Biography of Georges Braque, Pioneer Cubist Painter

georges braque
Portrait of cubist artist Georges Braque. David E. Scherman / Getty Images

Georges Braque (May 13, 1882 - August 31, 1963) was a French artist best known for his cubist paintings and the development of collage techniques. He worked closely with Pablo Picasso as they broke down traditional rules of the use of perspective in painting.

Fast Facts: Georges Braque

  • Occupation: Painter and collage artist
  • Born: May 13, 1882 in Argenteuil, France
  • Died: August 31, 1963 in Paris, France
  • Selected Works: "Houses at l'Estaque" (1908), "Bottle and Fishes" (1912), "Violin and Pipe" (1913)
  • Notable Quote: "Truth exists; only lies are invented."

Early Life and Training

Growing up in the port city of Le Havre, France, young Georges Braque trained to be a house painter and decorator like his father and grandfather. In addition to working on his vocation, Braque studied in the evenings at Le Havre's Ecole des Beaux-Arts as a teenager. After apprenticing with a decorator, he earned a certificate to practice the craft in 1902.

In 1903, Braque enrolled in the Academie Humbert in Paris. He painted there for two years and met avant-garde painters Marie Laurencin and Francis Picabia. The earliest Braque paintings are in the classic impressionist style. That changed in 1905 when he began to associate with Henri Matisse.

georges braque
Public domain

Fauvist

Matisse was at the forefront of the group of painters known as the "Fauves" (beasts in English). They are noted for the use of vibrant colors and simpler lines designed to make a bold, emotional statement to the viewer. Georges Braque's first exhibit of his Fauvist paintings took place at the Salon des Independants show Paris in 1907.

Braque's Fauvist works are slightly more subdued in color than those of some of the other leaders of the style. He worked closely with Raoul Dufy and fellow Le Havre artist Othon Friesz. After viewing a massive retrospective show of the work of Paul Cezanne in Paris in late 1907, Braque's work began to shift again. He also visited Pablo Picasso's studio for the first time in 1907 to view the legendary painting "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon." The association with Picasso had a powerful impact on Braque's evolving technique.

"The Olive Tree Near l'Estaque" (1906). Public domain

Work With Pablo Picasso

Georges Braque began to work closely with Picasso as they both developed a new style that was soon dubbed "cubism." Many researchers dispute the specific origins of the term, but while organizing a salon show in 1908, Matisse reportedly said "Braque has just sent in a painting made of little cubes."

Picasso and Braque were not the only artists developing the new approach to painting, but they were the most prominent. Both artists exhibited influences of Paul Cezanne's experiments with painting objects from multiple perspectives. While some believed that Picasso led the way and Braque merely followed in his wake, a close examination by art historians has revealed that Picasso focused on the animation of objects while Braque explored a more contemplative approach.

In 1911, Braque and Picasso spent the summer together in the French Pyrenees mountains painting side by side. They produced works that are virtually impossible to distinguish from each other in terms of style. In 1912, they expanded their approach to include collage techniques. Braque invented what came to be known as papier colle, or paper cutouts, a method of incorporating paper with paint to create the collage. Braque's piece "Violin and Pipe" (1913) illustrates how the pieces of paper allowed him to literally take the shapes present in the objects apart and rearrange them to create art.

georges braque man with a guitar
"Man with a Guitar" (1911). Corbis Historical / Getty Images

The extended collaboration came to an end in 1914 when Georges Braque enlisted in the French Army to fight in World War I. He suffered a severe head injury in May 1915 in the battle at Carency. Braque experienced temporary blindness and required a long period of recuperating. He did not begin painting again until late 1916.

Cubist Style

The style of cubism is an expansion of the experiments by painter Paul Cezanne in depicting three-dimensional form on a two-dimensional canvas. Cezanne died in 1906, and, following significant retrospectives of his work in 1907, Pablo Picasso painted "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon," a piece that many believe is an example of proto-Cubism.

At the same time as Picasso exhibited his new style through abstracted images of people, Braque was at work on extending Cezanne's vision of landscapes with reductive, geometric forms. Soon, the pair became leaders of a new style of painting that attempted to represent multiple viewpoints on an object or person simultaneously. Some observers likened the works to a diagram of how the objects worked and moved in real life.

georges braque
Gjon Mili / Getty Images

In the period between 1909 and 1912, Braque and Picasso focused on a style now known as analytic cubism. They painted mostly in neutral colors like brown and beige while taking apart objects and analyzing their shapes on the canvas. It is difficult to tell the work of the two artists apart in this period. One of Braque's key works during this time is "Bottle and Fishes" (1912). He broke the object into so many discreet shapes that the whole became nearly unrecognizable.

Cubists challenged the conventional view of perspective in painting that ruled the establishment since the Renaissance. It was perhaps the most important legacy of Braque's art. Breaking down the rigid notion of perspective paved the way for multiple developments in the painting of the 20th century that ultimately led to pure abstraction.

Later Work

After he began painting again in 1916, Georges Braque worked alone. He began to develop a more idiosyncratic style that included brighter colors while relaxing the harsh nature of his earlier cubist work. He became close friends with Spanish artist Juan Gris.

New subject matter entered Braque's work in the 1930s. He began to focus on Greek heroes and gods. He explained that he wanted to show them in a pure form stripped of symbolic gestures. The bright colors and emotional intensity of these paintings depict the emotional anxiety felt by Europeans as a second world war approached.

georges braque painter and model
"Painter and Model" (1939). Corbis Historical / Getty Images

After World War II, Braque painted ordinary objects like flowers and garden chairs. He created his final series of eight works between 1948 and 1955. They were all titled "Atelier," the French word for the studio. At the time Georges Braque died in 1963, many considered him one of the fathers of modern art.

Legacy

While his painting ranged across multiple styles during his lifetime, Georges Braque is primarily remembered for his cubist work. His focus on still life and landscapes influenced later artists who returned to the traditional subject matter. Braque's most distinctive legacy is his development of collage techniques involving cut paper that he focused on for only a few short years of his career.

Source

  • Danchev, Alex. Georges Braque: A Life. Arcade, 2012.