Georges Braque, French (1882 - 1963)

Georges Braque

Georges Braque was born on May 13, 1882, in Argenteuil-sur-Seine, France. He grew up in Le Havre and studied evenings at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts there from about 1897 to 1899.

He left for Paris to study under a master decorator to receive his craftsman certificate in 1901. From 1902 to 1904 he painted at the Académie Humbert in Paris, where he met Marie Laurencin and Francis Picabia. By 1906 Braque’s work was no longer Impressionist but Fauve in style; after spending that summer in Antwerp with Othon Friesz, he showed his Fauve work the following year in the Salon des Indépendants in Paris. His first solo show was at Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler’s gallery in 1908. From 1909 Pablo Picasso and Braque worked together in developing Cubism; by 1911 their styles were extremely similar. In 1912 they started to incorporate collage elements into their paintings and to experiment with the papier collé (pasted paper) technique. Their artistic collaboration lasted until 1914. Braque served in the French army during World War I and was wounded; upon his recovery in 1917 he began a close friendship with Juan Gris.

After World War I Braque’s work became freer and less schematic. His fame grew in 1922 as a result of an exhibition at the Salon d’Automne in Paris. In the mid-1920s Braque designed the decor for two Sergei Diaghilev ballets. By the end of the decade, he had returned to a more realistic interpretation of nature, although certain aspects of Cubism always remained present in his work. In 1931 Braque made his first engraved plasters and began to portray mythological subjects. His first important retrospective took place in 1933 at the Kunsthalle Basel. He won first prize at the Carnegie International, Pittsburgh, in 1937.

During World War II Braque remained in Paris. His paintings at that time, primarily still lifes and interiors, became more somber. In addition to paintings, Braque also made lithographs, engravings, and sculptures. From the late 1940s he treated various recurring themes such as birds, ateliers, landscapes, and seascapes. In 1954 he designed stained-glass windows for the church of Varengeville. During the last few years of his life, Braque’s ill health prevented him from undertaking further large-scale commissions, but he continued to paint, make lithographs, and design jewelry.

He continued to work during the remainder of his life, producing a considerable number of paintings, graphics, and sculptures. Braque, along with Matisse, is credited for introducing Pablo Picasso to Fernand Mourlot, and most of the lithographs and book illustrations he himself created during the 1940s and '50s were produced at the Mourlot Studios. In 1962 Braque worked with master printmaker Aldo Crommelynck to create his series of etchings and aquatints titled “L’Ordre des Oiseaux” (“The Order of Birds”), which was accompanied by the poet Saint-John Perse's text.

Braque died on 31 August 1963 in Paris. He is buried in the cemetery of the Church of St. Valery in Varengeville-sur-Mer, Normandy whose windows he designed. Braque's work is in most major museums throughout the world.

Braque believed that an artist experienced beauty "… in terms of volume, of line, of mass, of weight, and through that beauty [he] interpret[s] [his] subjective impression...” He described "objects shattered into fragments… [as] a way of getting closest to the object…Fragmentation helped me to establish space and movement in space”. He adopted a monochromatic and neutral color palette in the belief that such a palette would emphasize the subject matter.

Although Braque began his career painting landscapes, during 1908 he, alongside Picasso, discovered the advantages of painting still lifes instead. Braque explained that he “… began to concentrate on still-lifes, because 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” A still life was also more accessible, in relation to perspective, than landscape, and permitted the artist to see the multiple perspectives of the object. Braque's early interest in still lifes revived during the 1930s.

During the period between the wars, Braque exhibited a freer style of Cubism, intensifying his color use and a looser rendering of objects. However, he still remained committed to the cubist method of simultaneous perspective and fragmentation. In contrast to Picasso, who continuously reinvented his style of painting, producing both representational and cubist images, and incorporating surrealist ideas into his work, Braque continued in the Cubist style, producing luminous, other-worldly still life and figure compositions. By the time of his death in 1963, he was regarded as one of the elder statesmen of the School of Paris, and of modern art.

On 20 May 2010, the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris reported the overnight theft of five paintings from its collection. The paintings taken were Le pigeon aux petits pois (The Pigeon with the Peas) by Pablo Picasso, La Pastorale by Henri Matisse, L'Olivier Près de l'Estaque (Olive Tree near Estaque) by Georges Braque, La Femme à l'Éventail (fr) (Woman with a Fan) by Amedeo Modigliani and Nature Morte aux Chandeliers (Still Life with Chandeliers) by Fernand Léger and were valued at €100 million ( $123 million USD). A window had been smashed and CCTV footage showed a masked man taking the paintings. Authorities believe the thief acted alone. The man carefully removed the paintings from their frames, which he left behind.

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