Georges Braque (1882-1963)

Nature morte à la poire

Georges Braque (1882-1963)
Nature morte à la poire
signed and dated 'G Braque 39' (lower left)
oil on canvas
18¼ x 21¾ in. (46.2 x 55.2 cm.)
Painted in 1939
Paul Rosenberg & Co., New York.
Private collection (acquired from the above by 1961).
By descent from the above to the present owner.
Galerie Maeght, ed., Catalogue de l'oeuvre de Georges Braque: Peintures 1936-1941, Paris, 1961, pp. 68-69 (illustrated).

Lot Essay

Braque's still-life and interior paintings of the late 1930s have been regarded as the most complexly conceived and beautifully rendered compositions that the artist had created since his Cubist period more than two decades earlier. "At the time of the outbreak of the Second World War Braque was at the zenith of his maturity and had attained international recognition as one of the greatest living French artists," John Golding has remarked. "The still-lifes executed in the second half of the 1930s are among the fullest and most sumptuous in the entire French canon" (in Braque: The Late Works, exh. cat., The Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1997, p. 1). The still life first appeared in Braque's work during his Fauve period in 1906. It became the primary subject in his cubist paintings and collages before the First World War, and during the 1920s and 30s he explored and expanded the modernist parameters for this traditional genre with a new single-mindedness and purposeful introspection. "With few exceptions," Karen Wilkin has observed, "the still life remained his dominant motif, a pretext for examining increasingly complex spatial notions. The canvas is no longer an equivalent for the tabletop, but a multipurpose surface that absorbs much of what is visible beyond the table" (in Georges Braque, New York, 1991, p. 63).

"Braque was alone in preferring the still life as the territory for his exploration of the space of the painting," Isabel Monod-Fontaine concurs. "His pears, fruit dishes, packets of tobacco, bottles, playing cards and even musical instruments are admittedly the most humble, mundane, seemingly anonymous everyday items [Yet] they are the interface between the artist's inner world and the space where he works" (in Georges Braque: Order & Emotion, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Andros, 2003, p. 19). In the present painting, the simple austerity of the place setting--a glass of wine, a bowl of fruit, a napkin, and the eponymous pear--becomes a foil to the chromatic richness of Braque's muted palette of warm chestnut brown and salmon pink. The tactile quality of his objects, expressed in crisply distilled shapes, counters the otherwise insistent two-dimensionality of the image, established by the tabletop that tilts forward into space. "There are relationships between objects," Braque explained, "that sometimes give us a feeling of infinity in painting. The objects themselves fade next to these relationships. Life is revealed in all its nakedness, as if outside our thoughts" (quoted in B. Zurcher, Georges Braque: Life and Work, New York, 1988, pp. 154-55).

The stark realities of life, more and more anxious in the months before the outbreak of the Second World War, subtly encroach upon Braque's still lifes from 1938 through the end of the Occupation. "Musical instruments and objects of pleasure were replaced in his still lifes by the bare necessities--a glass of wine, a morsel of cheese or ham--strictly apportioned and reduced to their essentials, placed on plain tablecloths against equally sober walls," Jean Leymarie has remarked of Braque's work during this time (in Georges Braque, exh. cat., The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1988, p. 16). The humble modesty of the objects gathered in Nature morte à la poire bears witness to Braque's desire to evoke normal daily activity, even at a moment of cataclysmic upheaval, and to the heartening sustenance of a simple meal in a period of deprivation and shortage. "If the great painter is the one who gives both the keenest and the most nourishing idea of painting," Jean Paulhan wrote in 1943, "then without hesitation, I would place Braque at the top" (quoted in ibid., p. 16).

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