Georges Braque



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Life and work

Georges Braque was born in a suburb of Paris, the son of Charles Braque (1855-1911) and Augustine Johanet (1859-1942). His father was a decorative painter. In 1890, the family moved to Le Havre, where the young Braque completed an apprenticeship as a decorative painter in 1899 and at the same time took painting lessons in the evening class at the École des Beaux-Arts. From 1902 to 1904, he continued his studies in Paris at the Académie Humbert, where he met Marie Laurencin and Francis Picabia. His first works were influenced by Impressionism.

Braque’s works were considered “degenerate” by the German Nazis, and in 1937 eight of them were confiscated from German public collections as part of the “Degenerate Art” campaign, while other works were confiscated from Jewish collectors such as Johanna “Hansi” Ploschitzki (Hansi Share), Max Silberberg, Heinrich Stahl and the Viennese entrepreneur Friedrich Wolf-Knize (1890-1949).

1906 to 1907

In March/April 1906, Braque made the acquaintance of Henri Matisse, Albert Marquet and André Derain, who exhibited Fauvist works, through an exhibition at the XXII Salon des Indépendants, where he showed seven paintings (all of which were later destroyed). Braque was influenced by the style of these artists, known as “Fauves” (French for savages), and devoted himself increasingly to this direction. He worked closely with Raoul Dufy and Othon Friesz, who also lived in Le Havre.

Paul Cézanne, The Bay of Marseille, seen from L’Estaque, around 1885, Art Institute of Chicago

In the autumn of 1906, the Salon d’Automne held an exhibition of ten paintings by Paul Cézanne, who died during the course of the exhibition on 23 October. Braque, deeply impressed by Cézanne, travelled to L’Estaque in October, where he stayed until February 1907. Cézanne had visited the fishing village near Marseille in the 1880s and painted a large number of landscapes there, the most famous of which are The Sea at L’Estaque (Musée d’Orsay, Paris) and The Bay of Marseille, seen from L’Estaque (Art Institute of Chicago); the latter had a great influence on Braque. Braque returned to L’Estaque in the autumn of 1907 and in 1908 and 1910.

In March/April 1907, there was another exhibition of Fauvist works at the XXIII Salon des Indépendants, in which he participated with six paintings. The German art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler bought the painting The Valley, the other five paintings were purchased by the German art collector Wilhelm Uhde for a total price of 505 francs. In June and October 1907, Cézanne was honoured in Paris with two extensive retrospective exhibitions. These were to influence the direction of the avant-garde and pave the way for Cubism. His second stay in L’Estaque in the autumn was decisive for Braque. With paintings such as Terrace of the Hotel Mistral (private collection, New York) and Viaduct at L’Estaque (Minneapolis Institute of Arts), Braque moved away from Fauvism and moved closer to Cézanne’s structured style.

At the end of November/beginning of December 1907, Guillaume Apollinaire accompanied Braque to Picasso’s studio in the Bateau-Lavoir, Rue Ravignan 13. This was probably Braque’s first visit, but perhaps initial contacts had already taken place in the spring during the Indépendants. It was here that Braque first saw the painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (Museum of Modern Art, New York), completed in the summer of 1907, and the painting Three Women (St Petersburg Hermitage), which he had begun. Impressed by this visit, Braque also worked on figure compositions in December and began a large painting entitled Woman (whereabouts unknown; presumably lost or destroyed). Picasso’s studio was now the place where not only Picasso’s works – such as Nude with Garment – but also Braque’s were discussed. Braque was also visited by Picasso in his attic studio in Rue d’Orsel, especially as the Bateau-Lavoir was only a few hundred metres away.

1908 to 1911

At the beginning of 1908, Braque worked on another figurative motif, the Large Nude (oil on canvas, 140 × 100 cm, Ales Maguy Collection, Paris). At the XXIV Salon des Indépendants – Picasso never showed his works at the Salon – Braque exhibited four further works in addition to the painting Woman (which is not mentioned in the catalogue). Picasso told his friend Fernande Olivier that Braque had “secretly painted a large picture with a cubist construction” without revealing the “source of his inspiration” to anyone. It was not until the autumn of 1908 that Picasso gave up his reservations about Braque, whom he had previously suspected of wanting to exploit his works and ideas without naming their authors.

In the summer of 1908, Braque returned to L’Estaque and painted a series of cubist landscapes, of which Street at L’Estaque (Museum of Modern Art, New York) is the best known. Picasso, who spent the summer in the Val-d’Oise and also painted landscapes, arrived at very similar painterly results completely independently: “[…] a terse pictorial language of faceted forms, multiple views of objects and the withdrawal of colour for the sake of form.”

