Georges Braque at the Phillip's Collection

It is not optimal to post thoughts on a show that has already closed, but in the case of Georges Braque and the Cubist Still Life, 1928-1945 that is how it worked out. I had to make a really quick zip through the museum before work one day. I would have liked more time to linger.

Georges Braque was a co-founder of the cubist movement with Pablo Picasso, whom he met in 1907. They painted many works side by side from 1911-1914 and these are difficult to distinguish which artist painted them. Braque enlisted in the French Army in 1914 and left to fight in World War I. When he returned in 1917, he resumed painting and developed a more personal style. The exhibit at the Phillip's featured forty-four canvases painted later in his career, many of which were very large (particularly ones painted in the 30's).

I remember studying cubism in college, and was intrigued by the fact that it was entirely "new" and truly the first abstract movement in art. That said, I found the subject matter boring and the colors dark and drab. Part of the reason I wanted to see this exhibit was to challenge this memory and see if it held up to seeing the works in person rather than in a book or on a slide. I found that I truly liked some of Braque's paintings aesthetically. I would love to design my living room around Large Interior with Palette (approximately 56"X 77"). I can see lots of beige/black/white geometric patterns on the furniture and smart black piping. The green of the chair would be a perfect accent color! Obviously, this is merely a whimsical fantasy, but it goes to show that I no longer find cubism "dark or boring."
Two smaller paintings that caught my eye were more about the details in the paintings than the overall effect.  In Still Life with Pink Fish, I liked the abstracted (generic) fish shape and the energy of the patterns on the wallpaper and the yellow fruit bowl. The tablecloth is entirely convincing by the waviness!
Perhaps my favorite painting in the exhibit was The Dessert. I adore the basket holding fruit. It suggests woven rushes, but it is just a wonderful pattern or motif all on its own! He painted many baskets, but this one is the best I've seen.
Braque often used sand and ground rock in his paints. I did not find this intriguing or particularly effective. When I tried to determine why this was the case, all I could come up with was that I've seen this technique used on walls in what I see as an attempt to hide flaws, usually in hole-in-the-wall restaurants and the like.

Braque worked on as many as ten canvases at one time. This is something I would like to try! I will have to get permission to borrow the ones used for classes at my studio one evening and give it a go.

Many of Braque's works were x-rayed by the curators and revealed that he painted over previous compositions, sometimes leaving small portions visible in the final work. Don't many artists do this? I do. I don't think I like the thought of others examining my finished product and revealing what I found unsuccessful and painted over. It feels invasive.

I am so glad I went to this show. I've changed my mind about cubism; there is much to value and enjoy in the works. I'll leave you with a quote by Braque: "A still life is no longer a still life when it is no longer within arm's reach." I am not entirely sure of his meaning, but perhaps he means that he is flattening still life objects and abstracting them to the point that if you were reaching for them, you would not be certain where they exist in space. It brings to mind the optical illusions eye doctors use where they tell you to grab the wings of the fly that appear to stand up off the page on the eye test. What do you think he means? (Comment on the Nancy Murphree Davis Art page on Facebook.)

1 comment:

Kodanshi said...

One of my favourite painters, and I definitely prefer his work to that of Picasso. I wish I'd been able to go to this exhibition! At least I have the accompanying catalogue...