Georges Braque 1882 - 1963
Georges Braque was a revolutionary artist who worked, predominantly, in the first half of the 20th century. His artistic pursuits included the exploration of Fauvism and the founding of Cubism, a movement like nothing before in art history. Braque was a French man, born in a small community just outside of Paris on the Seine, which happened to be the centre of the impressionist movement of the 1870s. His grandfather and father ran a house decoration business, therefore painting was engrained in his life from an early age. He often accompanied his father as he worked. After the family's move to Le Havre in 1890, Braque started creating his own identity. By the age of fifteen, he had enrolled in an art class at the Le Havre Academy of Fine Art, meanwhile becoming keen on boxing and learning to play the flute. Leaving school at 17, he spent a year working as an apprentice for a local house decorator in both Le Havre and Paris. It was this period that taught Braque to handle materials and learn artisanal tricks. For example, he learnt how to imitate wood grain which was to be used in his Cubist pictures.
After his apprenticeship concluded and having experienced a year of military service, Braque decided, with the help of an allowance from his family, to start a career as an artist. Between 1902 and 1904 he studied at a private academy in Paris and briefly at the Ecole de Beaux Arts. In his free time, he frequently explored the Louvre where he especially admired Egyptian and archaic Greek works. This interest is significant as the essence of the ancient and archaic arts was in the geometry of the shapes and the importance of line. Therefore, it is no surprise that this influence can be detected in his Cubist works.
'In a painting, what counts is the unexpected.'
Braque’s early paintings reveal the influence of the Impressionists, which is unsurprising as he spent his childhood in Normandy, such as Pissarro and Monet. However, the most significant discovery for Braque was the work of Paul Cézanne. He was fascinated by the firm structures and the ability to unite colours and tones. Full of inspiration, between the years of 1905 and 1907, Braque found his way as an artist and became increasingly involved with the Fauves, meaning “wild beasts” due to their energetic use of colour. In the following years, as a convinced fauve, Braque worked in Antwerp in Belgium and along the French Mediterranean coast near Marseille. Also, at this time, the artist signed a contract with a dealer, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. It was through this relationship that Braque met other artists who would eventually lead him to Picasso.
Between the years of 1907 and 1914, the two artists became incredibly close friends and within a few months were completely engaged in each other’s energetic ideas and philosophies from which the unprecedented movement, Cubism, emerged. Picasso also introduced Braque to a model, Marcelle Lapré, who became his wife in 1912. By the height of this pioneering movement, their works were almost interchangeable, their artistic energy translated in each other’s work. These heavily geometric works broke down conventional planes and eliminated traditional perspectival space which made them difficult to perceive, yet magical. This abstract, even difficult, art was unlike anything seen before in the history of painting.
However, these years of success were penetrated by the outbreak of the First World War. As he had previous training, Braque entered the army. He was a very fit and able man and was decorated twice in 1914 for his bravery. Unfortunately, in 1915, Braque suffered a serious head injury, followed by several months in hospital and a period of convalescence at a country home in Sorgues. Braque was released from further military service. Still keen to paint, he returned to Cubism in 1917. However, his co-founder and friend, Picasso, had moved onto other things. The two of them would never work together again. From 1919 onwards, his style ceased to evolve in the methodical way it had during the successful initial phases of Cubism.
'Painting is the nail to which I fasten my ideas'
Yet, by the 1920s Braque was a prosperous and established modern master. He had become part of the well-to-do, cultured circles of post-war French society. Still painting, but not evolving so much, Braque spent much of his time working in Montparnasse and then three years later moved into a Left Bank house, designed for him, by architect Auguste Perret. In the years that followed he had many commissions including painting stage sets for ballets which appeared to be typical of modern artists in culturally-charged Paris at the time.
In 1930, Braque acquired a property in Varengeville and his paintings during this time can be most easily classified by its stylistic variety and subject matter. He also undertook a new medium. He began to incise black-painted, plaster plaques with white drawings that were reminiscent of Ancient Greek pottery designs. Later, Braque also began a series of figure paintings. During the Second World War, the artist continued to be influenced by the ancient world, vaguely centred on mythological themes with a clear archaic stylistic influence.
After the war, Braque resumed his practice of painting a number of paintings on a single subject. Such as a series of billiard tables, studio interiors and then large, almost symbolic, lumbering birds. During the last years of his life, Braque was honoured with important retrospectives around the world, including at his sanctuary, The Louvre.