The Phillips Collection Showcases Georges Braque, Opening June 8
Washington, D.C.—This summer, The Phillips Collection features 44 sumptuous canvases by the great French cubist master Georges Braque (1882-1963), along with related objects, from the tumultuous years leading up to and through World War II, a time of great experimentation for the artist. The exhibition reveals insights into his creative process at a time when he used the motif of still life as a source of inspiration to synthesize cubist discoveries. In-depth technical analysis of several works uncovers details about Braque’s meticulous use of materials and his interest in creating a tactile painted surface. Georges Braque and the Cubist Still Life, 1928-1945 is on view at the Phillips from June 8 through September 1, 2013.
Early in his career, Georges Braque, along with Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), made a tremendous impact on modern art as co-founder of the cubist movement. But until now, Braque’s works created between 1928 and 1945 have largely been neglected. This exhibition illuminates the period when Braque broke away from his former associate and honed his individual style. It highlights Braque’s experiments with color, scale, and texture—from intimate interiors in the late 1920s, to vibrant, large-scale canvases in the 1930s, to darker and more personal works in the 1940s.
Braque frequently painted several canvases at once, in sequences exploring variations of the same motif. The exhibition reunites for the first time in over 80 years the Rosenberg Quartet (1928-29), four related paintings created for Braque’s dealer Paul Rosenberg. Other notable groupings include The Pink Table Cloth (1933), Still Life with Guitar (Red Curtains) (1937-38), and Fruit Glass and Mandolin (1938), works defined by their textured surfaces and shared approach to subject, color, and composition.
“The art of Georges Braque is especially important to this institution,” says Director Dorothy Kosinski. “Duncan Phillips was an early supporter of Braque, favoring him over Picasso and purchasing 11 of his works for the museum. This exhibition gives us the opportunity to take a closer look at the paintings that so enchanted Phillips alongside related works from other institutions.”
THE EFFECT OF WAR
Braque was in Normandy when Germany attacked France in spring 1940. After taking refuge in the Pyrenees, he returned to Paris in July for the duration of the war. During the late 1930s and early 1940s, the motif of a skull emerged in some of his still lifes. While the skull has been interpreted as an allusion to mortality, Braque admitted to using it as a formal device in dialogue with other objects. In the exhibition, a rare double-sided painting, The Baluster and Skull / Still Life with Fruit Dish (1938), features the skull in the foreground. It appears again in Studio with Black Vase from the same year, turned away from the viewer and placed beside an artist’s palette.
By the mid-1940s, Braque shifted to still lifes in and around the kitchen and bath which display signs of domestic routine. For some, Braque’s focused attention on elaborate still lifes in interiors seems at odds with the violence of current events; for others, the pictures provide a visual realm free of ideology—shielded from the chaos of the outside world at war.
ANALYSIS REVEALS WORKING METHOD
Braque’s strong interest in the materials of painting stemmed in part from his early work as a house and decorative painter. The intricate textures, subtle variations of surface, and visible reworking seen in many of the pieces featured in the exhibition indicate Braque’s continued focus on material and process. Conservators from the Phillips and the Harvard Art Museums conducted the first in-depth research of its kind on Braque's work from this crucial period in the artist’s career, examining 21 paintings, including four from The Phillips Collection.
The conservation study reveals how Braque experimented with materials in the base layer of a painting, adding combinations of powdered quartz, sand, or fine gravel to achieve a textured effect. In other instances, technical analysis shows how the artist mixed beeswax or resin with oils into paint, and used tools to manipulate the work’s surface, as seen in the wood grain of Phillips’s The Round Table (1929).
Infrared and x-ray imaging uncovers how Braque sometimes painted over a previous composition, leaving areas of color, line, and texture from the underlying work visible, as evidenced in Still Life with Palette (1943).
BRAQUE AT THE PHILLIPS
Through acquisitions and exhibitions, Duncan Phillips played a vital role in introducing Braque’s work to a wider American audience. He was an enthusiastic champion of Braque, favoring him over Picasso, stating, “Time may rank the mellowed craftsmanship and enchanting artistries of the reserved Frenchman higher than the restless virtuosities and eccentric innovations of the spectacular Spaniard.” Phillips purchased the first Braque painting for an American museum, and presented the first U.S. retrospective devoted to the artist’s work, organized by the Arts Club of Chicago in 1939. In 1959, he received Braque’s permission to have a bas-relief designed after one of the artist’s prints to be used as a decorative entrance element for the museum’s new annex. This symbol of a bird in flight has become a significant icon of The Phillips Collection’s identity. The museum's deep relationship with Braque continues through frequent displays of works from the unit of 15 by the artist now in the collection.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Georges Braque (1882-1963) was born in Argenteuil, France, to a family of house painters and decorators. After completing a two-year apprenticeship in the family business, he entered Académie Humbert to study art at age 20. Later, passing through impressionist and fauvist styles, he became increasingly concerned with volume and structure, inspired by the works of Paul Cézanne. Together with Picasso, Braque developed the radical pictorial language of cubism. In 1912, Braque created the first of his paper collages, initiating what would become a lifelong concern with the tactile depiction of space. Wounded in the First World War, Braque resumed painting in 1917, classicizing and naturalizing the cubist vocabulary. In the 1940s and '50s, Braque took on two ambitious series, Billiard Tables and Studios. During his lifetime Braque had numerous museum exhibitions. In 1948 he received first prize at the Venice Biennale, in 1951 he was awarded the Légion d’Honneur, and in 1961 he was the first living artist given an exhibition at the Louvre. When Braque died on August 31, 1963, funeral services were held in front of the Louvre.
