Braque is back: French cubist finally escapes Picasso
The inventors of cubism were inseparable for seven years, then remained frenemies, observing one another’s work with suspicion. A Braque exhibition in Paris considers his work on its own merits
In his last years Braque came full circle, returning to the theme, though not the style, of the open-air landscapes he painted during his 1906-1907 fauvist period. These long, horizontal panoramas of fields, sea and sky, occasionally inhabited by birds, are his homage to van Gogh.
Over the decades France’s intellectual elite came to favour Braque over Picasso. The writer and director of the prestigious Nouvelle Revue Française, Jean Paulhan, said: “Picasso makes so much noise that one loves Braque at first for his discretion, then for his silence, and . . . one thinks he knows much more than the other.”
Unlike Picasso, Braque looked the part of a distinguished painter. In 1958, the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson described “his handsome face, like supple leather with its rich patina the colour of fine tobacco . . . That handsome, serious face radiating silent suffering.”
Funeral and rehabilitation
When Braque died in 1963, the culture minister André Malraux organised a state funeral. In his oration, Malraux compared Braque to Victor Hugo. The extravagant farewell seemed to mark the passing of Paris as the world’s artistic capital.
The Gaullist establishment did Braque a disservice by embracing him so tightly, says Brigitte Leal. The May 1968 generation saw him as a representative of their parents’ order.
Now is the time for rehabilitation, Leal says. The generation that missed out on Braque must be allowed “to discover in its amplitude and richness an oeuvre that is underestimated, because it is demanding, because it resists facile telling, and is profoundly modest”.
Until January 6, 2014, grandpalais.fr, then the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston from February 16 until May 11
Life line: Georges Braque
1882 Braque is born in Argenteuil outside Paris. His father and grandfather were house painters.
1905-1907 Joins the fauve movement on the Côte d’Azur.
1907 Guillaume Apollinaire introduces him to Picasso. The painters are inseparable for seven years. They co-invent cubism, destroying the rules of perspective that had dominated western art since the Renaissance.
1908 Braque paints the first cubist landscapes, in the style of Cézanne.
1912 He creates the first papier collé, when he glues wood-grained wallpaper on to Compotier et verre.
1914 Volunteers to fight in the first World War. He is gravely wounded in 1915 and cannot paint for two years.
1917-1918 Resumes painting with La Musicienne, which brings colour to cubism.
1941-1944 Spends the German occupation on the Normandy coast, painting sombre pictures of skulls and black fish.
1944-1963 Paints billiard tables, artists’ ateliers, birds and landscapes.
1963 Given a state funeral.