It is not enough to make people see the object you paint. You must also make them touch it.—Georges Braque (1882–1963)
In the early 20th century, when Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso pioneered the new pictorial language of cubism, they profoundly affected the course of modern art. Georges Braque and the Cubist Still Life, 1928–1945 is the first in-depth look at the years leading up to and through World War II, a period in Braque's career when he used the theme of still life to synthesize cubist discoveries and hone his individual style. Forty-four sumptuous canvases, along with related objects, trace the artist’s journey from painting still lifes in intimate interiors in the late 1920s, to vibrant, large-scale spaces in the 1930s, to more personal interpretations of daily life in the 1940s. The works, drawn from collections in America and Europe, are framed within the political and historic context of the time.
Georges Braque and the Cubist Still Life, 1928–1945 brings together for the first time in 80 years the Braque paintings known as the Rosenberg Quartet (1928–29). Used as models for marble panels in the Paris apartment of Braque's art dealer Paul Rosenberg, the four canvases reveal aspects of Braque’s process; all were in his studio at the same time at various stages of completion, as he reworked them over several years. Other paintings show Braque’s interest in conveying the physicality of objects and surrounding space. In The Pink Tablecloth (1933) and Fruit, Glass, and Mandolin (1938), Braque added powdered quartz and sand to a white ground to evoke intricate textures. In Still Life on a Red Tablecloth (1934), painted and incised patterns provide surface variation to the layered fabrics on the table and heighten the color.
Starting in the 1920s, Duncan Phillips, founder of The Phillips Collection, helped to introduce Braque's paintings to a wider American audience through acquisitions and installations. In the 1930s, Braque’s art continually appeared in major international exhibitions and publications as his European and American supporters encouraged interest in his work. Although Braque did not exhibit frequently during World War II, in 1943 he was honored with a special room of recent works at the Salon d’Automne in Paris. In their focused subject of modest objects grouped on trays and washstands, some saw disengagement from current events; for others, the visual realm of the still lifes represented a space for creative freedom during tragic times, an escape into intimate and imaginary spaces.
The exhibition is co-organized by The Phillips Collection and the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, part of the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis.
The fully illustrated catalogue includes essays by exhibition co-curators Renée Maurer of The Phillips Collection and Karen K. Butler of the Kemper Art Museum and others. The catalogue also includes an in-depth study of Braque's materials and process by Patricia Favero, Phillips associate conservator, Erin Mysek, Andrew W. Mellon postdoctoral fellow in conservation science at Harvard Art Museums, and Narayan Khandekar, senior conservation scientist at Harvard's Straus Center of Conservation.