In October 1906, Georges Braque moved to L'Estaque, a village in the south of France near Marseille where Czanne had painted in the 1870s and 1880s. Although Braque remained there only five months, it was in L'Estaque that he made some of the most beautiful and characteristic works of his Fauve period: vibrantly colored views of the port, the houses, the trees and the hillsides of the Mediterranean town.
Braque had first seen the work of the Fauve painters -- Henri Matisse, Andr Derain, and Maurice de Vlaminck -- at the Salon d'Automne in 1905. The Fauves or "wild beasts" chose to depict conventional subjects (often popular landscape motifs) in intense primary and secondary colors, applied in small patches for expressive rather than descriptive ends. Braque was captivated by their bold and vigorous juxtapositions of unmodulated pigments, and during the spring and summer of 1906 began to experiment with their palette and technique. Fauvism was a revolutionary style; in the words of Vlaminck:
"I wanted to burn down the Ecole des Beaux-Arts with my cobalts and vermillions and I wanted to express my feelings with my brushes... Life and me, me and life: (quoted in J. Freeman, The Fauve Landscape, exh. cat., Los Angeles, County Museum of Art, 1990, p. 21).
The present painting comes at the height of Braque's Fauvist inventions and is a fine example of the group of works painted during 1906. With its vibrant palette and clear light, it is typical of the best canvases which Braque executed first at L'Estaque and later at La Ciotat: pictures which are "instinctive and decorative...elegant, allusive, paradoxical and sun-drenched," as critic Denys Sutton described the art of the Fauves (D. Sutton, Andr Derain, London, 1959, p. 20). While many of the L'Estaque pictures focus upon the port (figs. 1-2), here Braque has turned his attention to the leafy hillsides which ring the coastline, depicting the red-tiled roofs and white-washed walls of houses and hamlets tucked among billowing trees. The day is clear and bright with just a hint of a breeze; the landscape is verdant and inviting, the sky a lucid and evocative violet. Braque seems to delight in the Mediterranean landscape, such a contrast to his native Le Havre, and to revel as well in his new-found artistic liberation.
Braque himself would later comment about his Fauve experience of 1906 and 1907:
"For me Fauvism was a momentary adventure in which I became involved because I was young... I was freed from the studios, only twenty-four, and full of enthusiasm. I moved toward what for me represented novelty and joy, toward Fauvism... Just think I had only recently left the dark, dismal Paris studios where they still painted with a pitch! (quoted in M. Rosenthal, The Annenber Collection, exh. cat., Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, 1989, p. 116)
And Derain too spoke of the radical departure from turn-of-the-century norms which the Fauve aesthetic embodied:
"Fauvism was our ordeal by fire... Colors became charges of dynamite. They were expected to discharge light. It was a fine idea, in its freshness that everything could be raised about the real. It was serioustoo. With our flat tones, we even preserved a concern for mass, giving for example to a spot of sand a heaviness it did not possess, in order to bring out the fluidity of the water, the lightness of the sky... The great merit of this method was to free the picture from all imitative and conventional contact. (quoted in D. Sutton, Andr Derain, London, 1959, pp. 20-21)
Like most of the Fauve group, Braque painted en plein air: he frequently set up his easel alongside Othon Friesz, a fellow artist from Le Havre, the two artists painting side-by-side from congenial motifs, many of which had been painted before by the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. During the summer of 1906, Braque and Friesz first worked together in Le Havre, and then traveled to Antwerp. In the Belgian port Braque painted more than a dozen canvases which used the new colors and the strong linear organization of Fauvism. He regarded the Antwerp pictures as the beginning of his truly creative work, and destroyed many of his earlier pictures. Judi Freeman noted that in Antwerp:
"Braque gravitated toward the juxtaposition of intensely colored brushstrokes, moving beyond the harmonious contrasts present in so much Impressionist painting. The intensity of his palette gradually increased during his three-month stay, becoming divorced from naturalistic depictions of objects and surfaces" (J. Freeman, op. cit., p. 207).
A month later Braque and Friesz moved from the gray and unsympathetic light of Antwerp to the brilliance of Provence. Their stay at L'Estaque was a productive one; Derain, who was also there at the time, wrote to Vlaminck, "Friesz, Braque are very happy. Their idea [about painting] is youthful and seems new..." (quoted in ibid., p. 207). Both artists were invigorated by the clear light of Provence, and their paintings from this period are suffused with it; in an interview with Jacques Lassaigne, Braque conceded the importance which the sun-drenched Mediterranean environs had upon his art:
"I can say that the first pictures in L'Estaque were conceived before I set out. I set myself, nevertheless, to submit them to the influences of the light, of the atmosphere, and to the effect of the rain which enlivened the colours" (quoted in P. Daix and D. Vallier, Georges Braque, Rtrospective, Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul-de-Vence, 1994, p. 42)
Other factors too were important in Braque's decision to travel to L'Estaque, including such pragmatic considerations as the mild weather, which allowed him to paint en plein air into the autumn and winter months. Foremost in his mind, however, was no doubt the legacy of Czanne. It is probably no accident that some of Czanne's most celebrated views of the region (e.g. fig. 3) also emphasize the interplay between the foliage and the rooftops: cool green contrasted to warm melon; dancing, exuberant flecks counterposed to stable planes and structural solids. Braque returned to L'Estaque in September 1907 and it was there that he began the transition from Fauvism to Cubism, painting such revolutionary works as Viaduc L'Estaque (fig. 4), a canvas that is both an homage to Czanne and a forerunner of Cubism. Braque's Paysage L'Estaque and the other Fauvist pictures he made there thus form one of the key chapters in the evolution of early Modern art.
(fig. 1) Georges Braque, Le Port de L'Estaque, 1906
Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen
(fig. 2) Georges Braque, Le Port de L'Estaque, l'embarcadre, 1906
Christie's, London, 9 December 1997, lot 24
(fig. 3) Paul Czanne, Les Toits de L'Estaque, 1883-1885
Christie's, New York, 12 May 1997, lot 117
(fig. 4) Georges Braque, Viaduc L'Estaque, 1907
Institute of Arts, Minneapolis