Georges Braque

French painter, associated with Picasso in the creation of cubism.

Born near Paris, Braque grew up in Le Havre where he attended evening classes in drawing and was apprenticed to a painter-decorator, the profession also of his father and grandfather.

From 1900 he was in Paris, pursuing both this and training as an artist, setting up in 1904 in his own studio in Mont-martrc.

He knew Dufy and Friesz from Le Havre. Thrilled with seeing the Fauve display in the 1905 Salon d’Automnc, he adopted a Fauve manner and showed with his friends in 1906 and 1907, when Kahnweiler bought work from him and put him under contract.

That October Braque saw the Cezanne memorial display at the Salon d’Automne and November/December he visited Picasso’s studio and saw his Demoiselles d’Avignon and work in progress. He abandoned Fauvism. His Large Nude shows his response to both influences but he subsequently concentrated on landscape and still life.

When Kahnweiler exhibited some Braque landscapes in November 1908, a critic commented on his reducing ‘everything … to geometrical schemes. To cubes’. Their volumetric ambiguity was not noticed. This became more patent in land scapes and still lifes done in 1909. By the end of that year Braque was fragmenting objects and introducing transparent, unstable planes, thus challenging the tradition of pictorial representation, as in Violin and Palette.

Still lifes done thai winter are almost indecipherable, thanks to fractured forms amid planes that give setting and space equal presence, Picasso, in almost daily contact with Braque, was adapting Braque’s method LO mostly figure subjects, but in 1910 they came abreast, frequently taking sealed figures with musical instruments as their titular subjects. Their paintings of this time can be difficult to distinguish, though Braque’s lend to be more clearly structured and more classical, and to show a more sensuous use of paint.

Steeped in the tradition of French decorative painting, Braque sometimes used oval formats in and after 1910, as did Picasso from 1911. In 1911 both men began to introduce lettering into their compositions, as on labels, newspapers and posters, but in other respects their paintings became almost abstract, with only occasional hints of the presence of objects.

Both now used larger, clearer forms in their pictures, reduced their spatial complexity, but in other respects they diverged. Braque introduced cut paper forms to define his subjects’ settings. Both made three-dimensional paper constructions but Braque’s are lost and did not lead to sculpture. By 1913 Braque was annotating with charcoal lines and shading paper elements, abstract in form, to give them still-life significance; the elements, collaged on to canvas or paper, are clearly upon it, so that pictorial space now reads as in front of the picture plane, not behind it. His paintings of this time are more colourful than before and incorporate patches of visual texture (e.g. dots) and physical texture when he mixed sand into his paint. He was working with great freedom when war carne and he was sent to the front in November 1914.

He was wounded, convalesced slowly an began painting again in 1917. At first the new work varied between a simplified, almost heraldic kind of cubism and a freer idiom, richer in color and in the enjoyment of paint. Still life continued as his preferred subject, but a kind of controlled opulence, sometimes including cubist devices, sometimes more intent on fluent, interlocking forms, replaced any sense of a limited enquiry. Line became more important for him, often echoing rather than outlining forms.

He had made etchings in his Cubist days; in 1931 he made images of figures from Greek mythology by scratching lines into plaster, long curling lines that gradually come to suggest a figure and its attributes. Similar lines are found in still lifes of the 1930s and in his landscapes (he owned a summer house near Dieppe from 1929 on).

His first major retrospective was shown in Basel in 1933. lt enhanced his international status without making him a star in France. His art, after the war especially, has a private and gently poetic character best appreciated by fellow painters, though he is now seen retrospectively as a great modern master. In the later 1930s he introduced figures into his interiors, varying his accounts from free, rhythmic drawing to naturalistic details.

A 1939 still-life painting he called Studio, a decentralized composition including a bird in flight, initiated a series ol Studio paintings that climaxed in the 1950s and in a series of Bird images, some of them done as decorative panels, e.g. for the Louvre Museum in 1952-3. His major exhibitions continued to be outside France (e.g. USA 1939, Amsterdam and Brussels 1945 Venice Biennale (first prize for Painting) 1948, New York and Cleveland 1949. Switzerland 1953, Edinburgh and London 1956) but his stock rose in France through his connection with Galeric Maeght from 1947 and in 1962 he had a Prestigous solo show in the Louvre.

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