If there is a painter who best represents the “honor of France,” as Malraux said, it must be Georges Braque. A friend and colleague to Picasso, Derain, Apollinaire, Gris, Laurens, Léger, Satie, Reverdy, de Staël and other well-known artists of that era, he remained close to the many cultural revolutions that shook the century. Born to a family of decorative painters, Georges Braque’s destiny was to follow in their footsteps as an artisan. However, in 1905, he suddenly gave up his studies and took up a new path.
Braque discovered fauvism in 1905 with the works of Matisse and Derain. Though the fauvist period only lasted a year and half, Braque would find in this movement a way of escaping academic ideas and exploring new possibilities with color. At the 1907 Salon des Indépendants in the South, Braque presented six fauvist paintings. It was at this exhibition that Braque would meet Daniel Henry Kahnweiler and Wilhelm Uhde, both of whom combined to purchase all the painting Braque had on show. The first would become his first dealer, acquiring six paintings, while the second would become his first collector, purchasing five paintings.
The following year, at the Salon d’Automne, only one of his seven paintings was accepted. That same 1907 exhibition featured a retrospective on Cézanne. Deeply inspired by the late works of the Master of D’Aix, Braque made another pilgrimage to l’Estaque in order to better study his theories and ideas. Before this trip, Braque was working as a fauvist. After it, he moved on to what would become his great work of cubism.
The origins of Cubism, a movement that would revolutionize the visual rhythm of painting and take it on an unexpected trajectory, remain unclear. It is not easy to define the paternity and the inspiration for the first cubist works, but history remembers it as a combination of efforts from these two diametric opposites, two artistic geniuses. On one side was Pablo Picasso: an artist gifted with extraordinary virtuosity, a visionary whose life was eventful and whose personality was lively and exuberant. On the other hand was Georges Braque: an artist whose brilliance was in innovation and ideas. He was an intellectual, a modest man, and someone who preferred to live quietly rather than seek celebrity.
Braque referred to their working relationship, at this time, as akin to climbing partners. It would go on to define a period in art history that was only to end in 1914 when Braque was called up to fight in the First World War. He returned in 1915, with a severe head injury, and was convalescent till 1917. From that point onwards, even if he continued to work on Cubism till 1922, Georges Braque was similarly developing a new approach to painting, one which would function thematically.
The thematic period became the third period in his work. Georges Braque devoted himself to the analysis of different subjects, working to explore all possibilities in their composition in order to finally lay bare the object. With these recurrent themes, Braque was looking to perfect his pictorial ideas and explore the extreme limit of an object’s depiction. Some of the great works of his career emerged during this period: billiards, for which he would be awarded a prize at the Venice Biennale; the birds; and the Norman fishing boats, a landscape he knew intimately after establishing a studio at Varengeville-sur-Mer.
At the twilight of his life, Georges Braque set to work on his series Metamorphoses. He first made gouache sketches of roughly a hundred of his major works. Then, taking these two-dimensional works, he transformed them three-dimensionally, not virtually as he had done with analytic cubism, but directly and physically into sculpture. All of the works have names derived from Greek mythology, which Georges Braque dearly loved. He had already devoted a series of works to Hesiod’s Theogony and now he chose the name Metamorphoses in direct reference to Ovid’s work.
Braque collaborated with a sculptor who worked mainly with precious stones, Heger de Loewenfeld. Together, at the request of André Malraux, they presented this new work at the Palais du Louvre. Braque had already been the first living painter to show work at the Louvre; he painted the ceiling of the Salle Henri II in 1953. The exhibition took place from March to May 1963. Three months later, Georges Braque died. Malraux led a national mourning and himself delivered the eulogy standing before the Louvre in front of the Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois church.
1882 – May 13: Georges Braque is born in Argenteuil to a family of commercial house painters and decorators.
1890: The Braque family move to le Havre.
1893: Commences art and trade school studies.
1899: Braque quits high school without obtaining his diploma. He starts an apprenticeship as a painter-decorator at his father’s studio, and at a friend’s (Roney) studio.
1900: Continues his apprenticeship in Paris where he meets up with his Norman friends, the painters Othon Friesz and Raoul Dufy.
1901: Completes his military service close to le Havre.
1902: Moves to rue Lepic in Montmartre. Begins his studies at Académie Humbert, where he meets Francis Picabia and Marie Laurencin.
1904: Moves to rue D’Orsel. Starts painting in the impressionist style.
First movement: fauvism
1905: At the Salon d’Automne, Braque encounters the painting of Matisse and Derain at the “cage of wild beasts (fauves).”
1906: Braque spends his summer in Anvers with Friesz. They start producing work inspired by fauvism. At the Salon d’Automne, he is greatly impressed by the work of Cézanne. Moves to L’Estaque at the end of October.
1907 – March : successfully exhibits at the Salon des Indépendants, where he sells all his paintings to Wilhelm Uhde and D.-H. Kahnweiler.
