31 December 2013

Paris Exhibitions (2) Braque

Two exhibitions currently at the Grand Palais in Paris are coming to a close early in 2014 but both will transfer elsewhere. This post might therefore remain of interest, as could the previous one about Félix Vallotton

Georges Braque 

Georges Braque (1882 – 1963) was one of the 20th century’s major artists and his life and works are the subject of a major retrospective at the Grand Palais. Braque was borne at Argenteuil near Paris and in 1890 moved with his family when they took their painting and decorating business to Le Havre. A year ago I posted about an exhibition then running at the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris, Le Cercle de l’art moderne Collectionneurs d’avant garde au Havre (The Modern Art Club Avant-Garde collectors in Le Havre):
Between 1906 and 1910, a group of art collectors and artists formed the Modern Art Club in Le Havre with a membership including Braque, and Raoul Dufy … and some of the town’s wealthiest businessmen. They set themselves the objective of promoting modernism in Le Havre, organising exhibitions, lectures, poetry readings and concerts. Guillaume Apollinaire and Claude Debussy supported the Club, which had links to the newly established Salons d’Automne and des Indépendants in Paris. Arguably, Impressionism began in Le Havre when Monet painted Impression, soleil levant there in 1872, so it is not surprising that the Club showed acquisitions by Monet and Renoir at their annual exhibitions. But some of the collectors also took an interest in the Post-Impressionists and the Fauves … buying from galleries (left), auctions or the artists themselves. …
Growing up in this milieu (Braque was taught the flute by Dufy’s brother) it isn’t surprising that the painting business seemed less attractive than becoming an artist. His family were prosperous enough to allow Georges, at the age of 19, to return to Paris where he received both a tradesman’s and an artist’s training by the end of 1904. It is also, given his connections, unsurprising that he would begin his artistic career in 1905-6 as a Fauvist. In fact, for me the most interesting part of this exhibition covers the years before the First World War. In 1907 Braque not only began to be influenced by Cezanne but through Apollinaire met Picasso, saw Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and was introduced African sculpture.  Braque's artistic response was the Grande Nue, 1907-8 (right). Returning to the Fauvist haunt of L’Éstaque in 1908, he moved rapidly away from works like Le Port de La Ciotat, 1907 (The Port of La Ciotat, below left) to a new style as in Le Port, 1909 (Harbour, below right).

Pictures like the latter were rejected by the Salon d’Automne in 1908, and, when exhibited later that year, Matisse, according to Braque, described them as being made of little cubes. In the years that followed Braque and Picasso would develop Cubism, as Braque put it: «un peu comme la cordée en montage» (“a little like two climbers roped together on a mountain”). This would lead by 1911 to what the exhibition calls the Analytical Cubism of Les toits à Céret (Roofs at Céret, below left) and Le Guéridon (The Pedestal, below right).

Between 1912 and 1914 Braque would develop collages (papiers collés) like Violon et pipe, 1913/14 (below left) and La Mandoline, 1914 (below right). Braque was able to make use of his craftsman’s training to create wood effects in oils instead of glueing fake wood and in lettering.

In 1914 Braque enlisted in the French army and received a serious head wound at Artois the following year. He was able to resume painting in 1916 in the style referred to as Synthetic Cubism with a marked dissociation of form and colour, as in Rhum et guitar, 1918 (Rum and guitar, below). The exhibition seemed to gloss over what must have been a major interruption to both Braque’s life and his artistic development.

I have to admit to finding Braque’s later work less interesting but obviously the exhibition provides a valuable opportunity to appreciate it. From the 1920s classical Mediterranean themes appear in his work, for example studies of Canephores and, in the 1930s, Le Duo, 1937 (below, left) and Femme à la palette, 1936 (Woman with a palette, below left).

Perhaps inevitably, Braque’s work during the 1940-45 period would turn inwards: Grand intérieur á la palette (Large Interior with Palette, below top) and Les Poissons noirs (Black fish, below lower) both 1942; and, unlike some fellow artists during the Occupation, he managed to keep his distance from the authorities.

The exhibition has brought together a large number of his billiard table paintings, Le Billard, 1944 (below),

and from his Atelier series, Atelier VIII, 1954-55 (below), produced between the mid-1940s and mid 1950s. The bird theme appears in the latter and again in a series of bird paintings, for example, 1960 (Black and white birds, poster above).

Georges Braque ends at the Grand Palais on 6 January and will be at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts from 16 February to 11 May 2014.

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