Braque’s magnificent depiction of La Ciotat in the south of France is a seminal image of the Fauve revolution at the beginning of the twentieth century. The jubilant hues Braque used to create this vibrant image owe less to nature and more to his own emotional response to the landscape (figs 1, 5). "Nature," Braque said in 1908 "is a mere pretext for decorative composition, plus sentiment. It suggests emotion, and I translate emotion into art" (quoted in Masters of Colour: Derain to Kandinsky
(exhibition catalogue), Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2002, p. 131).
Braque's depictions of the environs of Provence rank among the most expressive and desirable of the Fauve landscapes (figs. 2, 3, 5). The inception of these rare and extraordinary canvases dates from the period immediately after the fall of 1905, when Matisse, Derain and Vlaminck first exhibited their boldy colorful Colliure landscapes at the Salon d'Automne and famously earned the moniker "wild beasts." In 1906, Braque too would travel to the South of France, but he chose instead the rich terrain of the Provençal countryside as opposed to the port towns. In the present work, which was painted in the summer of 1907, Braque depicts the rolling hills near La Ciotat and L'Estaque - an area that figures prominently in his production through his Cubist landscapes.
The influence of Matisse and Derain is heavily felt in the present work, but there is a sophistication of form that is entirely unique to Braque's Provençal landscapes. Richard Schiff writes of his landscapes from this period in a recent exhibition catalogue: "Freely arranged, his colors 'constitute a pictorial fact' and become, only in their secondary function, the description of a limited number of characteristics of the locality. Whether L'Estaque or Antwerp, the given configuration of land, water, and sky remains no more than summarily translated. A sense of height and a distinctive form of vegetation distinguish the southern location from the northern one. In March 1906, as if to speak for Braque as well, Derain wrote to Matisse that their generation of artists was fortunate in being the first at liberty to capitalize on a newly acknowledged condition: whatever material an artist chose to use would assume a life of its own, independent of what one makes it represent. The means would come first, followed by its object, so that the subject of art would be the means and not the representation" (Richard Schiff, 'Infinition', in Georges Braque, Pioneer of Modernism
(exhibition catalogue), Acquavella Galleries, New York, 2011, p. 36).
Braque's explosive Fauve period would end quickly when he turned to Cézanne's example in the construction of the Cubist idiom. The rarity of his Fauve canvases make them all the more valuable to these early moments in Modernism. Braque stated that "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 The Annenberg Collection
(exhibition catalogue), Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, 1989, p. 116). Braque's attention to form within the Fauvist landscape would have immeasurable influence on subsequent movements, such as the German Expressionists who would reiterate a freedom of color a few years later. Braque's dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler purchased many of Braque's paintings at the end of 1907, including several canvases that fit this description.
Please note that this work has kindly been requested for the upcoming exhibition, German Expressionism and France: From van Gogh and Gauguin to the Blaue Reiter to be held at the following venues: Kunsthaus Zürich, February 7 – May 11, 2014; Los Angeles Country Museum of Art, June 8 – September 14, 2014; and Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, October 6 – January 25, 2015.