Painted in 1907, Paysage de Provence, L'Estaque is a rare early landscape by Georges Braque that dates from the very dawn of Cubism. This picture was created during his Autumn journey to L'Estaque only weeks before Braque was introduced to the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, which would come to result in an artistic partnership pioneering Cubism, a wholly new pictorial concept for capturing the three-dimensional world on the two-dimensional canvas.
Looking at Paysage de Provence, l'Estaque, it is clear that Braque was already moving on a path towards Cubism even before he met Picasso. During his 1907 travels, during which he painted a range of landscapes in a manner that was increasingly clearly processing the legacy of the only recently-deceased Master of Aix, Paul Cézanne, Braque was experimenting with the entire notion of how to represent the world through two-dimensional means. In a parallel development, Picasso, largely motivated by 'primitive' art as well as some of the impetus of Cézanne's work, was painting his proto-Cubist masterpiece Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, a work which would finally give Braque the kudos and release to formalise his own ideas. Braque had almost certainly seen the posthumous retrospective of Cézanne's work at the 1907 Salon d'Automne, a show that had proved a galvanising experience for many artists of the period, who were surprised and awed by the advances made by the quiet and mysterious artist largely tucked away in Aix, far from the prying eyes of the art world. Braque had only recently had one revelation in the form of the famous 1905 Salon d'Automne, when he had been exposed to the Fauve paintings of Matisse and Derain, and following this he had briefly dedicated himself to the exploration of colour and its potential, filling landscapes with electric, lively hues. But Cézanne was a more complex revelation, as he had taken painting to pieces and reassembled it in an entirely novel manner.
In Paysage de Provence, L'Estaque, there remains a lingering influence of the Fauvism that Braque had briefly adopted. The colours, with their tracery-like outlines lending them a greater impact, retain a residue of the vivid and vivacious Fauve energy. However, they have become tempered, calmer, more restrained, colourism giving way to a new interest in form and how to depict it. This landscape has been rendered through a succession of piled forms that tower up the entire span of the canvas. Many of these forms have been reduced to highly descriptive yet extremely simplified zigzags and ciphers, especially the houses and the hills themselves. This lends them a sense of volumetric reality that truly reveals Braque's debt to Cézanne and his landscapes, not least those from Gardanne. The fact that Braque, in Paysage de Provence, L'Estaque, has chosen to place the waterline of the horizon so high up the canvas itself appears to disclose the importance of Cézanne; however, Braque has pushed his lessons further, reducing the forms that comprise this view to an extent beyond Cézanne. Following his visit later in the year to Picasso's studio, Braque would shed even more aesthetic inhibitions and create the jutting, angular landscapes that showed a more complex and more extreme modelling of the forms of the landscape. In Paysage de Provence, L'Estaque, there remains a poetic lyricism to the reduced forms, to the tracery of the lines, to the modulated palette that conveys his continued love of the landscape itself. He has captured not only form, but also atmosphere. In this sense, Braque's statement on Cubism made only a year or so later can already be seen to be appropriate here:
'I must therefore create a new sort of beauty, the beauty that appears to me in terms of volume, of line, of mass, of weight, and through that beauty interpret my subjective impression. Nature is a mere pretext for decorative composition, plus sentiment. It suggests emotion, and I translate that emotion into art. I want to express the Absolute' (Braque, quoted in E. Mullins, The Art of Georges Braque, New York, 1968, p. 34).
Braque's move away from Fauvism had already been evident to some extent in the works that he had painted alongside his friend Othon Friesz. Their increasing interest in pictorial structure had already provoked the dismissive disdain of some of Fauve friends and colleagues, for instance Derain, who wrote scathingly to his friend Vlaminck that, 'Their idea is young and to them seems new; they'll get over it. There are other things than that to be done' (Derain, letter to Vlaminck, quoted in W. Rubin, Picasso and Braque: Pioneering Cubism, exh.cat., New York, 1989, p. 344). This was to prove ironic, as Derain himself would later join the ranks of the Cubists, having dismissed the works of its pioneer.
It was on his return from L'Estaque in 1907 that Braque became acquainted with the dealer Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler, whose name would become so associated with Cubism. Perhaps Kahnweiler was struck by the new direction, the new developments, that were evident in the pictures such as Paysage de Provence, L'Estaque which Braque had been recently painting. It was through Kahnweiler that Braque was introduced to many of the Montmartre characters who would become the great legends of the avant-garde, including Guillaume Apollinaire, who in turn brought Braque to the Bateau Lavoir, the ramshackle artists' residence in the rue Ravignan in Paris, to visit Picasso, marking an important milestone in the slow but steady gestation of Cubism.
It is a tribute to the importance of Paysage de Provence, L'Estaque and its avant-garde credentials that it was formerly owned by the celebrated critic and writer Jean Paulhan, one of the earliest protagonists of Surrealism, a man of letters whose career spanned six decades of the Twentieth Century. One of the themes that he touched upon several times during his prolific career was the painting of Braque, and he wrote several monographs of the artist, in one of which he stated, 'Il n'est rien de parfait et de simple-- de limité, d'harmonieux-- comme un tableau accompli. On dirait une pensée' (J. Paulhan, Braque le patron, Geneva, 1946).