Georges Braque – Master of Cubism

Georges Braque (1882-1963)

Georges Braque (1882-1963)

On May 13, 1882, French painter and sculptor Georges Braque was born, who, along with Pablo Picasso, developed the art style known as Cubism, an early-20th-century avant-garde art movement that revolutionized European painting and sculpture. In Cubist artwork, objects are analyzed, broken up and reassembled in an abstracted form—instead of depicting objects from one viewpoint, the artist depicts the subject from a multitude of viewpoints to represent the subject in a greater context.

“In art progress consists not in extension but in the knowledge of its limits.”
–George Braque, quote from the review ‘Nord-Sud’, December 1917

The Invention of a New Style

Did you known that Cubism, which flourished in the 1910s-20s, has been considered the most influential art movement of the 20th century? Actually, Cubism began somewhere between 1907 and 1911. Pablo Picasso’s famous 1907 painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon has often been considered a proto-Cubist work. But almost at the same time, Georges Braque’s 1908 Houses at L’Estaque prompted the critic Louis Vauxcelles to refer to bizarreries cubiques (cubic oddities). But, no matter who really “invented” the new style, George Braque is considered as one of its influential artists. George Braque was born on May 13, 1882 in Argenteuil, Val-d’Oise, France. He grew up in Le Havre and was trained to be a house painter and decorator like his father and also his grandfather. Nevertheless, he also studied artistic painting during evenings at the École des Beaux-Arts, in Le Havre. In 1903, he attended the Académie Humbert in Paris. Braque’s earliest paintings were impressionistic, but after seeing the work exhibited by the artistic group known as the “Fauves” (Beasts) in 1905, a group that included among others famous Henri Matisse and used brilliant colors to represent emotional response, Braque adopted the Fauvist style.

Georges Braque, 1908-09, Fruit Dish, oil on canvas

Georges Braque, 1908-09, Fruit Dish, oil on canvas

Braque’s Evolution

Braque’s style began a slow evolution as he became influenced by Paul Cézanne, who had died in 1906, and a 1907 Cézanne retrospective at the Salon d’Automne greatly affected the avant-garde artists of Paris, resulting in the advent of Cubism. Braque’s paintings of 1908–1913 reflected his new interest in geometry and simultaneous perspective. In 1909, Braque began to work closely with Pablo Picasso, who had been developing a similar style of painting. But, in difference to Picasso, Braque was interested mainly in developing Cézanne’s ideas of multiple perspectives. Picasso celebrates animation, while Braque celebrates contemplation.

“The painter thinks in terms of form and color. The goal is not to be concerned with the reconstitution of an anecdotal fact, but with constitution of a pictorial fact.”
— Artists on Art…(1972), p. 423 – Braque’s quote, Paris 1917

Picasso and Braque

Actually, the term ‘Cubism‘, first pronounced in 1911 with reference to artists exhibiting at the Salon des Indépendants, quickly gained wide use but Picasso and Braque did not adopt it initially. Braque’s and Picasso’s productive collaboration continued and they worked closely together until World War I in 1914, when Braque enlisted with the French Army.

From Cubism to Surrealism

In 1915, Braque received a severe head injury and suffered temporary blindness. When he was able to continue working in 1916, Braque was working alone and began to moderate the harsh abstraction of cubism. During the period between the wars, Braque exhibited a freer and more personal style of Cubism, characterized by brilliant color, textured surfaces, and a looser rendering of objects. He painted many still life subjects during this time, maintaining his emphasis on structure. In difference to Picasso, who always reinvented his style of painting and was heavily influenced by surrealism, Braque maintained the cubist method of simultaneous perspective and fragmentation. By the time of his death in 1963, he was regarded as one of the elder statesmen of modern art.

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