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Great Masters

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Date of birth : 1882-1963
Nationality : French
Activity : Painter
Georges Braque (1882-1963) was born in Argenteuil, near Paris and brought up in Le Havre. where he was apprenticed to his father's painting trade house and studied at the local Ecole des Beaux-Arts.

In 1900 he went to Paris where he befriended Raoul Dufy and Othon Friesz, also from Le Havre and studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts under Bonnat before going to the Académie Humbert between 1902 and 1904.

A year later, Friesz who had adhered to the Fauvist movement notably formed by Vlaminck, Derain and Matisse invited him to adopt his style.

Braque accompanied Friesz during the latter's second sojourn in Antwerp in 1906 and the works he produced there were quite similar to those of his friend.

A year later he went to work again with Friesz in Southern France, notably at La Ciotat and L'Estaque.

Both immediately adopted the new style imposed by Fauvist painters and exhibited with some of them at the Paris Salon d'Automne and the Salon des Indépendants.

Braque, however did not stick with the subjective and impulsive aspects of Fauvism and worked according to his feelings far away from the principles enacted by Gauguin and Symbolist painters. After being deeply impressed by the Cezanne Memorial Exhibition at the Salon d'Automne in 1907, he began painting in a more logical manner of geometrical analysis, which anticipated what was to become Cubism.

After giving up Fauvism in 1907 he met Picasso through the dealer Daniel-H. Kahnweiler. The Spanish painter had started to paint "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" , a work which arose his interest in quite a new form of painting, and both started to work together with the ultimate aim of launching Cubism. At the start, and until 1910, their paintings were so similar that many people could not tell for sure who produced them.

Braque's works were however refused at the 1908 Paris Salon and Matisse, who was a member of the Jury, spoke of "little cubes" while examining a painting of l'Estaque. The same year, Kahnweiler organised a private exhibition of his pictures, all but two of which had been rejected by the Salon d'Automne. Louis Vauxcelles (who had coined the word "Fauves") did not hesitate to recall Matisse's comments in describing these pictures as being reduced to "cubes" and wrote of Braque's paintings in the Salon d'Automne of 1909 as "bizarreries cubiques". Thus the name "Cubism" was born.
In 1911 and 1912 Braque was painting with Picasso at Céret and Sorgues and both reduced their palette to black and white with grey-blue tones and started to paint still-lifes in an attempt to define a new pictorial language able to have some equivalence with reality. In addition they felt classical painting had no longer anything to do with the newly born century, painting, as any other object, being a reality in itself.

Braque was the first to begin the Collages, which heralded Synthetic Cubism. He also introduced real elements, sand and commercial lettering into his pictures. Combining and contrasting the real with the "illusory" picture image, he worked hand in hand with Picasso on Synthetic Cubism until the First World War came to interrupt their experiments. So far they had determined that painting was no longer in tune with photography in the way that it had preceded that new technique during many centuries before living in its shadow after 1860. Painting therefore had to become an activity centering on two dimensions with objects laying flat on the canvas shown in facets, multiplying angles under which they could be seen, interpenetrating themselves, losing their individuality and becoming not identifiable. In this way, Braque and Picasso were thus proving that a painting could be constructed independently to any reference to the reality of the external world.

From 1912, both painters started to apply their own ideas differently. Picasso became more audacious while Braque kept controlling his inspiration.

Braque enlisted in the French army and suffered a severe head wound in 1915. He was discharged from the army and began painting again at the end of 1917. During a long convalescence he pondered the principles of his art, and decided to renew his inspiration in approaching external reality.

Unlike Picasso and Léger. Braque remained entirely uncommitted to any ideology and kept his work aloof from all human or social interests outside it. In this, although he pursued a very different path artistically, he had much to do with Matisse. He once declared that the fundamental principle of Cubism was "the materialisation of a new space" and that the purpose of the Cubist fragmentation of objects was to "establish space and movement in space". He continued to pursue this aim with single-minded consistency and complete integrity. Even his interest in things was restricted to their existence as "aesthetic objects" for pictorial motives.

He began by continuing the decorative patterning and flattened planes of Synthetic Cubism but through the 1920's progressed to greater freedom and by the beginning of the 1930's was internationally hailed as a world master of still lifes of the calibre of Chardin.

His best works of this period were the Canéphores, large paintings of half-nude women carrying baskets of flowers and fruit. Supreme among all his works were, perhaps, the eight Ateliers painted between 1948 and 1955, in which the Cubist inspiration has lost its mannerisms and has been brought to the ultimate excellence of the composed still life.

His graphic work was connected primarily with an interest in Greek themes which began in the 1930's and includes 16 etchings for an edition by Vollard of the Theogony of Hesiod. From 1950 to 1958 he did a series of Birds in which decorative quality is combined with extreme simplification.

In 1948 Braque was awarded the Venice Biennale Grand Prix for painting. In 1951 he was made Commander of the Legion d'honneur.

Braque was the most consistent of the pioneering Cubist painters and within the strict limitations which he imposed upon himself was one of the greatest painters of the century. His works are now rated between US $ 80,000 and 25 million.
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