Braque, his vision and scope

In art, it often takes the genius of a single artist for great innovation to take place. Although Paul Cezanne did not live to see the development of cubism, his work had a profound effect on both Braque and Picasso, cubism’s two pioneering artists. Apparently, Braque was so impressed by the large retrospective of Cezanne’s work held in the Salon d’Automne in Paris in 1907 that he gradually changed his fauve-like style to a manner of painting that shifted the emphasis from strong color to structure and solidity. In his mid-20s at the time, Braque produced his famous «L’ Estaque» landscapes (it was also then that Picasso painted «Les Demoiselles d’Avignon»), those seminal works that led famous critic Louis Vauxcelles to coin the term «cubism.» These landscapes are Braque’s early cubist works. His famous still lifes that soon followed, his close collaboration with Picasso in devising the analytic phase of cubism, and his invention of the papier collé technique in 1912 are just a few factors that explain why Braque is principally remembered as one of the two great cubist painters. Even in his post-cubist works, Braque’s concern with space and the structural elements of composition is there. But the greatness of Braque is also to be found in other elements: his delicate handling of line, his interest in texture and small visual details, the dexterous use of diverse material, and his interest in book illustration and Greek mythology. These exceptional qualities that sum up to Braque’s talent are wonderfully unveiled in «Georges Braque: Order and Emotion» currently on show at the Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation – Museum of Contemporary Art in Andros. The exhibition traces all of Braque’s oeuvre, going back as early as 1907 and continuing up to the unusual, heavy impasto-oil paintings of the late 1950s. It contains a large number of engravings and illustrations, most notably an entire section of Braque’s illustration for Hesiod’s «Theogony,» some sculpture but also several important post-cubist oil paintings. The title – which is borrowed from Braque’s observation about how both order and emotion are crucial in painting, each helping to balance the other – echoes the inclusive range of the exhibition. It suggests how the structural cubist early works and the later flying, more lyrical birds spring from an artist’s undivided vision. Considering how difficult and costly these art exhibitions can be – insurance for one work can come up to 30,000 euros – it is noteworthy to mention that this is an exhibition made possible through the contacts of and mutual trust of the Basil and Elise Foundation with international museums, galleries and art collectors. A substantial number of the works shown at the exhibition in Andros are on loan from the Maeght foundation in St Paul de Vence in southern France. The Maeght family had strong ties with Georges Braque; Aimé Maeght became his dealer in 1947 and urged him to print an album on the «Theogony» illustration which Braque had actually commenced in the early 1930s on a suggestion of Ambroise Vollard. In the Andros exhibition, the prints from the «Theogony» illustration – some Miro-esque in their use of sinuous, thin lines – constitute an entire section. They are an example of Braque’s broad-ranging work in text and poetry illustration (the poet Pierre Reverdy was one of his closest friends) but they also show his interest in Greek mythology and art, particularly that of pre-classical art. Although Braque never visited Greece, as a young artist he often frequented the pre-classical exhibition halls at the Louvre. The interest that modern art took in the «primitive» and past civilizations reinforced Braque’s interest in ancient themes. It is an interest that the Andros exhibition captures in Braque’s series of Grecian-like profiles and a number etchings showing a complex of charioteers, masterfully rendered through an uninterrupted, sinuous line. Through his work for the «Theogony» illustration, Braque was inspired by the theme of the bird, a favorite subject matter of his later works. Most likely fascinated by the notion of flight and its relationship to space (several of those etchings are imaginatively arranged in the exhibition in the shape of a bird), Braque worked his theme in multiple variations of color and shape. Frank Elgar’s essay on the bird as a plastic element in Braque’s latter works bore the illustrations of Braque and so did Pierre Reverdy’s «La Liberté des mers.» Looking at the simplicity and breathing space of these works, one senses the transformation from the earlier cubist works where objects are broken up in their constituents to fill up the canvas with multiple viewpoints. A beautiful example of those cubist works and of the exhibition’s highlights is «La Patience» from 1942, a visually intricate work in which the black, gaunt profile of a woman playing cards (the title of the work points both to the card game and of the woman’s patience) suggests the shadow of the war. Another of the exhibition’s highlights, «Cubist Still Life,» a delicate, small, eye-shaped gouache on paper from 1921, is also typical of Braque’s work. Like many of his works it suggests the artist’s deep interest in music and musical instruments. Braque himself was a violin and flute player as well as a close friend of Erik Satie, for whose work he also first ventured in illustration. Most of Braque’s still lifes are arrangements of musical instruments, those very same ones which he kept at his studio. Throughout his life, Braque had various studios both in the countryside and in Paris. The photographs of Braque and his surroundings that introduce the viewer to the exhibition and sketch the artist’s autobiography show the artist in various workspaces in Sorgues and Varengeville, a town in Normandy, the region where Braque spent most of his childhood. There is also a photograph that shows Braque in the company of Picasso. Their friendship and artistic kinship remained a strong bond until 1914, when Braque was called up by the military service. By then cubism had gone through its most innovative period. Born out of the cosmopolitan and intellectual climate of early 20th century Paris, cubism captured the spirit of progress, the so-called «L’ Esprit Nouveau» that defined not only cultural but also scientific and technological developments. Cubism was born from this wonderfully creative period and Georges Braque is since remembered as one of those rare artistic talents whose works advanced art and provided inspiration for generations of artists to come. «Georges Braque: Order and Emotion» at the Goulandris Museum of Contemporary Art in Andros, tel 22820.22.444. Through September 28.

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