June-October : Second stay at L’Estaque. Braque starts to move away from fauvism and more towards Cézanne.
October : Visits the Cézanne retrospective at the Salon d’Automne. Third stay at l’Estaque. Meets Picasso at the Bateau-Lavoir.
Second movement : cubism
1908 – January-June : Le Grand Nu, first cubist work.
End of May-beginning of September: fourth stay at l’Estaque.
November : Refused from the Salon d’Automne, Kahnweiler offers him his first solo exhibition. In critiquing the exhibition, art critic Vauxcelles uses the word cube for the first time.
1909 : Spends his summer at La Roche-Guyon where Braque starts to push cubism towards abstraction (Château de La Roche-Guyon series).
1910 – September-November : Fifth stay at L’Estaque. Braque continues to work with abstraction with the Usines de Rio Tinto (Rio Tinto Factories). First use of everyday objects within the pictorial plane. First sculptures in paper.
1911 : Spends the second half of the year at Céret, including a few months in August with Picasso. Meets Henri Laurens.
December : First use of stencils in Le Portugais (The Portuguese).
1912 : Meets Marcelle. Starts using mock-wood painting brushes. Spends the summer in Sorgues with Picasso.
Beginning of September : Makes first collage Compotier et verre (Fruit Dish and Glass).
1913 : Braque presents his paintings at the Armory Show.
1914 : Spends summer at Sorgues where he frequently sees Picasso and Derain. WWI begins and Braque is drafted in August.
1915 : Suffers a severe head injury by shrapnel in the battle near Carency.
1917 : Discharged from the army. Collaborates with Gris and Laurens. Starts working on Cahier. Signs a contract with Léonce Rosenberg for representation just till 1920.
1919 : First post-WWI Georges Braque retrospective at the Galerie de L’Effort Moderne of Léonce Rosenberg.
1920 : First sculpture using durable (Femme debout). Kahnweiler reprises his role as Braque’s art dealer.
Third movement : The thematic period
1921 : Two of Braque’s works sold during the liquidation sale of Kahnweiler; liquidation sale with Uhde. Starts working on the Hearth theme (till 1927).
1922 : Second Kahnweiler sequestration sale. Consecration of Georges Braque as a major French painter at the Salon d’Automne. Leaves Montmartre and moves to Montparnasse. Begins Canephore theme (continues till 1927).
1923 : Fourth Kahnweiler sequestration sale.
1925 : Moves to the house he had commissioned made for him, designed by Auguste Perret, on the rue du Douanier.
1926 : Marries Marcelle in Paris.
1928 : Begins theme Round Tables (till 1942).
1929 : Renovates a house and builds a studio at Varengeville-sur-mer. Works on themes Seaside Landscapes (till 1938) and Bathers (till 1933).
1931 : First engraved plates and etchings for Théogonie d’Hésiode, work commissioned by Vollard.
1936 : Begins theme Duos (till 1942). Works starts to focus more on themes associated with the interior.
1937 : Begins theme Vanities (till 1943)
1939 : Begins theme Birds (till death). Spends the winter working on sculpture.
1941 : Begins theme Fishes (till 1944).
1944 : Begins theme Billiards (till 1949).
1947 : Aimé Maeght becomes his art dealer. Begins theme Chairs (till 1960).
1948 : Publishes Cahier 1917-1947. Receives the Painting Grand Prize at the XXIVe Venice Biennale for Billard (1948).
1949 : Begins theme Ateliers (till 1956).
1951 : First landscapes in the van Gogh manner.
1953 : Paints the ceiling of the Salle Henri II at the Musée du Louvre.
1954 : Completes stained glass window at the L’Eglise de Varengeville. Decorates Mas Bernard at Saint-Paul-de-Vence.
Fourth movement : the Metamorphoses
1961 : Exhibition L’Atelier de Braque (Braque’s Studio) at the Musée du Louvre. Begins his collaboration with Heger de Loewenfeld.
1962 : André Malraux commissions the exhibition Bijoux de Braque (Braque’s Jewels).
1963 – March 22-May 14 : the exhibition Bijoux de Braque (Braque’s Jewels) opens at the Musée du Louvre.
August 31st : Georges Braque dies.
September 2 : National Day of mourning. Eulogy delivered by André Malraux.
The exhibition Bijoux de Braque (Braque’s Jewels) moves first to New York, and then travels the world.
1990 : The Musée Georges Braque opens at Saint-Dié-des-Vosges.
2000 : Death of Heger de Loewenfeld – Armand Israël continues work on Metamorphoses.
2013 : 50th anniversary of the death of Georges Braque. Retrospective exhibitions at the Grand Palais and at the Musée Georges Braque.
Avec l'âge, l'art et la vie ne font qu'un.
La vérité existe. On n’invente que le mensonge.
Il n’est en art qu’une chose qui vaille : celle qu’on ne peut expliquer.
Le progrès en art ne consiste pas à étendre ses limites, mais à les mieux connaître.