduced to geometrical and compact forms – “the cubes”, like Louis Vauxcelles sarcastically called them, when Braque’s pieces were exhibited in Khanweiler’s gallery in November 1908 (“Houses at l’Estaque”, 1908).

In depictions of sceneries of Normandy and La Roche-Guyon, made in 1908, masses were opposed not so harshly – they’re united with Cezanne-like gradations, which smooth light and split volumes into the mosaic of plans, unfolded to a viewer.

Cubistic period

At that period the master aspired not to accenting on the three-dimensional character of objects in the emptiness of traditional perspective, but to depict space between objects. “What particularly attracted me (about painting ‘Still-life with Musical instruments, 1908 – 1909 – Author) […] was the materialization of this new space that I felt to be in the offing”. He quit painting landscapes and referred to still life, “because in nature there is a tactile space, I would say almost manual. For me that expressed the desire I have always had to touch a thing, not just to look at it. It was that space that attracted me strongly, for that was the earliest Cubist painting – the quest for space”.

In still lifes of 1910s constructive elements of things were blurred to create one entire plan of the image. Since the end of 1909 Braque closely cooperated with Pablo Picasso and together with him elaborated Cubistic doctrine. His still lifes (now often with musical instruments) approached to noticeable monumentality – objects were audaciously sectioned into sharp planes, which represented various points of view (“Violin and Pitcher”, 1910).

In paintings of 1911 volumes were shown almost flat and simplified to the geometry of sharp acute angles and subtle curvilinear accents; separate brushstrokes made painting’s surface vibrant. Georges Braque introduces trompe l’oeil elements into his compositions – letters or nails, for instance, were meant to underline the major plan of a canvas.

In 1913 invention of collage allowed the artist to return color into painting and to disengage color from form to reveal their self-sufficiency. Hence the author approached to “Synthetic cubism”, although this term describes clearly creative intentions of Juan Gris and could be used to Braque’s legacy only with a proviso. Pieces of that time were defined by lightness, airiness of composition, which nevertheless remained shallow; objects were sketched with several lines (“Hommage to J.S. Bach”, 1912).

Period between wars

In 1914 Georges Braque was mobilized as an infantryman and was hardly wounded a year later. In 1917 he returned to work. At the beginning of the after-war period Braque painted still lifes, noticeable more for elegance and taste, then for audacity and creative wit of the preceding phases. However, formally, the master’s vision remained cubistic – he decomposed objects into elements and plans, restructured and submitted to austere and decorative rhythm; he used potential of tactile space, almost always limited in his canvases with walls, screens and rarely opened into depth.

It’s important to notice that Cubism had gradually petered out by the end of 1910s in the fight with Expressionism. Emergence of numerous epigones was another factor that led to gradual distancing of Georges Braque from Cubism.

George Braque tried his hand in printing and sculpture (engraving of plaster). As now avant-garde was moving towards neoclassicistic, the artist didn’t remain aside from that trend and created some pieces, inspired by the art and culture of antiquity ‑ the etchings for Hesiod’s “Theogons” (1931) were among them.

Occasionally Georges referred to the landscape genre, capturing mostly large-scale marines and scenes with boats on the shore, almost without any presence of human figures (“Barque sur les Galets”, 1928).

Towards the approaching World War II the painter’s palette became lighter and form modeling more unconstraint and (“Still Life Mandolin II”, 1939).

His first major solo exhibition was held in 1933 at the Kunsthalle in Basel. He received international recognition, winning first prize in 1937 at the Carnegie International in Pittsburgh.

Last decade

Despite regular interruption of his plans by illness, the artist complete in 1949 – 1956 “The Studio series”, where elements of interior and still-life paintings were presented through the lens of Cubistic language. Yet, complicated texture of the painting surface, shimmering light effects and expressive manner of Braque’s pieces left a flavor of metaphysics, untypical for Cubism.

Towards the end of his creative activity, Georges was involved in several projects, connected with monumental painting: he executed decoration for the Etruscan Hall in the Louvre (1952 – 1953) and designs for stained glass in the Chapel of St Dominique at Varengeville (where he would be buried) and for the Chapel of St Bernard in St Paul-de-Vence.

Georges Braque died on August 31, 1963 in Paris.

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