Friday, 8 November 2013

Georges Braque, Grand Palais, Paris

Georges Braque, Grand  Palais, Paris, to January 6th 2014<p>
            TheGrand Palais has organised a comprehensive and monumental exhibition of the work of the quintessential French painter, Georges Braque. This extraordinarily prolific twentieth century painter and artist is minutely revealed and explained. A huge range of important works of art have been borrowed from both private and public collections, such as the Museum of Modern Art, The Guggenheim and the Pompidou. Braque – a painter whose style has been described  as ‘material’, textural’,’ emotional’ and ‘architectural’ was hailed by Cezanne as the “world’s greatest living painter”.<p>
            Braque was trained initially to be a house painter and decorator like his father but he then went on to study at the Academie des Beaux Arts in 1905. Starting as a Fauvist artist the exhibition begins with the beautiful and evocative “Port in L’Estaque” series with their bright points of colour and loose forms. These timeless landscapes are evocative and intimate and capture intense emotional responses.  The skies are full of vivid, rowdy blues, greens, yellows and pinks.  Braque was inspired by the works of Andre Derain and Matisse as well as from Primitives such as Van Gogh and Boudin.  He didn’t like Romanticism and his determined brush strokes and flamboyant colours set up Fauvism as the next artistic vocabulary of the time. He made several versions of the same scenes, for example there are thirty pictures of his South of France  paintings where he is conveying more than just impressions but also solid structures.<p>
            The show unravels how Braque’s styles evolved slowly and explains how he began to gravitate from Fauvism to Cubism from 1908 to 1913. In 1907 his friend, the poet Apollinaire, introduced him to Picasso which was to be one of the most important relationships of his artistic career. Braque described his friendship with Picasso as being “roped together like mountaineers” as they created together a new school of art and thought. They were both residents of Montmartre in Paris and saw each other intensely every night for a long period of time.  Picasso was interested in tribal masks, works from Cezanne and Iberian sculptures and these influences are reflected in their art.  We see Braque’s famous and large painting, titled, “Big Nude” which he painted in 1908. This large painting of a distorted lady with empty, mosque like eyes, and geometric shapes is at once beautiful and disturbing. It marks the beginning of Braque’s and Picasso’s move into Cubism and the complex patterns of faceted forms and monochromatic colour that was to develop.<p>
 It was the art critic Louis Vauxcelleds who invented the term Cubism or “bizarre cubes” in 1908 when he was describing one of Braque’s paintings and the name stuck. Braque was championed by his friend the German-Jewish art dealer, Daniel Henry Kahnweiler, and in 1908 there was the first Braques show in Paris. In “The Instruments of music” we see how Braque shatters traditional perspective into multiple visions of an object or the world.  Slowly his art became more and more Cubist, seen in his painting “House and tree” where the houses are reduced to geometric forms. In “The Castle at Roche Guyon” he renders the forms into even smaller facets with no horizon line so that all that is left is a cluster of walls and dislocated roofs where one can only recognise the landscape by its colour. Braque’s art was seen as revolutionary, daring and shocked many. He himself said ” I have made a great discovery. I no longer believe in anything. Objects don’t exist for me except in so far as a rapport exists between them or between them and myself.When one reaches this harmony one reaches a sort of intellectual non-existence. Life then becomes a perpetual revelation. This is true poetry. And indeed Braque new movement and its shattering of perspective and light eventually freed the Ecole de Paris to lead innovation in painting for the next half a century. The Cubist Movement spread quickly through Europe and Paris and in turn influenced other movements such as Fauvism and German Expressionism.<p>
            Braque’s move into papiers colle art shows him yet again playing with traditional viewpoints and perspectives as well as materials. His painting titled “Fruitbowl and Glass” is made up of strips of faux bois wallpaper that simulated wood grain and combined with paint to suggest a fruit bowl and glass on a table. His still lives were all about the relationship between objects and the space between them as he overlaps forms and uses supple arabesque and curvilinear shapes as can be see in his paintings “The Frying pan” which he painted in the 1940’s and “The Billiard Table”. We see his mastery of not just painting but also etching, lithography, aqua tint and woodcut. The advent of the Second World War stimulated the creation of more serious works reflecting the austerity of the war; such as his massive Theogomie de Hesiode series. The beautiful and captivating blues and swirls of Braque’s birds as you near the end of the exhibition are amazing. He painted these in the late 1940’s and we can see how they attest to his ability to capture the movement and lightness of birds. Two of the paintings in his ‘Birds” series adorn the ceiling in the Henry II room at the Louvre in Paris. The Grand Palais shows us a complete picture of Braque with photographic footage, films, letters interspersed with his fabulous works of art so that we also get a social, cultural and political idea of the times in which he lived.<p>

Braque was a giant of modern art as this exhibition proves; in fact he was the first living artist to have his works exhibited in the Louvre in 1961. The exhibition is big and to enjoy it at its fullest I would recommend you set aside at least one and a half to two hours to see it properly.<p>
Braque, by Larissa Woolf, Arts Editor,<p>
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