Between 1907 and 1912 George Braque created eleven etchings, of which four are offered here (see lots 3-6). Together they form a small but highly significant body of work, charting the origin and early development of his own very lyrical form of Cubism.
In his first foray into the etching medium, Etude de nu (see lot 3) from 1907, Braque begins to re-imagine the female figure in terms of planes and simplified forms:
'I couldn't portray a woman in all her natural loveliness....I haven't the skill. No one has. 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 a decorative composition, plus sentiment. It suggests emotion, and I translate that emotion into art. I want to expose the Absolute, and not merely the factitious woman.'
Etude de nu reveals the influence of Cezanne, but also of Picasso's visionary painting Demoiselles de Avignon, which Braque had seen in October 1907 in Picasso's studio in the Bateau Lavoir. The etching was probably executed in November or December of that year, and it has been suggested that it was an early study for Braque's seminal response to Demoiselles, the painting Grand Nu of 1908. The serenity of Braques figure bears little resemblance to Picasso's violent depiction of a bordello parade, however, the angular contours and simplified hieratic features clearly allude to it. A delicate network of cross-hatched marks serve to describe both the nude and shallow background, suggesting neither texture nor space, but rather a single pictorial 'skin' of inter-related and connected forms.
By blurring the distinctions between solid and void, near and far, opaque and transparent, both Braque and Picasso sought to create a visual equivalent for the process of seeing, an attempt to represent an object from all possible views. In Paris (Nature morte sur un table) (1910) the table and objects are rendered simultaneously from numerous angles, creating a maze of planes and contours. The composition is rescued from complete abstraction by visual clues of real things, a glimpse of a carafe or table flower, and by the letters PARI(S), taken from a menu or newspaper but also a pun, 'Pari' meaning a bet or wager. In Nature Morte I (see lot 5) and Composition (Nature morte aux Verres) (1911) (see lot 6), a single large scale horizontal composition divided by the artist into two vertical formats, this link with the external world is tenuous, the only indication of the subject being the titles. This is the radical realisation of Braque's famous aphorism that 'the aim of the painter is not to reconstitute an anecdotal fact but to constitute a pictorial fact.' (in: Pierre Reverdy, thoughts on Painting, Nord-Sud, Paris, December 1917).
Only very few contemporary proofs exist as none of these four plates were published at the time they were made. The plates were rediscovered in the artist's studio in 1948, printed by Georges Visat between 1950-54, and published by Maeght, and the present impressions come from this edition.