BRAQUE Georges
French painter born in Argenteuil in 1882. His father was a house-painting contractor and amateur artist. Braque was eight years old when the family left the Paris region to settle in Le Havre. He became a pupil at the École des Beaux-Arts there in 1899, and also worked in his father's business. He came to Paris in 1900 and settled in Montmartre in a small, uncomfortable room, where he drew and painted with fervour. In 1902 he spent a short white in Bonnat's studio at the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts, and then went to study at the Académie Humbert. He spent the summer of 1904 near Honfleur, returned to Paris, rented a studio -- his first -- and soon joined the Fauvist movement, as a result, no doubt, of his friendship with Othon Friesz, also from Havre. The two young artists travelled together to Antwerp in 1906, and to La Ciotat in 1907. He went three times to paint at l'Estaque near Marseilles, one of Cézanne's favourite spots. He was profoundly influenced by Cézanne in 1908. Soon moving on from Cézanne, he found himself at the head of the Cubist movement, alongside Picasso. It was in reference to Braque that Louis Vauxcelles, the art critic, made his jibe about painting in 'little cubes' in a review of the 1908 Salon d'Automne. Braque's first private exhibition took place in November of that year, sponsored by Apollinaire. In some of the canvases exhibited the artist introduced for the first time in contemporary painting the musical-instrument theme. Although his stay with the Fauves was only transitory -- only thirty works are known -he gave Fauvism an interesting side. Closer to Friesz, Derain and Vlaminck than to Matisse, he disapproved, nevertheless, of their careless workmanship, their orgy of colours, and the violence of their line. With his well-balanced temperament, he did not abuse the freedom that went to the heads of most of the Fauves. Although he used the most intense colours -- reds, blues, greens and orange -- and placed them in little squares or sticks, like Vlaminck or Derain, he did it with more circumspection and elegance. He preferred to paint landscapes where outlines, contours and brush-strokes are used not so much to produce a brutal, decorative effect as a sense of balance and construction. He was a Fauve who thought, who worked with method, who guarded against excess; a Fauve who looked to Cézanne rather than to Van Gogh. In his Fauvism them was the impatience of the heretic. At this period he even executed several works in a single colour, which foreshadowed the monochromatic compositions of the years 1910-1911. His manner of painting soon betrayed intellectual needs foreign to his friends. At l'Estaque, in 1907, he painted landscapes strangely influenced by Cézanne, in which, along with the curves and intense colours, one can already see straight and angular lines, geometrical structures, a more subtle blending of his colours and a lighter touch. He was ushering in the Cubist movement at the time when Picasso, too, was taking a new road with his Demoiselles d'Avignon. Braque, however, did not disavow the conquests of Fauvism, which saved him from the austerity and dryness which Picasso has not always been able to avoid. To this influence he owes the cap- tivating complexity and fragrant distinction of his work both then and since.
Thus we see Braque, together with Picasso, raising the insurgent flag of Cubism in 1908, before a scandalized public -- the heralds of the greatest artistic revolution since Paolo Uccello. The new aesthetic doctrine was born from the collaboration of these two opposite natures. One brought to it the intuition of the Spaniard, the concepts of the architect, the other the qualities of observation, analysis and savoirfaire of the French artisan.
In a manner peculiar to him in which deduction and flexible sensibility share equally, Braque has developed Cézanne's teachings with a calm coldness. He looks at Nature, dissects it and reorganizes it according to an order much less abstract than lyrical. His famous saying 'I like the rule which corrects the emotion' conveys his hostility toward excess, his innate sense of order and discipline, his taste, his prudence, his simplicity, without which Cubism might well have been a short-lived affair. Cubism made a clean sweep of all the former data of vision, and gave painting its old autonomy: a picture became a work of architecture, and an object, something more real than reality itself. In this courageous enterprise Braque played a predominant role. He, more than any other Cubist -- and perhaps he alone -- brought to it an indomitable sense of the concrete, a keen sense of analysis, rare tonal harmonies, and a particular elegance of line -straight or curved. If Picasso showed himself particularly interested in volume, Braque knew better than anyone else how to create a plastic space and give the illusion of a new depth. On the whole, his painting of that period is distinguished by its unity, its coherence, the sobriety and, at the same time, precious beauty of its tones: blacks, greys, beiges, greens, whites, which, despite their lack of brilliance, have a mysterious vibrancy. Under these colours, ordinarily considered the most dull and lustreless, it seems as though a fire burns discreetly, slowly, without ever consuming itself. He loves precision, harmony, modulation and the subtle play of values. He detests roughness, violent contrasts, the tyranny of a method or a system, and the random outpourings of lyricism. He prefers analysis to synthesis, deduction to intuition, the decomposition of forms to their reduction or schematization. That is why Braque dominated the first phase of the movement, and it is undoubtedly to him that Cubism is indebted for its analytical character. At first he applied his research to the human figure, then to still life. He imagined a new space; he found new forms based on a more complete, almost stereoscopic, vision of the reality around us. The combination of lines and angles, the overlapping of multiple planes, the setting out of the various parts of the object and their simultaneous projection on the surface of the picture, constitute the essential means of a method which sacrificed all previous conventions for purely plastic values. Towards 1911 Braque's art relaxed its ties with the real and became more abstract, less subject to the variable, less constructed. The subject was eliminated. It was no longer necessary to represent the object in its totality through the complex play of lines and the superimposing of planes, but to consider it as a pure sign. The works of this hermetic period suggest nothing but strictly pictorial sensations, and the picture, no longer referring to a fragment of Nature, appears as an absolute creation, a reality conceived or imagined a priori, a reality which is sufficient in itself, and an end in itself. It was during that same year that Braque introduced, for the first time (in one of his