‘The painter thinks in terms of forms and colours; objects are his poetics’
(35 Cooper, The Great Years – from Thoughts and Reflections)
Formerly in the collection of Earl Horter, where it hung alongside Matisse’s La femme italienne among numerous other masterpieces, Georges Braque’s Compotier, citron et pipe of 1920 is filled with the richness and sensuality that defines the artist’s post-war work. Painted on a wide, horizontal format, this deftly composed still-life sees Braque revel in the multifarious textures, patterns, colours and forms of an assortment of objects set upon a table top. The undulating outline of the lemon juxtaposes with the bright white cut-out form of the pipe, its construction reminiscent of the papier-collés that Braque invented in 1912, while the artist’s signature faux-bois cubist technique adds to the highly textured surface of this work.
After recovering from the head injury he had sustained while fighting in the First World War, Braque returned to painting in 1917. In the pre-war years, Braque had, along with fellow cubist collaborator and comrade, Pablo Picasso, focused primarily on creating a new pictorial language to represent objects and the space surrounding them. Reducing the still-life to mostly monochrome compositions made up of interlocking lines and faceted forms, these artists distilled painting to its elemental components, as they rigorously deconstructed the very nature of representation.
With these methods mastered, after the War, Braque began to humanise his still-life compositions. Adopting a looser handling, his works became less introverted and more sensuous, colourful and reinvigorated with life. Compotier, citron et pipe embodies this shift. Braque is still concerned with the cubist aim of portraying objects from multiple viewpoints, but has revelled in the tactile qualities of these objects, capturing the zingy yellow of the lemon, the voluptuous plenitude of the round grapes, and the playful spotted wallpaper behind as colour and line become luscious and full. No longer is life exhumed from the still-life; instead Braque appears to have relished the simple pleasures of this quotidian scene.
Compotier, citron et pipe was painted the same year that Braque returned to his pre-war art dealer, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler and his newly formed Galerie Simon. Originally owned by Kahnweiler, at the end of the 1920s, this work was acquired by Earl Horter, the Philadelphia collector, artist and writer who assembled one of the greatest collections of modern art in America of his generation. Inspired by the 1913 Armory Show and with a particular passion for Cubism and its protagonists, Braque and Picasso, Horter acquired works such as Picasso’s Portrait de Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, now in the Art Institute of Chicago, and Brancusi’s Muse (The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), as well as numerous pieces of modern American and Native American art. After the Great Depression, Horter’s collection began to be disassembled. Today, works originally in Horter’s collection can be found in museums including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the Art Institute of Chicago.