The French ouroboros master

by Lassla Esquivel 

October 2013

Exhibition took place: 18 September 2013 to 06 January 2014. Galeries nationales, Paris, France. 

            George Braque is, with Pablo Picasso, one of the founders of Cubism, but there is much more to see in his trajectory than just his Cubist production. Picasso has always stolen Braque's spotlight as the protagonist in Cubism, particularly with non-specialised audiences. Thus, what might a Braque retrospective offer to the audience?

            The Grand Palais in Paris organised George Braque, an exhibition that addresses this artist's irreplaceable position in art history. It covers his innovative contributions to the Vanguards and how the continuous contact with significant figures of the European art scene had a big impact on his work, without leaving aside the relevance of his partnership with the Spanish titan. Brigitte Léal's –curator of the exhibition– proposal successfully achieves this result.

            The exhibition suggests a structured, lineal and even exhaustive review of Braque's career through all his creative periods. A retrospective show usually takes advantage of a chronological review, which is not the exception in this case. However, this is added to a thematic and style review. Walking through the exhibition, one comes across the different stages in Braque's career, which are the result of his endless experimentation. For instance, both his virtuous Fauvist period and his acknowledged Cubist phase. The piece selection in each section is accurate and representative, including a diversity of formats and depictions that create a congruent plastic whole in every room.

            This retrospective might appear repetitive for the audience –hence uoroboros– because in his different styles, Braque addresses a number of reiterative themes. He obsessively treated almost the same subjects throughout his career. Therefore, the display is consistent with this way of working and evidences the rational, controlled and conscious direction that Braque set for his endeavours. The hanging is also interesting because it contextualises Braque and also creates a dramatic effect with the lightening along the whole show. This allows us to distinguish more easily his different creative periods. One can witness his analytical and geometric synthesis in his cubist period, as well as, his anxiety and yearn at the end of his life.

            Each thematic room is chosen according to the significant artistic values, which are relevant for his plastic legacy. For example, the billiards are the reminiscence of the figurative period he went through –as all his contemporaries– after the war. This recurrent subject is an excellent pretext for Braque to go back to his experimentation of cubist spaces and depictions.

            The display lays out a restrictive number of readings for the audience. A didactic approach is the most perceptive with an obvious lineal chronology. In a way, the curator is showing a more processed revision of the artist's career. This represents an assertive choice considering Braque's numerous plastic productions and the exhibition's Blockbuster condition.    

            Another wise choice was including not only his artworks, but also his social and artistic encounters. These are addressed through a great variety of supportive material that build the historic and artistic context such as letters, photographs, magazines, catalogues, among other primary sources. Braque's contact with a diversity of movements and his close work with artists such as Matisse and Cézanne made him a relevant key for the exchange of plastic concerns and experimenting behaviours that were lived at the time.

            The set of motifs like birds and landscapes in the late period of his career, speak to us about more freedom achieved in his style. He exercised them with maturity in his aesthetics. He accomplished a well-executed symbolic dialectic developed throughout his life. After a constant repetition of subjects –in many different and experimental styles– he finally masters and creates his own pictorial language.

            The exhibition has a wary direction to appeal to the audience's personal emotions as they go through each hall. This exhibition offers the exploration of a reality beyond visual sensation, but through a man's metamorphosis after living two wars and several changes in the time he had to live in.


More information about the exhibition 


Georges Braque, L’oiseau noir et l’oiseau blanc,1960, Huile sur toile, 134 x 167,5 cm, Paris