- Georges Braque
Bouteille et verre
- Signed Braque on the reverse
- Oil on canvas
E. & A. Silberman Galleries, New York
Acquired from the above on December 15, 1961
Nicole Worms de Romilly and Jean Laude, Braque: Le Cubisme fin 1907-1914, Paris, 1982, no. 85, illustrated p. 130 (erroneously listed as belonging to a Swiss private collector)
With its highly balanced composition, densely painted surface and muted palette of browns, greens, grays and whites, Bouteille et verre has all the poise and visual complexity of Braque's most successful Cubist paintings. This quintessential Cubist still-life is one of a series of works Braque executed on oval-shaped canvases in 1910 and 1911 (see figs. 2 and 3). This format, suggestive of a table top, enabled the artist to view the canvas's surface as an object itself, and as a plane on which to deconstruct the composition. Fascinated by the compact pictorial surface and the greater concentration of subject matter allowed by the elision of corners, Braque commented: “With oval formats I regained the sense of the horizontal and the vertical.”
In this painting, the artist directly employed the 'table-top’ canvas as the picture plane and abstracted the compositional elements that rest on its surface. Line plays an important role in describing the spatial relationships of the objects depicted, whilst at the same time defining the structural outline of the composition. “Braque, rather more than Picasso, concentrated on elaborating the structural notation within each picture, on synthesizing and suggesting the forms of objects rather than showing their different aspects, and on representing the relationships between objects (or between different parts of the body) and the space around them. Space was thus ‘materialized’ instead of being invoked by illusion. Light was directed at will to give relief where needed, and the principle of a single viewpoint was wholly abandoned" (Douglas Cooper, The Essential Cubism, London, 1983, p. 72).
The present work is a classic product of Analytic Cubism, where forms are broken up into overlapping, semi-transparent facets that seem to fuse with the space and setting surrounding them. The principal still-life elements in the present work are a glass positioned in the center of the oblong composition and a bottle to the left of center, seen with its long neck and rim just touching the upper edge and a diamond shape at its center. While the other elements are harder to distinguish, they do relate to more recognizable forms in other compositions, such as the spiral line that appears to the right of center, which might represent the scrolled head of a violin. Identifying the other elements, whether they are a folded newspaper, chair caning or a pack of cigarettes, however, is not essential to an understanding the painting. It is rather the balance of the vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines, the subdivision of planes, and the taught compression of the space that define the composition. Here, the space is as material as the objects and enhances the viewer's understanding of the artist’s intent. Subject matter played a peripheral role in the works of the Analytic phase. Braque and Picasso chose the most humble and ordinary objects and settings of their daily life upon which to frame the work of their radically new art.
In this still-life, Braque uses the fragmentation of the objects, along with the transparency of the glass and bottle to press all the elements towards the surface of the canvas, as well as to situate them in relation to one another. Rather than receding into space, the table top tips forward (akin to Cézanne’s treatment of the same subject) so that the various elements are within our reach. Braque later expressed the view that one of the great achievements of Cubism was the establishment of a new way of expressing spatial relationships: “...the whole Renaissance tradition is antipathetic to me. The hard and fast rules of perspective which it imposed on art were a ghastly mistake which it has taken four centuries to redress: Cézanne and, after him, Picasso and myself can take a lot of the credit for this. Scientific perspective is nothing but eye-fooling illusionism; it is simply a trick - a bad trick - which makes it impossible for an artist to convey a full experience of space, since it forces the objects in a picture to disappear from the beholder instead of bringing them within his reach, as painting should” (statement made to John Richardson, reprinted in Georges Braque: An American Tribute, New York, 1964).
Writing about this work in the 1983 catalogue for the exhibition at the National Gallery, John Rewald discusses Braque’s arrangement of the objects in this space: “In the winter of 1910-1911, when this still life was painted, Braque moved to clarify the elements in his paintings by simplifying their definition, although he retained their nearly abstracted renderings. Here a bottle and glass are studied on a table top, the glass placed at the center and identifiable from its vertical stem, while the bottle is placed behind and to the left, marked by the diamond form at its center. The other elements in this still life are not so easily read, nor is the character of the space behind them” (op. cit., p. 126).
Fig. 1, The artist at his studio at 5, impasse de Guelma, circa 1911. Photograph Laurens archives
Fig. 2, Georges Braque, Violon, verre et couteau, 1910, oil on canvas, National Gallery, Prague
Fig. 3, Georges Braque, Violon et partition, 1910-11, oil on canvas, Moderna Museet, Stockholm