The fully illustrated 240-page exhibition catalogue is published by The Phillips Collection and the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, in collaboration with Prestel??Del Monico. It includes essays by exhibition co-curators Renée Maurer of The Phillips Collection and Karen K. Butler of the Kemper Art Museum. Phillips Associate Conservator Patricia Favero co-authored a study of Braque’s materials and process with Erin Mysak, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in conservation science at Harvard Art Museums, and Narayan Khandekar, senior conservation scientist at Harvard’s Straus Center for Conservation. The book is available in the Phillips museum shop for $49.
ORGANIZATION AND SPONSORS
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, where the exhibition was on view January 25 through April 21, 2013.
The exhibition is supported by the Share Fund, an award from the National Endowment for the Arts and an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.
EXHIBITION RELATED EVENTS
Thurs., June 6 (5-8:30 p.m.): Phillips after 5: Jazz and Swing of the 1930s, in collaboration with the DC Jazz Festival, is inspired by the era of the exhibition with jazz in the Music Room and galleries, swing dance performances, and 1930s board and card games.
Thurs., June 13 (6:30 p.m.): Michael FitzGerald, professor of fine arts at Trinity College, talks about the careers of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso.
Thurs., July 11 (5-8:30 p.m. at the Phillips; 8-2 a.m. after party at Malmaison): The Phillips and Brightest Young Things present “UnStill Life, a Bastille Day Fête,” with Braque’s art as the point of departure for music, a let-them-eat-cake dessert bar, cubist cocktails, and more.
Sat., July 13 (2 p.m.): La Grande Illusion, a powerful anti-war film following two captured French pilots as they are moved between German prisoner-of-war camps during World War I. 1937, 114 mins, dir. Jean Renoir.
Thurs., July 18 (6:30 p.m.): Staged reading of Still Life, the critically acclaimed 1936 play by master wordsmith Noël Coward. Jenny Lord, resident assistant director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company, directs.
Sat., July 20 (2 p.m.): La Regle du Jeu follows the intertwined relationships and affairs of the French aristocracy and their servants on the eve of World War II. 1939, 110 mins, dir. Jean Renoir.
Thurs., Aug. 1 (5-8:30 p.m.): Phillips after 5: “A Moveable Feast,” inspired by Braque’s still lifes, includes food trucks sourcing locally, talks about cocktail compositions, and still life creations with a chance to win prizes.
Thurs., Aug. 15 (6:30 p.m.): Exhibition curator Renée Maurer explores Braque’s response to still life from 1928 to 1945.
Thurs., Aug. 22 (6 p.m.): Artists Ken Kewley and Jill Phillips lead a discussion about the exhibition, followed by a collage-making workshop.
Thurs., Aug. 29 (6:30 p.m.): Associate Conservator Patti Favero and exhibition curator Renée Maurer highlight new discoveries about Braque’s approach to painting and mastering materials.
Learn more: www.phillipscollection.org/events
TRYST AT THE PHILLIPS CAF? EXHIBITION MENU
Featuring the flavors of France with a Braque-inspired menu of Parisian bistro fare and cocktails. Selections include a Smoked Trout Dip plate to share, a Haricot Verts and potato salad, and cocktails such as Plum and Pear Punch.
- Hours: Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m. -5 p.m.; Thurs. extended hours, 10 a.m.-8:30 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
- Closed: Mondays and Independence Day
- Location: 1600 21st Street, NW (at Q Street)
- Metro: Red Line, Dupont Circle Station (Q Street exit) and via several bus lines
- Admission: $12
- Discounted Admission: $10 for seniors 62 and over and students with valid ID
- Free Admission: Kids 18 and under, Phillips members, and active duty military personnel and their families from Memorial Day through Labor Day as part of Blue Star Museums
- Tickets: Available at the museum and www.phillipscollection.org
ABOUT THE PHILLIPS COLLECTION
The Phillips Collection is one of the world's most distinguished collections of impressionist and modern American and European art. Stressing the continuity between art of the past and present, it offers a strikingly original and experimental approach to modern art by combining works of different nationalities and periods in displays that change frequently. The setting is similarly unconventional, featuring small rooms, a domestic scale, anda personal atmosphere. Artists represented in the collection include Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Vincent van Gogh, Edgar Degas, Henri Matisse, Pierre Bonnard, Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee, Claude Monet, Honoré Daumier, Georgia O’Keeffe, Arthur Dove, Mark Rothko, Milton Avery, Jacob Lawrence, and Richard Diebenkorn, among others. The Phillips Collection, America's first museum of modern art, has an active collecting program and regularly organizes acclaimed special exhibitions, many of which travel internationally. The Intersections series features projects by contemporary artists, responding to art and spaces in the museum. The Phillips also produces award-winning education programs for K-12 teachers and students, as well as for adults. The museum’s Center for the Study of Modern Art explores new ways of thinking about art and the nature of creativity, through artist visits and lectures, and provides a forum for scholars through courses, postdoctoral fellowships, and internships. Since 1941, the museum has hosted Sunday Concerts in its wood-paneled Music Room. The Phillips Collection is a private, non-government museum, supported primarily by donations.