Grand Palais, Paris, exhibition venue of the Salon d’Automne (postcard from around 1900)

At the beginning of September, Braque submitted nine paintings, including Houses in L’Estaque, to the Salon d’Automne, but they were rejected by the jury, also with Matisse’s vote. The art critic Louis Vauxcelles reported on a conversation with Matisse: “Braque submitted a picture consisting of small cubes […] To make himself better understood, he [Matisse] took a piece of paper and in three seconds drew two ascending, intersecting lines between which small cubes were to be placed, representing L’Estaque by Georges Braque.” Apollinaire repeatedly circulated this story and used the terms “cube” and “cubism”. In 1912, this was supposed to have been the official explanation for the origin of the term “Cubism”, probably also due to a treatise published in the same year entitled “Du Cubisme” by Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger. However, the term already appeared in the spring of 1909 in an article by Charles Morice in the Mercure de France, a few months later Vauxcelles called this style “cubist” and by the end of 1909 the term was in use among all painters and critics.

At the end of 1908, Picasso and Braque began a lively dialogue. Braque later commented: “It wasn’t long before I was exchanging ideas with Picasso on a daily basis; we discussed and scrutinised each other’s ideas […] and compared our respective works.” The meeting place of those days was the Azon restaurant.

In November 1909, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler finally exhibited the landscapes from L’Estaque and Braque’s first Cubist still lifes with musical instruments in his gallery. In winter, Braque devoted himself to another of Cézanne’s basic themes with motifs such as Plate and Fruit Bowl and Fruit Bowl. Picasso also painted fruit still lifes at the same time, documenting the growing closeness between the two artists.

Braque spent the summer of 1909 in La Roche-Guyon in the Seine valley, where Cézanne had stayed in 1885. A dilapidated castle and the surrounding woods inspired him to paint five pictures in shades of green and grey. After a period of military service in Le Havre, he produced a series of large-format paintings of musical instruments in winter, introducing a nail as a trompe-l’œil motif into Cubist painting. In the motif Lighter and Newspaper (private collection), the letters “GILB” appeared in a painting for the first time. In winter, both artists painted the Sacré-Cœur church, which, especially in Braque’s work, was already taking on more abstract forms.

In the spring of 1910, Braque painted his first oval cubist painting, Woman with Mandolin, after which Picasso also painted an oval picture with the same subject. Over the following twelve months, he painted further still lifes, some in oval form, both in L’Estaque and in Paris. At the beginning of September 1910, Kahnweiler sent four paintings by Braque and three by Picasso on loan to an exhibition of both artists at the Galerie Thannhauser in Munich.

From around 1911, Braque lived with Marcelle Laprè, with whom he moved into a shared flat at Impasse de Guelma 5 in January 1912. In literature, she has been referred to as “Marcelle Braque” since 1912; the couple did not actually marry until 1925. Marcelle Laprè (1879-1965) was to become his lifelong companion. In the summer of 1911, Braque and Picasso spent a few weeks in the small town of Céret in the south of France. Here they continued the intensive exchange they had begun in Paris, and the period of the two artists’ most productive collaboration began. While Braque painted the man with the guitar, Picasso responded with the congenial accordion player. In the still lifes Candlestick (Braque) and Still Life with Fan (Picasso), both artists incorporated the title of the daily newspaper L’Indépendant, written in Fraktur, into their motifs. Picasso returned to Paris at the beginning of September, Braque remained in Céret until January 1912, but corresponded frequently with Picasso. Braque’s first paper sculptures, which earned him the nickname Wilbur Wright (after the designer of biplane aeroplanes) from Picasso, are also dated to this period.

1912 to 1914

Exhibition poster for the Armory Show, New York 1913

Braque returned from Céret with the painting Homage to J. S. Bach, in which he used pochoir letters for the first time. At the same time, he added a naturalistically painted wood grain to the motif. In Paris, he painted the round still life Soda and Man with Violin. At the end of April, Braque travelled with Picasso to his home town of Le Havre for a few days, a visit that inspired Picasso to paint Souvenir du Havre. At the beginning of August, Braque and Marcelle travelled to Sorgues (sur-l’Ouvèze), a small town north of Avignon, where they moved into a small villa and where Braque continued to work on his paper sculptures. He added sand to his painting pigments for the first time. In Sorgues, they met Picasso, who had moved into the neighbourhood with his girlfriend Eva Gouel. Inspired by his paper sculptures, in mid-September he created his first papiers collés, works in which he used imitation wood paper, and later newspaper cuttings, as compositional elements. Picasso immediately took up Braque’s “invention” and also used music paper and wallpaper patterns in his compositions. With their flat, two-dimensional appearance and increasing colourfulness, the paper collés heralded the transition to Synthetic Cubism.

