In the early 20th century, Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso invented Cubism and shook the foundations of Western art. But in the 1930s, as the rise of fascism brought new urgency to questions of aesthetics and politics — questions that entered mainstream consciousness with Picasso’s Guernica (1937) — Braque’s fractured still lifes and bourgeois interiors remained emphatically inward-looking.
Yet Braque’s painting was not as separate from outside events as Braque might have it. While his attention to the private, secluded realm of the still life suggests disengagement with historical and political circumstances, the paintings themselves convey a more complex narrative. Indeed, the artist’s exactingly internal gaze was precisely what made his work relevant to questions of art, engagement and responsibility.
So argues Georges Braque and the Cubist Still Life, 1928–1945, the first major U.S. museum exhibition dedicated to Braque in 16 years. Co-organized by the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum at Washington University in St. Louis and The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., the exhibition is also the first to situate Braque’s work within the cultural and political upheavals leading up to, and through, World War II — a period that has been virtually unexplored in scholarship on the artist.
Drawn from public and private collections in the United States and Europe, Georges Braque and the Cubist Still Life, 1928–1945 brings together 42 paintings representing an overlooked moment in the painter’s career: after the early, pioneering days of Cubism and the neoclassical retour à l’ordre, but before the late series of large-scale paintings featuring billiard tables, birds and the atelier. By presenting multiple groupings of closely related works side by side, the exhibition reinforces the slow, experiential viewing that is central to his art, providing a rare opportunity to understand the mastery behind Braque’s dedicated and focused attention to the still life and to the methods and materiality of painting.
Georges Braque and the Cubist Still Life, 1928–1945 is curated by Karen K. Butler, assistant curator at the Kemper Art Museum, and by Renée Maurer, assistant curator at The Phillips Collection. The exhibit will open with a public reception from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25, and will remain on view through April 21. Both the reception and the exhibition are free and open to the public.
Liam Otten is art news director in the Public Affairs Office.