Born on May 13, 1882 in Argenteuil-sur-Seine, France, Georges Braque was a major painter, collagist, draughtsman, printmaker and sculptor of the 20th century. Along with Pablo Picasso, Braque was a key figure in the development of Cubism. He was also responsible for the introduction of many collage techniques including stenciling and combed false wood-grain effects.
Braque grew up in Le Havre and, following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, trained to be a house painter and decorator. In the evenings, he studied painting at the École des Beaux-Arts from 1897-1899. He studied in Paris under a master decorator and received his craftsman certificate in 1901. He studied painting at the Académie Humbert in Paris from 1902-04.
Braque’s first works were Impressionist, but by 1906 he was painting in a Fauvist style, successfully exhibiting that year in the Salon des Indépendants. Braque met Pablo Picasso in 1907. Both artists were influenced by Paul Cézanne’s use of geometry in depicting his subjects in his work. Cézanne’s paintings greatly impacted the direction of the Paris avant-garde, and soon after, Cubism.
From 1909 Braque and Picasso worked together daily to develop Cubism. By 1911 their styles were extremely similar and during this time, it was virtually impossible to distinguish one from the other. In 1912, the duo began to incorporate elements of collage into their paintings and to experiment with the papier collé (pasted paper) technique. Starting about 1911, Braque began experimenting with other media and techniques, as well as new canvas shapes. He began mixing paint with sand using a house-painter’s comb to introduce areas of imitation wood-grain into his paintings. In 1912, Braque married Marcelle Lapre and rented a house at Sorgues, near Avignon. There, he and Picasso began using pre-existing objects and materials in their paintings.
Braque and Picasso’s artistic collaboration lasted until 1914 when Braque served in the French Army during World War I. He was wounded in the war and temporarily blinded in 1915, but resumed painting in 1916. During his recovery in 1917, Braque began a close friendship with the Spanish artist Juan Gris who was also closely associated with the Cubist movement.
In the 1920s, Braque returned to a more “realistic interpretation of nature, although certain aspects of Cubism always remained present in his work.” He painted landscapes and reintroduced the figure into his work which was characterized by bold colour and textured surfaces. In the mid-1920s Braque also designed the decor for two Sergei Diaghilev ballets.
In 1931 Braque made his first engraved plasters and began to portray mythological subjects. His first retrospective was held in 1933 at the Kunsthalle Basel. In 1937, he won first prize at the Carnegie International, in Pittsburgh.
From about 1936, Braque’s paintings shifted again from the still-life to wider interior views. “Into ornately decorated rooms he introduced impersonal, flattened figures, such as in Woman with Mandolin or The Duet. The new mood suggested by his use of brighter colours was offset, however, by a series of macabre vanitas still-lifes, linked to the theme of the artist’s studio, that he began in 1938, possibly in despair at the approach of World War II. He also built a sculpture studio near his house at Varengeville and began experimenting with sculpture about this time, producing simple and playful, if rather two-dimensional works.
During World War II Braque remained in Paris. He painted mainly still lifes and interiors that were stark and sombre in colour. During this time, Braque also made lithographs, engravings, and sculptures.
In 1954, Braque designed stained-glass windows for the church of Varengeville. During the last few years of his life, Braque’s poor health prevented him taking on any large-scale work, but he continued to paint, make lithographs, and design jewelry.
Georges Braque died on August 31, 1963, in Paris. He is buried in the church cemetery in Saint-Marguerite-sur-Mer, Normandy, France.
Sources: Guggenheim, MoMA