In January 1913, Braque moved into a new studio in Paris on the top floor of the Hôtel Roma in Rue Caulaincourt, a bright room with large glass windows. In the gouache Fruit Bowl, Ace of Clubs, created at the beginning of 1913, he used a painter’s comb on a damp colour surface, thus achieving a filigree surface effect reminiscent of wood grain. Picasso immediately took up this technique and later refined it. In February and March, Braque took part in the famous Armory Show in New York with three paintings, including Violin (MOZART/KUBELICK). In June, he moved back into a country house in Sorgues and was visited by the painter André Derain. As Picasso spent the summer in Céret, the close relationship between the two artists loosened. In Sorgues, he produced oval paintings (small tables) in the summer, the large-format Woman with Guitar and, in the autumn, a series of large-format paper collés, including Chessboard (tivoli-cinema) and Guitar and Programme, with a programme sheet from the Tivoli.

Juan Gris: The Bordeaux Bottle, 1915, Pinakothek der Moderne

Both artists worked in Paris again in the winter and spring of 1914. The titles of the works indicate their close contact: Still Life with Ace of Hearts (Braque) and Wine Glass with Ace of Crosses (Picasso). In June, Braque set off on a bicycle tour to his summer house in Sorgues. Picasso and André Derain were already waiting for him there. Picasso had moved into a house with Eva in neighbouring Avignon. Following Austria’s declaration of war on Serbia, Braque and Derain were called up for military service; Picasso, as a Spaniard, was not liable for military service.

On 2 August 1914, both painters were taken to Avignon railway station by Picasso. Picasso later said (albeit metaphorically) that he had never seen Braque since. In December 1914, Alfred Stieglitz’s Gallery 291 in New York showed twenty paintings by Braque and Picasso from the collection of Francis Picabia.

After 1914

In 1933, a retrospective of the artist’s oeuvre was organised for the first time at the Kunsthalle Basel

In 1915, Braque was seriously wounded in the head during an operation on the front. After a long convalescence in Sorgues, he returned to Paris in the spring of 1917 and frequently met Juan Gris and the sculptor Henri Laurens. He no longer had any personal contact with Picasso. He moved away from Cubism and developed his own style, mainly painting still lifes. In 1922, Braque was invited to take part in the Salon d’Automne exhibition in his own room. He sold all 18 works exhibited.

In 1930, he built a country house in the seaside resort of Varengeville-sur-Mer (near Dieppe). In 1933, the Kunsthalle Basel in Switzerland organised the first retrospective of the artist’s oeuvre up to that time. In the 1930s and 1940s, Braque painted motifs in which figure and space (Painting Woman, 1936) and space and interior (The Billiard Table, 1945) interpenetrated. In his studio paintings from 1946, Braque used a large white bird, originally the motif of a painting that Braque destroyed. From 1947, he worked with the lithographer Fernand Mourlot in Paris, who printed his lithographs from then on. In 1948, the lithograph suite Cahier de Georges Braque was published by Maeght in Paris. In 1953, he was commissioned to produce ceiling paintings for the Etruscan Gallery in the Louvre: Blue sky, white stars with a crescent moon and the black birds with outstretched wings framed with a white line, reminiscent of black-figure vase painting in their two-dimensionality. Surrounded by gilded carvings on the ceiling, Les Oiseaux are one of the few works of modern art in the Louvre. In 1954, Braque created a deep blue stained glass window depicting the family tree of Christ for the choir of the Saint-Valery church in Varengeville and seven figurative stained glass windows for the Saint-Dominique chapel in the same village. In 1958, he was honoured with an international Antonio Feltrinelli Prize. In 1951, he was admitted to the American Academy of Arts and Letters as an honorary foreign member. In 1959, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. For the Fondation Maeght near Saint-Paul-de-Vence, which opened in 1964, he created a water basin and a stained glass window in the associated chapel.

Braque’s burial place in Varengeville-sur-Mer

The artist died in his Paris flat on 31 August 1963. He is buried in the cemetery of Varengeville-sur-Mer in Normandy, which is in danger of collapsing due to erosion.

Georges Braque took part in documenta 1 (1955), documenta II (1959) and (posthumously) documenta III in Kassel in 1964.