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Braque, Georges (1882–1963)

BRAQUE, GEORGES (1882–1963)


French painter who, together with Pablo Picasso, developed cubism.

Georges Braque was born in Argenteuilsur-Seine, a small community near Paris, at a time when modern art was associated with Claude Monet and impressionism both in Paris and in Le Havre, where his family took up residence in 1890. Braque left secondary school quite early in order to enter into apprenticeship first with his father, a building painter and amateur artist, and later with a decorative painter named Roney. At the same time he attended courses in the evening at the É cole des Beaux-Arts in Le Havre and took flute lessons with the brother of Raoul Dufy. In 1900 he moved to Paris where he pursued his apprenticeship with Laberthe and frequented the courses held in the Municipal Studio of Batignolles. After his military service in 1901 in Le Havre, his parents agreed to allow him to devote himself exclusively to painting.

In Paris, Braque enrolled in 1902 at the Académie Humbert before going to the city's É cole des Beaux-Arts for a while. In 1905 at the Salon d'Automne he discovered fauvism, a technique he perfected with the help of the painter Othon Friesz, also from Le Havre. The following spring he joined forces with his father, Friesz, and Raoul Dufy to found the Cercle de l'Art Moderne du Havre. It was therefore in the "fauvian" manner that he mounted his first show in 1906, at the twenty-third Salon des Indépendents.

One year later however, Braque was captivated by Paul Cézanne's paintings in a retrospective at the Salon d'Automne. Soon thereafter he completed his first version of the Viaduc de l'Estaque (1907), which signaled his passage from fauvism to a style more influenced by Cézanne. During this time Guillaume Apollinaire introduced him to Pablo Picasso, who had just finished Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. Braque at this time had begun his Large Nude (finished in 1908), a work whose Cézannien influence contrasted with Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, which was marked more by primitivism.

In 1908 a series of Braque's landscapes rejected by the Salon d'Automne was shown at the Kahnweiler gallery. As a way of disparaging the works, the critic Louis Vauxcelles described them as bunches of "cubes," whence came the term cubism. From that year forward, Braque's artistic strivings would develop in tandem with those of Picasso, with whom he forged a lasting friendship. Together they would give birth to cubism.

In 1911 Braque joined Picasso in Céret, where he used stenciled letters for the first time, in his painting The Portuguese. The following year he added sand and sawdust to his works, as well as pieces of "faux wood" wallpaper. With Picasso he invented the use of collage in modern art. In 1912 Braque married Marcelle Lapré and took her with him and Picasso to Marseille, where they purchased masks and African statuettes.

In 1914 World War I broke out and Braque was mobilized along with the 224th Infantry Regiment. Picasso accompanied his friend in uniform to the station in Avignon, where their mutual dialogue of many years came to an end. One year later Braque underwent trepanning for serious head wounds and after his convalescence did not return to the front. In December 1917 he published his "Pensées et réflexions sur la peinture" (Thoughts and reflections on painting) in the journal Nord-Sud, where he argued that what accounts for artistic progress is more a knowledge of the limits of artistic language than its extension. He began therefore to refashion his previous work by reconciling the geometry of cubism with the curved line, thereby paving the way for his leap into painting the large-scale, classical-style nudes known as the Canephores and, later on, smaller-scale seascapes. This period would lead him in 1929 to take up partial residence in Varengeville-sur-Mer near Dieppe, where he maintained a house and studio.

During the 1920s Braque took his first steps into the world of the theater by creating the décor for the Ballets Russes production of Les Fâcheux (1924), among others. His work received international recognition the following decade with a retrospective at the Kunsthalle in Basel, Switzerland (1933) and another in the United States (1939–1940). During the Occupation, which he spent in Paris, he deepened the themes apparent in his "Interiors," which were to be followed, after the Liberation, by the "Billiards" series.

Additional accolades were to follow in 1948 with the publication of Cahier de Georges Braque: 1917–1947 and the Grand Prize for Painting at the Venice Biennale. The correspondences between objects in his works became increasingly harmonious and were soon joined by the figure of the bird, as witnessed in the decorative ceiling of the Etruscan Room in the Louvre (1953). In 1961, on the occasion of his eightieth birthday, his studio was taken down and rebuilt in its entirety in the Louvre's Mollien Gallery, a previously unheard-of honor for a living artist. André Malraux accorded him another exceptional privilege upon his death in 1963 by delivering a eulogy in his honor before the colonnade of the Louvre.

See alsoCubism; Picasso, Pablo.


Georges Braque: Rétrospective 5 juillet–15 octobre 1994. Exposition et catalogue réalisés par Jean-Louis Prat. Saint-Paul, France, 1994.

Rubin, William. Picasso and Braque: Pioneering Cubism. New York, 1989.

Virginie Devillez

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