French artist Georges Braque was born on May 13, 1882. Like his father and grandfather before him, he became a house painter and interior decorator. On the side, however, he started taking art classes to explore his interest in painting of a very different sort. Braque started off painting in an Impressionistic style before switching to Fauvism, the first of the avant-garde movements that flourished in France in the early years of the twentieth century. The Fauve painters were the first to break with Impressionism as well as with older, traditional methods of perception. Their paintings were characterized by bold, undisguised brushstrokes and high-keyed, vibrant colors directly from the tube. Fauve means “beast,” a description of the wild, new style. Braque had his first successful art exhibit in 1907 with Fauvist paintings, like the bridge and boats, below.
Like many artists, Fauvism was just a temporary stopping point for Braque. Along with Pablo Picasso, he began to experiment with a highly geometric, two-dimensional style known as Cubism. French art critic Louis Vauxcelles coined the term after seeing the landscapes Braque had painted in 1908. Vauxcelles called the geometric forms in the highly abstracted works “cubes.” At first, the subject of a picture was usually identifiable. Although figures and objects were dissected or “analyzed” into a multitude of small facets, these were then reassembled, after a fashion, to evoke those same figures or objects. However, during “high” Analytic Cubism (1910–12), Picasso and Braque reduced their works to just a series of overlapping planes and facets. The color palette was mostly limited to near-monochromatic browns, grays, or blacks. Their favorite motifs were still lifes with musical instruments, objects from daily life, and the human face and figure. The picture below is entitled Harbor, but that’s the only thing that identifies it as a water scene.
Braque’s career was interrupted by World War I, during which he received a serious head wound that made him temporarily blind. When he resumed painting in 1916, he began to use more color. I wonder if this was a reaction to having seen so many dark things during the war. He continued to paint actively until his death on August 31, 1963.
Braque said, “Le tableau est fini quand il a effacé l’idée” (luh tablow eh feenee kahntil ah ay-fass-ay leeday), which means “the painting is finished when it has erased the idea.” This sums up the Cubist philosophy rather well. I know it makes me an art-philistine, but I actually prefer paintings that look like what they’re supposed to be, rather than a multi-perspective abstraction. Still, each wave of artists has been despised by the ones that came before and after, even my beloved Impressionists.
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