Braque returns to London in a beautiful and serious show


A flying white bird, seen through a window, captures your attention as you pass the street. Up close, this aerial form is simplified like a cutout, schematic like an incision on an archaic vase, serene but dynamic, head and beak straight arrow. He slides towards a stubby tree.

The Bird flying towards its nest by Georges Braque is a small collage and gouache version of the large 1955 painting by Pompidou. For the spectator, as for Braque, “it is as if we heard the beating of wings”, herons and egrets rising above the Camargue lagoons, which the artist visited while carrying out the work. Bird motifs broadened his exploration of pictorial space throughout his life, the relationships of the objects therein, our response to it.

It has been a few years since London has enjoyed an exhibition of paintings as beautiful and serious as Georges Braque: The poetry of things at the Bernard Jacobson Gallery this fall. It has been a generation since London saw Braque. Tate’s last exhibition was in 1956, when the artist was still alive. The memorable of the Royal Academy Braque: late works, in 1997, was the only presentation by then.

“The Bird flying towards its nest” (1955)

“Black teapot and two lemons” (1948)

This included the “Studio” and “Bird” symphonic series. Jacobson focuses mainly on the same period, but on the scale of chamber music. About twenty sumptuous and full still lifes, from the 1920s to the 1950s, are exhibited in the company of the bird, which Braque called “the summary of all my art”: for decades “I used guitars, tables, decanters, sand and wallpaper. to express what I had to say. Now it’s the bird that helps me to explain myself. I started on the ground, and I go up to the sky.

Jacobson, too, started at the table level. He planned this exhibition after acquiring a small canvas of a black teapot with a ghostly white outline. Perfectly placed on a gray surface with two lemons, the pot has a huge beak that grows violently – Pointer balanced but disruptive. “Black Teapot and Two Lemons” (1948) is condensed, claustrophobic, eloquent of post-war austerity.

A year later, a bird appeared in the photos of “Studio”. In still lifes, elevation, metamorphic freedom – that feeling of objects having their own existence, changing, shaking against each other – reached its peak in the 1950s, with spatial ambiguities unfolding in matrices. and dizzying and disconcerting patterns.

“The green box” (1952)

“La caisse verte” (1952) is the star of the show. The uneven pale green planks of a simple box jut out and invite you to dive into a strange interior: vertical optical illusion strips of wallpaper, a vase that looks like cutout paper, gushing fronds richly painted with variegated streaks of lime, olive, yellow – the organic and architecture beautifully intertwined.

Braque’s past comes into this image: play of angles and cubist points of view, mimicry of the collage, the wood grain background referring to his family profession as a home decorator. Braque painted the grain of the wood with a comb, wet on wet. He relishes materiality – “in still life, space is tactile, even manual” – but the painting is also aerial, open, slender.

Braque is “light as a bird, and not like a feather”, writes his biographer Alex Danchev, citing Paul Valéry. The thorny flowers on long, slender stems seem to sway on air currents while remaining strong, heavy, in the tall, slender “The Sterlitzies (Birds of Paradise)” (1941). The straight stems and the rounded compressed vase are reminiscent of Giacometti’s sleek silhouettes. The sculptor liked such compositions: “How to describe his paintings? How can I speak of the sensation provoked in me by the vertical, slightly offset, vase and flowers on a gray background?

Before 1914, Braque the cubist disrupted the entire image plan, challenging Western perspective and modeling. After the war – he was shot in the head, left for dead, then trepanned – he put the broken pieces back together.

‘Jug, music book, bottle’ (1924)

‘Still life: prunes’ (1925)

“Verre et compotier” (1922) and “Jug, notebook of music, bottle” (1924) bring back abstract cubist forms to figurative forms, in compositions which remain tilting, fractured. The glass is partly opaque, partly translucent; the fruit bowl looks like a slice of cardboard, but thick and tough surfaces are achieved by mixing sand with pigment. They awaken the sense of touch even as the images are melted, ephemeral – the musical score will change with each performance, the newspaper becomes the news of yesterday. Dark hues – browns, grays, creams of cubism – seem to move in soft, diffused light.

Braque found color a distraction when he conceived Cubism. At the end of the 1920s, however, the still lifes were chromatically brilliant, expressive: velvety purples in “Still Life: Prunes” (1925), undulations of mint, olive, leaf green modulations, in “Pomme, verre et napkin” ( 1927). For collector Duncan Phillips, the Braques of the 1920s were incomparable: “Cubism was finally justified by producing works of art that were both architectural and lyrical.

“Still life with a pipe” (1942)

Blacks and grays are wrapped up again in the 1940s, during the Occupation: “Still Life with a Pipe” (1942), “La desserte I” (1941), where the fruit seems hard, almost coldly unreal. There were fuel shortages; you can tell that Braque’s studio was freezing cold. “How can a great painter like you work in the cold? exclaimed visiting Nazi officers. “We will provide you with two trucks of coal. – No, thank you, Braque replied cautiously, because if I accepted, I could no longer say good things about you.

He kept his independence, and sometimes the paintings have a sparkle of defiance: Braque is rarely more decorative than in the “Bouquet et langouste” lime / pink (1942). He portrayed the lobster “not knowing how many legs this animal had” – it turned out that he had given it the correct number. Not that it is a question of naturalism: “Objects exist for me only insofar as there is a relationship between them or between them and me. When you reach this harmony, you reach a kind of intellectual non-existence. . . it is real poetry.

“Still life with a large jug” (1955)

The last still life here, “Nature morte à la grande jug” (1955), is a play of rhythms between objects more ethereal than substantial: jug, table, bowl like undulating curves, sinuous lines, details disappearing in planes of transparent color, everything is unstable, impenetrable. “The only thing that matters in art is what cannot be explained,” Braque said.

Is this why he has little influence in the Anglo-American art world, which thrives on sound clips, conceptualization, self-performance? Rainer Maria Rilke wrote that Cézanne did not paint “look at me” but “here”. Braque was the same; Cézanne has been his model for a long time.

It’s a small (sales) show that doesn’t need to be bigger: Braque, of all artists, slows down the viewer. And the show is free, a minute’s walk from the Royal Academy Fort Summer exhibition, and an antidote, too, to the sound of the two Tates – the environments of robotic or mutant creatures staged by Anicka Yi and Heather Phillipson, which characterize contemporary trends. Jacobson has been dealing with living artists since the 1960s, but “the teapot somehow began to have a life of its own,” he says. “I wanted to move forward by going back in time.

As of December 23,

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