braque the portuguese
While working on this painting, Georges Braque combined the two techniques to come up with the Portuguese. The stencilled numbers and letters in the art are the assertions of realistic intentions of the Cubism technique. In the painting, the stencilled or written letters across the surface represent the most conclusive ways of emphasizing the picture’s two-dimensional character and they also help stress the quality of the artwork. The Portuguese painting marks an interesting stage and point in the development of Georges’ arts. At the top right-hand corner of the painting, there are D BAL letters and numerals under them. Although Georges had included various numbers as well as letters into the painting, they were the representational elements of the art.
The painting is one of the earliest cubist paintings. While it is frequently mentioned in monographs, textbooks and articles on the artist as well as Cubism, this painting has never been a source of serious controversy. Most of his paintings consist of still lives which are remarkable for their low-key colour harmonies, robust construction, and serene, meditative quality. Cubism is the technique that was used in the creation of the Portuguese painting. Georges Braque introduced this technique of painting in 1911. The painting features stencilled letters BAL and numerals under them. The painter first introduced the still life technique in 1910 before introducing the Cubism style.
To understand Cubism it helps to go back to Cézanne’s still life paintings or even further, to the Renaissance. Let me use an example that worked nicely in the classroom. I was lecturing, trying to untangle Cubism while drinking incresingly cold coffee from a paper cup. I set the cup on the desk in the front of the room and said, “If I were a Renaissance artist in mid-15th century Italy painting that cup on that table, I would position myself at particular point in space and construct the surrounding objects and space frozen in that spot and from that single perspective. On the other hand, if this was the late 19th century and I was Cézanne, I might allow myself to open this view up quite a bit. Perhaps I would focus on, and record, the perceptual changes of shape and line that result when I shift my weight from one leg to the other or when I lean in toward the cup to get a closer look. I might even allow myself to render slightly around the far side of the paper cup since, as Cézanne, I am interested in vision and memory working together. Finally, if I were Braque or Picasso in the early 20th century, I would want to express even more on the canvas. I would not be satisfied with the limiting conventions of Renaissance perspective nor even with the initial explorations of the master Cézanne.
As a Cubist, I want to express my total visual understanding of the paper coffee cup. I want more than the Renaissance painter or even Cézanne, I want to express the entire cup simultaneously on the static surface of the canvas since I can hold all that visual information in my memory. I want to render the cup’s front, its sides, its back, and its inner walls, its bottom from both inside and out, and I want to do this on a flat canvas. How can this be done? The answer is provided by The Portuguese. In this canvas, everything was fractured. The guitar player and the dock was just so many pieces of broken form, almost broken glass. By breaking these objects into smaller elements, Braque and Picasso are able to overcome the unified singularity of an object and instead transform it into an object of vision. At this point the class began to look a little confused, so I turned back to the paper cup and began to tear it into pieces (I had finished the coffee). If I want to be able to show you both the back and front and inside and outside simultaneously, I can fragment the object. Basically, this is the strategy of the Cubists. – from smarthistory
Braque admired the work of the Fauves, who were a small group of artists that were known for their wild, vibrant art style. Along with the admiration of the explosion of colors, Braque followed the works of Matisse, Duffy, Derain, and others (Bordvick).
After a period of healing, Braque returned to his artistic ability in the Cubist movement. Braque entered what is called a synthetic phase of Cubism. He began to use more colors and to represent objects through large planes. Braque created “Woman Musician” in 1917, which exhibited the geometric planes and strong colors of synthetic Cubism (Braque). He began to stray away from Cubism and began to draw with a flowing technique such as the smooth framework of “Still Life with Playing Cards.” After this move, Braque experimented with pictures of pagan women, pedestal tables, birds, ancient Greek pottery, and figures. Braque finally won the Carnegie Prize in 1937. He became a world-renowned artist and in 1961 he received the highest honor—he became the first living artist to have his works displayed in the Louvre.
Golding, “Cubism, A History and an Analysis, 1907-1914”:
“[I]n the spring of 1911 Braque introduced a new element into one of his paintings which was of vital significance. Across a painting entitled ‘Le Portugais’ Braque stencilled the letters BAL, and under them numerals. Braque had first introduced letters into a still life, probably of early 1910, but they are blended into the composition and have no function other than that of identifying as a newpaper the object over which they are painted.
As a Cubist, I want to express my total visual understanding of the paper coffee cup. I want more than the Renaissance painter or even Cézanne, I want to express the entire cup simultaneously on the static surface of the canvas since I can hold all that visual information in my memory. I want to render the cup’s front, its sides, its back, and its inner walls, its bottom from both inside and out, and I want to do this on a flat canvas. How can this be done?
Georges Braque, The Portuguese, 1911, oil on canvas, 116.8 x 81 cm (Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel, Switzerland)
“The stencilled letters and numebrs are assertions of [the realistic intentions of Cubism] – ‘as part of a desire to come as close as possible to a certain kind of reality, in 1911 I introduced letters into my paintings’, Braque has said – but the implications are wider. In ‘Le Portugais’ they fulfill several obvious functions. In the first place, in a style in which one of the fundamental problems had always been the reconciliation of solid form with the picture plane, the letters written or stenciled across the surface are the most conclusive way of emphasizing its two-dimensional character; Braque has stressed this when he said of the letters: ‘they were forms which could not be distorted because, being quite flat, the letters existed outside space and their presence in the painting, by contrast, enabled one to distinguish between objects situated in space and those outside it.’ In other words, Braque is in effect saying ‘My picture is an object, a flat surface, and the spatial sensations it evokes are a painter’s space which is intended to inform and not deceive.’. Secondly, the letters in Cubist painting always have some associative value;. Here the letters D and BAL (the D must be the last letter of the word GRAND) were probably suggested by a dance hall poster hanging in a bar, and help to convey a ‘cafe’ atmosphere. Then, in the ‘Portugais’ the letters have a purely compositional value, providing a terminal note for a system of ascending horizontal elements. Fourthly, they have a certain decorative value.
Golding, “Cubism, A History and an Analysis, 1907-1914”:
This understanding of painting as an impoverished art (impoverished because the illusion of the real is no longer there) is, oddly enough, a rejection of the earlier cubist experiments made by Picasso and Braque�experiments which were leading to a rigorous and austere painting of the armature of a subject, leading to what Mondrian eventually arrives at but not where Picasso, the anarchist who never eliminated politics from his message, wanted to go. Although Picasso’s cubist paintings had already affirmed the objecthood of the painting, he now took this affirmation to the next step by returning the world of everyday objects to his painting.
In the first stage of cubism, Picasso and Braque challenged representation and illusion with their focus on the “language” of painting. One of the most recent interpretations of cubism (T. J. Clark: Farewell to an Idea) begins with an unusual premise. If Manet�s painting of the Bar at the Folies Begere, as well as Matisse�s window and studio paintings, were ultimately metaphors about the illusion of depth and space, then, he asks, were Picasso�s cubist paintings (Ma Jolie, for example) metaphors about the illusion of painting and imitating? Illusion in this case does not refer to the painting’s creation of the illusion of three-dimensional space but to the illusion that paintings can create a sensible interpretation of the real world. Clark is asking if Picasso is creating paintings which are deliberately refusing to make sense as a means of representing this impossibility. If this is the case, then the painting has become an icon of painting (the goal of both Manet and Matisse), but an icon of painting as an impoverished action and an impoverished product, always removed from the world. Because it is removed from the world, it must find ways to put the world at greater distance than those artists did.
Violin and Candlestick (1910)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
An example of Analytical Cubism.
For other Cubist pictures like
those produced by Braque, see:
Greatest 20th-Century Paintings.
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