Georges Braque at Grand Palais, Paris
The blurb at the beginning of the exhibition hails Georges Braque as a key member of the “generation that invented modern beauty”. That this man has shaped our standards of artistic beauty is a bold claim, and curiously he is less well-known than his contemporary Picasso, with whom he had a close artistic relationship.
His early years of Fauvism are shown in a room of his landscapes of L’Estaque and Ciotat. These paintings are thick daubs of startlingly bright colour up close, which from further away then resolve into tranquil countryside scenes of candy-cane trees and bonbon-coloured farmhouses. These manage not to stray into the saccharine because there is still something recognisably real about the landscapes, despite the violent palette. This is early Braque flexing his muscles, experimenting with colour as a fundamental element of an artwork, separate from form.
In the next few years, he meets Picasso, later comparing their working relationship to that of “a pair of climbers roped together on a mountain”. The exhibition is organised in terms of his experimentation with different styles, which wasn’t always chronological, making it difficult to establish Braque’s biographical timeline throughout the exhibition. It would have been useful to have included more background information on the painter – the exhibition is comprehensive in terms of Braque’s art but less so in factual information about his life.
The years of 1912–1914 for Braque were marked by further innovation. Here Braque “brought a new sensibility to painting” with the introduction of his papiers collés. Using faux-wood-patterned paper glued to canvas and connected by lines in charcoal, his still lifes are given colour and context, a familiarity despite their abstraction. Whereas previous works would funnel your gaze into the centre of the canvas, these open up the edges of the picture.
The exhibition perfectly illustrates the dissolve of one period of experimentation into another; his Canéphones of the 20s, dripping in texture, transform into his natures mortes, from there into desolate, ashen works during the Occupation, and finally, in the last decade of his life, an opening outwards into elongated landscapes. It is a brilliant, and remarkably rare, opportunity to see one of the twentieth century’s most talented and disciplined painters, and will hopefully channel more attention towards a man who was unequivocally Picasso’s equal.
Georges Braque is at Grand Palais until 6th January 2013. For further information visit the gallery’s website here.