Painted in 1939, Verre et palette is a joyous still life which Braque executed as the darkness of war descended on Europe. A palette and brushes, fruit and a glass sit on a small table, a compositional device that became an iconic motif in the early pictures of Braque and his Cubist colleague, Pablo Picasso. Similarly, the patterning of the wooden elements on the right side of Verre et palette with the deliberately playful wood effects painted on by the artist himself, appears to pay tribute to the continuing legacy of Cubism. Meanwhile, the clear sense of space and spatial relationships in this interior view reveal the importance of Braque's continuing artistic investigations during the 1930s, which brought about a lyrical and highly legible style which would underpin his work for the rest of his career.
Many of Braque's works from the years leading up to and during the Second World War display the anxieties of the age: increasingly, the skull became his subject matter, introducing a morbid memento mori-like element that recalled Picasso's images of similar objects from the same period. In a marked contrast to those pictures, Verre et palette is dominated by flashes of yellow in the fruit, palette and tabletop and the bright red and green patterns on the wall in the background.
The subject of whether artists were influenced by current affairs was one that Braque himself addressed in 1939: “Contemporary events influence the painter, that goes without saying, but to what extent and in what form they mingle in his work, that cannot be determined,” he explained. “In any case, the artist should not be expected to deliver a rounded verdict on the future of civilization. His role is not to prophesy. For all that, he still belongs to his time, even if he refuses to acknowledge certain à priori facts concerning either external events or the inner life... Changes of régime necessarily affect the life of the painter since, like everyone else, he endures his age. But his work depends too much on the past for him to accommodate to the changes of the hour with a clear conscience. Who said: 'We have to live out our previous life?' Fulfilment requires physical time; if it takes ten years to conceive and execute a canvas, how is the painter supposed to stay abreast of events? A painting is not a snapshot. Once again, this does not mean that the painter is not influenced, concerned and more by history; he can suffer without being militant. Only let us distinguish, categorically, between art and current affairs” (quoted in A. Danchev, Georges Braque, A Life, New York, 2005, pp. 202-203).
(fig. 1). Georges Braque in his atelier, circa 1932.