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"Georges Braque: From colour to engraved purity" at Le centre d'art la Malmaison
Georges Braque, Lettera amorosa, 1963, lithographie, 32.5 x 25 cm © Claude Germain © Adagp Paris 2013.

By: Frédéric Ballester

CANNES.- Over the course of the history of painting, and notably since the experimental practices of the impressionists, painters were above all concerned with regarding landscapes in a new and careful way. The motif chosen from real life is captured in that moment in time and on a prepared canvas. The background colour which constitutes the flatness of the material is one of the consequences of the evolution of painting techniques. In terms of pictorial organisation, the prepared background is apparently drawn from ranges of browns with a worn effect due to dilution, which spreads in a uniform manner onto the material to be painted. This monochrome colour, onto which the painter projects his subject, engages the full expressivity of the representation, as one can sense when perusing the landscape, Impression, soleil levant, by Claude Monet in 1872. With its innovative strokes, the painting reveals the finesse of a light background playing with transparency. With a simultaneous contrast between colours and the search for depth, the given material is released by the application of long strokes. At the centre of the image, one can feel visual sensations which, between the coloured pictorial signs, reproduce the effects of nature on things. It is only later, in the early twentieth century, at the heart of fauvism, between 1905 and1907, that this preparation of the background is forgotten in favour of a direct pictorial act on the canvas, primed with original white colour. The white priming reinforces the intensity of the pure colours, often violet and intensely luminous. As early as 1906, Georges Braque took part in this context: in his first fauves works, we can detect this truth given to colour and the emerging symbolism of stylised forms. This new game of construction, where light is engaged by releasing the purity of space, now accompanies the subject in a more frontal vision.

In the 1907 painting, La Petite Baie de La Ciotat, the composition of the signs arranged on the primed canvas and which constitute the elements of the landscape, prefigures the organisation of a new concept of space. This changing stylistic practice is fully accomplished in the first engraved plates of the Cézanne Cubism period, which for Braque occurs between 1908 and 1910.

For a better approach to the engraved work of art, our full attention moves to the Analytic Cubism period, where the wealth that emanates from the pictorial signs constitutes an avant-garde spirit in each piece. Like the first collages, treated on pictorial material, the painter, in the morphology and structure of the underlined plans, enhances each background with transparent pigmentary strata. This material, consisting of fine strokes spaced apart, is lights up on the background like a luminous screen. The whole livens up the subjects, which flourishes in a field of vibrations. This language associated with the first Cubist engravings is partly the result of the divisionist technique, which interferes with the screen of the composition, where the seeming or real movement of the subject is born.

In the first sixteen etchings which make up the illustrations of the Théogonie d’Hésiode, created as of 1932, the image offered by each plate is unified by a broken line of arabesques, like a common thread supporting a floating representation. The forms that are drawn are outlined from the inside by the stroke left by the imprint of the engraved plate. The content is defined transparently by a cosmic space using a conception which is similar to automatic writing and which, due to its sensitivity, touches the realm of dreams and alchemy. The subject bordered with graphic comments, like intagliated signs, seems to hold a secret. It transports us to an unreal and archaic world. At the centre of a silent universe, represented by the engraved space, the reinvented mythological characters seem to move in the fixity of a wandering constellation. In the solitude of the fixed moment, each subject covered takes us back to the mythological text of Hesiod.

The illustrated books which accompany the engraved works of Georges Braque are the result of a long history related to several meetings with poets and writers, meetings that the painter held particularly dear. These moments of truth are expressed by an experiment, where the writing is shared in a successful creative search. This plastic strategy is exploited by technical means, such as etchings and lithography, where the painter innovates with rigour in order to obtain matiériste effects that bring him closer to his pictorial universe. This spirit, exceptional in the twentieth century, like the period known as «the rope» period, between Braque and Picasso, is also a human adventure that stimulates reflection and creation within the group that forms. This universe, built around creation, and essentially between the two world wars, led to a number of attempts to associate literature with an experimentation of plastic art.

With Georges Braque, with the purity of the whiteness of the paper that highlights the gestural nature of the forms invented in an expressive simplification, as if accompanying the sound given by words in a reading, the painter, in the illustrated books, reveals the interiority and the resonance of the texts. The curves are loosened, like the handwriting of a poet who seeks silence in the weight of the words that weigh on each sentence. Colour, which dominates the expressivity of the forms, symbolises the elements which constitute the given nature of a transfiguration. The poetic space conquered by the painter allows us to breathe bright blue skies with rays of light that infiltrate our dreams. The vivacity of the compositions, with their simplified forms, makes the spaces free and appear to the eye like traces of happiness in a fleeting instant. Its language above all expresses the silence and beauty that reigns in nature. The flight of a bird soaring in the foreground sends a message of freedom. It seems to hold onto the silence which announces its joy of living and which it shares with the world.

With Georges Braque, in his solitude or restraint that he allows us to glimpse, there is nothing more to discover than a spiritual thought for lost people, like the prayer offered by Miró in his series of gouaches, Constellations, which also possess the keys to access the mystery of life. From colour to engraved purity, Georges Braque, with his free imagination, delivers for eternity a message of peace...

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