GEORGES BRAQUE (1882-1963)
GEORGES BRAQUE (1882-1963)
GEORGES BRAQUE (1882-1963)
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GEORGES BRAQUE (1882-1963)
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GEORGES BRAQUE (1882-1963)

Verre et huîtres

GEORGES BRAQUE (1882-1963)
Verre et huîtres
signed and dated 'G Braque 39' (lower left)
oil on canvas
14 7/8 x 18 1/8 in. (38 x 46 cm.)
Painted in 1939
Galerie Paul Rosenberg, Paris, by 1939.
Aline Barnsdall, Los Angeles, by 1946, and thence by descent.
M. Knoedler & Co, New York, acquired from the above in 1952.
François Reichenbach, Paris, acquired from the above on 27 February 1954.
Galerie Rosengart, Lucerne.
Paul Rosenberg Gallery, New York, acquired from the above on 9 June 1955.
Walter Bareiss, Zurich, acquired from the above on 19 September 1956.
Anonymous sale, Sotheby's, London, 28 June 1961, lot 112.
Acquired at the above sale.
H. Kramer, 'Month in review', in Arts, vol. 30, no. 1, October 1955, pp. 48, 50 (illustrated p. 50, titled 'Oysters, Lemon and Glass').
Galerie Maeght, ed., Catalogue de l’œuvre de Georges Braque, Peintures 1936-1941, Paris, 1961, p. 71 (illustrated p. 70).
D. Sutton, 'A Statesman's Collection', in Apollo, June 1969, London, p. 466 (illustrated pl. VIII, p. 465, titled 'Nature morte avec huîtres').
R. D. Thorpe, Eden. The Life and Times of Anthony Eden First Earl of Avon, 1897-1977, London 2011 (titled 'Nature morte avec huîtres').
New York, Paul Rosenberg Gallery, Braque, October 1955, no. 13 (titled 'Oysters and Glass').
Birmingham, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Paintings and Drawings from the Collection of Lord Avon, January – March 1966, p. 2 (titled 'Nature morte avec huîtres'; with incorrect dimensions).

Brought to you by

Benedict Winter
Benedict Winter Associate Director, Specialist

Lot Essay

When looking at Braque’s exquisite Verre et huîtres (1939), one can almost taste the salty and mouth-watering flavour of its delicious subject. It comes as no surprise that his depictions of oysters were a favourite of famed painter Walter Sickert, who once described them in the following manner: ‘Braque with his Portuguese oysters accomplishes the kind of miracle in paint that is explicit and complete with next to nothing… he is occupied with quality, and finds salvation in a delicate and exquisite economy of means. Such learned execution confers a magical interest on whatever he touches.’ (W. Sickert, cit. in J. Russell, ‘Braque at 80: His Spirit, His Genius’, The Sunday Times, New York, 13 May 1962, p. 4).

Enveloped in the greyish tones of their plate and of the glass and napkin on their right, Braque’s oysters are the true pièce de résistance of the present picture, with the help of the vibrant oranges and yellows of the table and lemon in making them further stand out. A few attentively arranged strokes of grey and brown are all that suffice to render the hard shells of the three oysters - but the most unforgettable element of the composition is certainly the thick, dark yellow impasto, ingeniously rendering the dewy texture of the mollusk itself.

Braque was certainly not the first artist to explore this subject, a favourite by painters of the Dutch golden age and near Impressionists circles alike: from Willem Claesz in early 17th century Haarlem to Manet in late 19th century Paris, artists of the most diverse calibers all seem to have been fascinated by this particular kind of still life. Traditionally considered as a food of the high élite - as well as an aphrodisiac - numerous factors can account for such a sustained fascination, spanning through centuries and countries. It is not improbable that the reason that prompted Braque to approach this subject numerous times was the willingness to position himself within this long-lasting iconographical tradition. After all, he did intrepidly consider himself as the heir of famed 18th century French painter Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, whose early œuvre shows a predilection for the subject.

Despite Braque’s self-proclaimed artistic kinship with Chardin, his oysters appear widely different from those of his predecessors. While very distinct among themselves, the renderings by Claesz, Chardin and Manet are all rooted in different traditions of Realism, sharing a common eagerness to depict the oysters in an almost photographic manner. Instead, here there is an attempt on Braque’s part to move decisively beyond the confines of traditional forms of Realism: the geometricization of form, the flattened perspective and vivid palette are all telling signs of a post-cubist interpretation of a well-established subject.

This unique reimagining was painted in 1939 - a testament to a particularly momentous and remarkable period in history in history and in Braque’s career. Despite professional success, in 1939 war was just around the corner - and Braque was profoundly aware of it. As evidenced in his answer to a questionnaire published in the Cahiers d’Art of the same year asking whether artists were affected by current events, Braque stated not to be immune to the impending doom of the war. His choice of subjects certainly reflected this. His paintings became more inward looking and at times subdued: interiors, the artist’s atelier, and, most notably, still lives.

During these troubled times, the artist was still able to rest on the laurels of the success he had gained in the past decade. In 1933, his first retrospective at the Kunsthalle in Basel had brought him international recognition. In 1939, he was represented by Paul Rosenberg, one of the most well-known and successful art dealers of his time. Indulging in his newfound success, Braque spent 1939 and 1940 in Varengeville, a village in Normandy, in the merry company of Joan Miró, teaching him about art, life and even how to play poker.

As well as part of a centuries-long tradition, it is then also within this layered personal context of outward success, voluntary exile and underlying anxiety that the present picture should be understood. These conditions were certainly productive ones, for they fostered what critics and scholars agree to be Braque’s most fruitful production of still lives. The ones painted in the late 1930s are, in fact, believed to be ‘among the fullest and most sumptuous in the entire French canon’ (J. Golding, Braque, The Late Works, exh. cat., London 1997, p. 1). An exquisite contribution to a long-standing iconographical tradition produced at one of the most inventive moments in Braque’s career, Verre et huîtres is a perfect case in point.

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