The silk-screen print "Maison à l’Estaque" ("House at l'Estaque"), donated to UNESCO in 1965, was made after Braque’s original oil on canvas of the same name painted in 1908 and now exhibited at the Bern Fine Arts Museum (Kunstmuseum, Bern, Switzerland). L'Estaque is a fisherman’s village in the surroundings of Marseille and is well-known for its fabulous landscapes celebrated by the French painter Paul Cézanne. Considered as the precursor of Cubism, Cézanne painted many views from this very port as shown in his painting « Le Golfe de Marseille vu de L'Estaque » (1878-1879), now in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.
After a Fauvist period between 1905 and 1907, Georges Braque, only 25 years old at that time, was looking to expand his artistic horizons. In 1907, the Grand Palais (Paris) organized a retrospective on Cézanne’s work, the artist having passed away the year before. Braque’s visit of this exhibition played a crucial role in the evolution of his artwork. Apart from the discovery of new means of expression embodied by Cézanne’s innovative paintings, the young Braque also met Pablo Picasso, another upcoming great master. More than a simple anecdote, this meeting indicates the beginning of a prolific artistic cooperation.
Inspired by this visual shock, Braque went to Provence three times between 1907 and 1908 and came back with a series of landscapes, including « Maison à L'Estaque » which illustrates, according to art historians, the artist’s "Cézanne Cubism" or “Pre-Cubism” period, which lasted from 1907 to 1909. He emulated Cézanne’s systematization of the motif and gradually lightened his palette. Details in his paintings were dismissed as he reduced trees to long shapes and used cubes to depict windowless houses. Discarding the bright Fauvist hues he had been using, Braque went back to a much more moderate chromatic palette. The blinding Mediterranean light is reduced to a range of ocher colors punctuated by the green and gray of the trees, which give depth to the composition.
In this painting, the artistic rendering and structure of composition is more important than transcribing a feeling of reality. The landscape is reduced to its essential, patterned by various scattered shapes and the limited use of color – essentially green and ocher – which visually organizes the surface into two linked parts. The year before Braque finished this work, Pablo Picasso painted the « Demoiselles d'Avignon » which, according to Douglas Cooper, marked “the birth of a new pictorial idiom, because in it Picasso violently overturned established conventions and because all that followed grew out of it.” It is during an exhibition of Braque’s paintings at the Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler gallery that the art critic Louis Vauxcelles for the first time spoke of “small cubes” to describe his compositions. Despite their very different personalities, it is thanks to their experimental spirit that Picasso and Braque will be considered the creators of the most important pictorial revolution of the early 20th century.
Georges Braque (1882-1963) is considered both to be the father of Cubism and an outstanding painter responsible for many of the experiments of early 20th century art. He contributed immensely to the establishment of the foundations of contemporary art.
He began his career as an apprentice in his father’s construction painting business. Sometime after, he began attending evening classes at the School of Fine Arts in Le Havre before moving to Paris to work under a decorative painter. His first works were mostly influenced by the post-Impressionist movement until he discovered - particularly thanks to the Salon d'Automne held in Paris in 1905 and the work of Matisse - Fauvism and its principles of sovereignty of color over drawing and perspective. He left immediately for Antwerp, with his friend Othon Friesz, to practice this new and exciting style. He exhibited his works for the first time during the 21st Salon des Independants in 1906, with paintings picturing views of Antwerp’s port, for example "Pont d'Anvers" (1906). This exhibition was a big success and his paintings were quickly purchased, some by the German collector Wihelm Uhde . A year later however Braque turned away from these Fauvist principles.
Braque had a revelation at the 1907 retrospective exhibition of Cézanne’s work in Paris. In addition to meeting a young Pablo Picasso, he was here confronted with a never-before seen style that drove him to reconsider his own creative process. Still excited from his discovery, Braque went south to the Mediterranean coast of France to paint at l’Estaque and La Ciotat, near the city of Marseilles. This series of new paintings show his observations on the systematization of the motif that would bring about Cubism; landscapes are deliberately deconstructed and reduced to several juxtaposed geometric shapes. Unfortunately, he did not achieve the same success as with his Fauvist paintings. The 1908 Salon d'Automne refused all of his paintings but Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, a famous art dealer, saw the genius in Braque’s revolutionary style; he bought all his paintings and offered him his first contract. In 1914, Braque put aside his career to enroll in the French army during the First World War. Seriously wounded, he was demobilized in 1917. He then began writing his first book, « Thoughts and Reflections on Painting », published in 1947.
He picked up painting again and continued his researches on Cubism, creating gradually more decontstructed compositions. His still lifes were enriched by pieces of newspaper, leading to his "paper sculptures". He opted for a simplified composition and the reduction of the motif to its most essential, basic state. During this period, Braque painted by theme, including the Billiards series, painted between 1944 and 1945 as a way to put his essays to practice.
Since the 1950’s, the virtuosity and innovations of George Braque have been recognized internationally. He was commissioned, among other things, for a painting to decorate the ceiling of the Henri II room in the Louvre, in 1953. His thirst for new means of expression never stopped and it is upon his meeting with Baron Heger de Lowenfeld in 1961 that he started the production of a collection of jewelry called Metamorphoses, inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphosis. This collection was exhibited for the first time at the Louvre in 1962. While "The Braque Metamorphosis" sailed to New York in the summer of 1963, the artist, then at the height of his fame, died on August 31.