Georges Braque was a French artist best known for his cubist paintings and the development of collage techniques. He worked closely with Pablo Picasso as they broke down traditional rules of the use of perspective in painting.
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Georges Braque was a 20th century French painter who invented Cubism with Pablo Picasso. Along with Cubism, Braque used the styles of Impressionism, Fauvism and collage, and even staged designs for the Ballet Russes. Through his career, his style changed to portray somber subjects during wartime and lighter, freer themes in between. He never strayed far from Cubism, as there were always aspects of it in his works. Braque died on August 31, 1963, in Paris.
Growing up in the port city of Le Havre, France, young Georges Braque trained to be a house painter and decorator like his father and grandfather. In addition to working on his vocation, Braque studied in the evenings at Le Havre’s Ecole des Beaux-Arts as a teenager. After apprenticing with a decorator, he earned a certificate to practice the craft in 1902.
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In 1903, Braque enrolled in the Academie Humbert in Paris. He painted there for two years and met avant-garde painters Marie Laurencin and Francis Picabia. The earliest Braque paintings are in the classic impressionist style. That changed in 1905 when he began to associate with Henri Matisse.
Image source: George Braque, Viaduct near Estaca, 1908
Braque’s earliest works were impressionistic, but after seeing the work exhibited by the artistic group known as the “Fauves” (Beasts) in 1905, he adopted a Fauvist style. The Fauves, a group that included Henri Matisse and André Derain among others, used brilliant colors to represent emotional response. Braque worked most closely with the artists Raoul Dufy and Othon Friesz, who shared Braque’s hometown of Le Havre, to develop a somewhat more subdued Fauvist style. In May 1907, he successfully exhibited works of the Fauve style in the Salon des Indépendants. The same year, Braque’s style began a slow evolution as he became influenced by Paul Cézanne who had died in 1906 and whose works were exhibited in Paris for the first time in a large-scale, museum-like retrospective in September 1907. The 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 1908–1912 reflected his new interest in geometry and simultaneous perspective. He conducted an intense study of the effects of light and perspective and the technical means that painters use to represent these effects, seeming to question the most standard of artistic conventions. In his village scenes, for example, Braque frequently reduced an architectural structure to a geometric form approximating a cube, yet rendered its shading so that it looked both flat and three-dimensional by fragmenting the image. He showed this in the painting Houses at l’Estaque.
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Beginning in 1909, Braque began to work closely with Pablo Picasso who had been developing a similar proto-Cubist style of painting. At the time, Pablo Picasso was influenced by Gauguin, Cézanne, African masks and Iberian sculpture while Braque was interested mainly in developing Cézanne’s ideas of multiple perspectives. Braque’s essential subject is the ordinary objects he has known practically forever. Picasso celebrates animation, while Braque celebrates contemplation.
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.
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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.