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Georges Braque

Artist Biography

Georges Braque (1882 - 1963) was born in Argenteuil - sur - Seine, France. Braque’s father was the manager of a decorative painting business, and from an early age the artist developed an interest in textures and tactility from working with his father. From being very young, Braque was guided through various creative painting techniques.He grew up in Le Havre, and between 1897 - 1899 studied at the École des Beaux - Arts. In 1899, when he was just 17, Braque moved to Paris with his friends - Othon Friesz and Raoul Dufy.

While in Paris he studied under a master decorator, receiving his craftsman certificate in 1901. The artist gave up decorating in 1902, and for the next 3 years dedicated himself to painting his own pieces full-time. He began painting at the Académie Humbert, Paris, where he worked for 2 years until 1904. It was there that he met Marie Laurencin and Francis Picabia. Co - ordinating with Henri Matisse, the paintings that Braque worked on during this early period were Fauvist in style.

In 1906, Braque enjoyed his first exhibition. His colourful paintings were included in a show which was held at the Salon des Independants. Like many of his contemporaries, Braque’s style underwent a shift after encountering first - hand the enigmatic pieces of Pablo Picasso, whose work he experienced during a visit to Pablo Picasso's studio in 1907. He had gone to see Picasso's breakthrough work - Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. The two artists immediately understood each other’s vision, forging a close friendship underpinned by artistic camaraderie. Braque recounted: "We would get together every single day to discuss and assay the ideas that were forming, as well as to compare our respective works".

Picasso can be directly recognised as prompting the sudden and drastic metamorphosis that Braque's painting style underwent. Having fully comprehended the aims and philosophies that were at the forefront of Picasso’s creative motives, Braque worked to strengthen constructive elements of his pieces, and downplay “the expressive excesses of Fauvism" that had previously inspired so much of his painting.

Braques landscapes that depicted scenes which had been distilled and pared back to their essential basics of minimal shapes and colours prompted  Louis Vauxcelles - a French art critic, to describe the artist’s work as "bizarreries cubiques". From this was coined the shortened term ‘Cubism’ - the art world’s historically revolutionary movement that was to dominate the minds and works of a generations of artists.

Braque and Picasso’s shared many interests and similarities in their ways of working: their palates, subject matter and style of painting were evidently close, yet Braque chose to jettison from his work the “iconological commentary” that was distinctive in Picasso’s artworks. Braque was preoccupied with the more formal elements of painting; he strove to perfect his craft of pictoral space and composition, rather than emphasising culturally heavy metaphor and aesthetic determinism of perception.
The artist strove for harmony and balance in his work by utilising papier collés, a collage technique of pasting paper collage technique that had been invented by Picasso and Braque in 1912. He built on the work that he and Picasso had done in forming papier collés as a medium, developing it further to incorporate elements of cut - up advertisements onto his canvases. Though he had originally aimed to move away from iconography, this method that showcased and critiqued media was a technique that foreshadowed successive modern art movements such as Pop art.

Other collage methods that are evident in works by later artists such as Peter Blake can find their origins in the experimental methods of Braque. Such practices included stencilling letters onto painting, blending pigments with sand to build texture and volume, and copying natural pattern of wood grain and marble, to challenge levels of expected dimensions in a playful way. This means of inverting objects and elements of perception produced still-lifes of an abstraction so great that they invoke the idea of patternation more than preserving the original concrete, tangible entity from which he began. These works express an inner - life and essence of the objects viewed rather than striving to be direct representations. Braque’s collages favoured geometric shapes, interspersing amongst them other items such as musical instruments, grapes, or furniture. The depth of the pieces in their layering and contrasts became so three - dimensional that they inspired parallels to be drawn between other medium such as sculpture - this prompted the development of Cubist sculpture.

The artist undertook military service in the French Army during World War I, until he returned wounded. In 1917, having recovered from his injuries, he developed close friendship with Juan Gris. His synchronistic relationship with Picasso had weakened when the latter began to paint more figuratively; Braque felt that Picasso had betrayed the rules and structures of the Cubist ideals that they had developed together, and instead decided to pursue his developments alone. 

In 1918, having exhausted the limits of his own experimentation with papier collés, Braque revived his previous passion and returned to still life painting. In the period that followed World War I, Braque’s work became less formally restrained, freer and less schematic. Throughout the 1920s he was also involved in set and costume design for ballet and theatre, which allowed him to experiment the possibilities for the depiction and de-lineation of space in very practical ways.
In 1922, he gained notoriety from an exhibition of his work that was held at the Salon d’Automne in Paris. The artist mastered various other mediums beside painting and collage, transitioning skilfully between sculpture, engravings and lithographs.

The 1930s marked an adoption of new subject matter when Braque began to produce studies and representations of Greek heroes and deities. As had been the case throughout his career, his interest in these new subjects were inspired, he insisted, not for their iconography or symbolism, but rather for their formal qualities, It is through a purely formal lens that Braque intended these figured to be perceived - exercises of composition that he preferred to think of in terms of a sort of calligraphy where the sheer line and shape should appear without the domination of concern for the figure itself.

As the darkness of World War II crept, Braque’s attention was loaded with existential considerations of suffering, and mortality - epitomised by his Vanitas series of paintings. He became increasingly preoccupied with the particular physicality of works, and his painting habits became implicitly concerned with paint qualities that could be achieved by differing brushstrokes, and the effects that these achieved to enhance his subject matter.

Braque incorporated many different themes into his work in the late 1940s, depicting birds, and crafting landscapes, and seascapes. The subjects that he worked with were very personal to the artist, but he never chose to share the meaning behind the imagery with those who viewed the works. During the war Braque had used skulls heavily in his works, but with the end of the war, the artist once again began to embrace ideas that were less dark, and more in - keeping with his subject before the war - such as flowers, billiard tables, and garden chairs. The last pieces that the artist crafted were largely dominated by the images of birds - a subject which epitomising the possibilities of space and movement, which had been his life long obsession.
Braques skillful craft of design can also be seen in the church of Varengeville-sur-Mer, in which stands a stained-glass window that he designed in 1954.