(Roughly) Daily

“I began to paint chiefly still lifes, because in nature there is a tactile, I would almost say a manual space… that was the earliest Cubist painting – the quest for space.”*…

Georges Braque, 1908-09, Fruit Dish, oil on canvas, Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Between 1907 and 1914, Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso painted side-by-side– often literally, in the same studio– as they created the form we now know as Cubism, the most influential art movement of the 20th century.

Picasso has become the avatar of the Modern turn in the first half of 20th century. Braque… not so much…

Why is this show by Georges Braque such a quiet, hole-in-corner sort of affair? I find myself wondering as I wander around The Poetry of Things, a new exhibition at Bernard Jacobson Gallery of 14 magnificent still life paintings (and a single collage) by the man who is best known as the co-creator, with Picasso, of Cubism.

They span 30 years of his steady output, from the middle 1920s to the middle 1950s, enabling us to root out at least a partially satisfactory answer to a question that seems to be on so many lips: Whatever happened to Braque after Cubism had had its moment in the sun?…

There is no one else in the gallery during my visit barring the director, who is leaning too deeply into his reading matter even, it seems, to notice that another human being is currently sharing this basement gallery space with him.

Is it not a little odd that the first significant show by Braque in London for decades should be so lightly attended at 1:30 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon, in such a well-placed West End Gallery as this one, at the top of Duke Street St James, London’s oldest dealing street?

The fact is that Braque’s afterlife has been rather neglected. Henri Laurens inherited the estate, but has enough really been done to keep him in the public eye? And if not, why not? The fact is that his reputation has not been nurtured, massaged, and noised abroad — not when compared, for example, with the afterlife of Picasso. Was Picasso lucky? He had luck and skillful management, you could say. He was certainly a tremendous self-publicist in a way that Braque was not. Think of the Catalogues Raisonnés that he created with Christian Zervos, for example, and how early all that started. The first volume was published in 1932. Picasso knew what it was to be looked at. He also had the advantage of being perpetually, eye-catchingly restless. What transformations he underwent! And the Picasso story has been so effectively told and retold under the careful custodianship of the Picasso Foundation…

Braque looks and feels like a quietist by comparison, a swimmer against the currents. He did not have that lubricious Catalan stare. He did not rise up in indignation against any eye-catching war. He merely got on with it, year after year, making still life paintings of such restraint and subtlety, and much else too. None of the paintings on these walls shouts at us. They speak of self-containment, of a quietly impassioned, ongoing dedication to the task at hand. If anything, they seem to live and breathe, and even be in defiance of any easy notion of modernity…

Georges Braque, La saucière (1942), oil on canvas

The Neglected Afterlife of the Great Georges Braque,” by Michael Glover, in @hyperallergic.

* Georges Braque


As we reflect on reputations, we might recall that it was on this date in 2007 that Picasso’s Portrait of Suzanne Bloch was stolen from the São Paulo Museum of Art (along with Portinari‘s O lavrador de café). One of the final paintings of Picasso’s Blue Period (valued in 2007 at roughly $50 million), it was recovered and returned undamaged to the museum the following January.


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