compositions, The Portuguese), an inscription in typographical letters. From then on the letters of the alphabet became a plastic element for all the Cubists. This innovation answered a need in Braque. He had already begun to feel the dangers of an art entirely cut off from the visible world, of a dialectic which might reduce painting to mere decoration. And so the letter came into his work as a reminder from the world of appearances. After the letter, the imitation wood, the imitation marble, the trompe-l'œil works (that Braque had seen painted as a child and had himself painted in his father's workroom) were incorporated in the picture: concrete elements opposed to the poetry of pure forms. In 1910 Braque had already painted, at the top of one of his pictures, a nail which looked like a real nail and from which the picture seemed to hang. The Press openly made fun of it, but the idea was soon taken up by the other Cubists. They no longer confined themselves to imitating a nail or the grain of wood or marble; in the middle of the composition they fixed on the canvas fragments of various materials, generally paper. Thus, the technique of papier collis developed, initiated by Braque. The artist would fix these bits of figured or decorative paper on a sheet and then trace around them, or over them, lines in pencil or ink, with touches of gouache or oil. Mixed in this way with subjectively created elements, these different substances acquired a convincing plastic and human value, entirely unexpected. Cubism now entered its synthetic period ( 1912-1913). The lines became less complex, the planes broadened, and the small, delicate brush-strokes more flattened. The partitioning of the composition disappeared; even colour lost its austerity. Braque defined his intentions very clearly in his papiers collés: Fruit Bowl ( 1912), Woman with Guitar ( 1913), Aria de Bach. This form of art was carried a step farther when Braque started using, on his canvases, bits of cloth or wood, which at once lost their inert and prosaic reality, to live the same poetic life as the work of art.
Up to 1914 Braque and Picasso were inseparable. In 1911 they were seen together at Céret, in the Eastern Pyrenees, and at Sorgues, near Avignon, in 1912. When war was declared, Braque was sent to the front. He was commended for bravery. Wounded in 1915, he spent long months convalescing. When he began to paint again in 1917 he was disconcerted by the works of Picasso and his followers. From then on he was to follow the course of his own destiny. Though he still remained friendly, with Picasso, he no longer worked with him. He began to turn to a relaxed and more tranquil art, closer to reality, and characterized by a less angular design and heightened colours. Though his Guitarist ( 1917) is still Cubist, his still lifes, his landscapes and his nudes are now done in another spirit, with a freer and more supple handling. Light, so long neglected by him, claimed his attention more and more every day. His craftsmanship gained in case and grace, though he used his talents with even stricter economy. Between 1919 and 1930 Braque seemed to be well on the way to joining the painters of the French tradition. His classicism was more evident, his audacities tempered by the well-balanced judgement which has always made us forget his virtuosity. More respectful of the subject than before, he sought to translate the freshness of his inspiration into more stable forms, set out in a new space.
And then, towards 1930, his style changed again: line became dynamic, the arabesques more enveloping, the relief softer and (perhaps through the influence of Matisse) the palette brighter, while his drawing grew more expressive (through the influence of Picasso), notably in the 1931 Beach series. The four or five years that followed were probably the most fertile of his career; not the most prolific, but those in which he mustered all the resources and conquests of his genius into a supremely balanced whole. Never before or since has Braque attained such harmony between inspiration and technique, intellect and sensibility, richness of expression and inner humility. He made an inventory of his acquisitions, and knew exactly where he, personally, belonged. From his Cubist past he retained principally the simultaneity of vision, the development of objects on the same plane, the inversion of space. These he used with a freedom derived from experience, giving up geometrical figures, thin colours, static constructions, and artificial disintegrations. 'I saw', he said in 1935, 'that I had taken the reflections of the world in several mirrors for the world itself.' And he applied himself to grasping the real world in all its vibrancy and fullness. He transcribed objects in cross-section and elevation; he multiplied the angles of vision; he rounded forms, displaced their axis, and modified their contours in such a way as to give the impression that they were bending. They would have tottered were it not for the mastery of the artist, who consolidated them by combining their proportions. Likewise, it was through the combination of tones that he found the most exquisite harmonies. He used the most common, the hardest and least attractive colours; yet as soon as he laid them on the canvas, white ceased to be mute, sienna was no longer dreary, black became luminous, and violet transparent. Feline elegance of line, and precision of colour; fullness, and yet lightness, of composition; knowledge that hides itself modestly behind case of manner; an iron will that veils itself with nonchalance; boldness full of cautiousness; cold lucidity, yet so much emotion -- such are the complex ingredients that consciously go into the making of a work by this man, who seems to revel in doing things the hard way.
During this period of expansion Braque produced his most concentrated and vivid still lifes, his cliffs, his grounded boats, his two-faced figures. He also executed limestone sculptures, fish and horses in bronze or lead, coloured reliefs in plaster . . . a happy and fertile period in which all the artist's faculties were miraculously attuned, each contributing in equal measure to the elaboration of his work. But since 1940 he has not always been able to avoid certain pitfalls sometimes gracefulness gives way to mannerism, delicacy to preciosity, and his sureness of hand to virtuosity. Even a tendency towards Realism has manifested itself in his latest work. Style seems to have more nuances, to be more flowing, more lazy, as if it had abandoned itself to a desire to charm rather than astonish. Nevertheless, Braque has never for a moment betrayed the lofty consciousness that he has of his mission, expressed with such persuasive force in his Cahiers, written from 1917 to 1951. And in his blameless life, as well as in his exemplary work, he has never at any time lost sight of the fact that, though an artist, he is also a man.
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