The Plane Truth about Cubism's Founding Father; Night & Day

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), January 26, 1997 | Go to article overview

The Plane Truth about Cubism's Founding Father; Night & Day


Byline: PHILIP HENSHER

Braque: The Late Works Royal Academy, London

Georges Braque, in tandem with Picasso, invented cubism - working so closely, in fact, that it's difficult to tell which of them produced what.

For Picasso, the period of high and austere cubism was a brief one - he could not tolerate its restriction of sensual appeal for long. But Braque moved only slowly away from high cubism, and its characteristic flatness - its shades of brown continued to shape his art for a long time.

The organisers of the Royal Academy show refer to the influence of the `frugal existence' Braque lived during the Second World War. But his art had always been frugal, as if every fragmented object, every flat surface had to be earned.

This doesn't make Braque's most famous paintings - most of which were produced early in his career -easy to like. They are undeniably important, but rather unlovable.

But anyone who finds Braque forbidding shouldn't write off the show, which is devoted to the paintings he produced between the war and his death in 1963. Late Braque is different; the four rooms at the Royal Academy hum with the energy of these sumptuous, elegant paintings.

Towards the end of his life, as Auden might have said, Braque sailed into an extraordinary mildness. These paintings, most of which are still lifes, don't abandon Braque's playful use of perspective; they continue to explore the possibilities of complex interior spaces which had been the basis of his art for 30 years or more.

But there's a new sense of delicious relaxation to these lovely paintings.

In the grandest of a series depicting a billiard table, a bird- patterned wallpaper seems to release its flock into the air, the billiard balls, big and bright as oranges, take off, and the edges of the table, the dado rail behind, join in a merry tangle of lines and wires. Flat images are expanded into living creatures; solid objects are reduced to a game of cat's cradle. …

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