The man who gave us pictorial Cubism
Oct 20 2013
In 1948, Braque received first prize at the Venice Biennale; in 1951, he was awarded the Légion d’Honneur, and in 1961 he was the first living artist given an exhibition at the Louvre. When he died on August 31, 1963, funeral services were held in front of the Louvre.
Visitors to New York can now see a fairly large collection of this celebrated artist’s work all together under one roof. The paintings are on sale and open for bidding as well.
Still life studies have always fascinated me. Perhaps because of the items each artist chooses to put together to create compositions of form and colour — they are compositions created not by nature, but by man. His many still life studies are both unusual and varied, painted in elongated verticals or horizontals, to suit his mood. One might even say that Braque has painted more still life studies than most other artists. Braque is also known as ‘the creator of collages’, a medium first introduced by him.
I first came across Braque’s work on a visit to the Louvre in Paris almost four decades ago. I was so taken with his Still Life with Guitar (also known as Red Curtain), that I was ready to spend what to me seemed like a small fortune, to buy a large print. Suitably framed, it hung on the wall next to our dining table for many years, its warm hues lighting up the room.
Interestingly, Braque was born into a family of house painters and decorators and it was expected that he would continue the tradition when he completed a two-year apprenticeship in the family business. However, Braque was always keen to study art and side by side, he also studied painting during evenings at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, in Le Havre. At the age of 20, Braque joined Académie Humbert and inspired by current art trends, his earliest works were impressionistic. But he was likely to undergo many influences till he finally created his own style.
Braque was impressed by the work exhibited by the artistic group known as the Fauves (Beasts) in 1905, known for their use of bright colours. The group included Henri Matisse, Andre Derain and others such as Raoul Dufy, with whom Braque worked closely, towards a modified form of Fauvism. Braque’s style began another slow evolution after he saw a retrospective on Paul Cezanne, whose works were exhibited in Paris for the first time in September 1907. Together with Picasso, Braque is defined as having developed “the radical pictorial language of cubism”.
Although Braque began his career painting landscapes, during 1908 he, along with Picasso, discovered the advantages of painting still lifes instead. Braque explained that “…in the still life you have a tactile, I might almost say, a manual space… This answered to the hankering I have always had to touch things and not merely see them… In tactile space, you measure the distance separating you from the object, whereas in visual space, you measure the distance separating things from each other. This is what led me, long ago, from landscape to still-life”.
(The writer is an author and a former art gallery owner)