5
The Strategy of Still Life, or, Art and Current
Affairs: Georges Braque and the Occupation

Few people can say: I am here. They look for themselves in the past and
see themselves in the future.

Georges Braque1

To become for someone else an example of the dedicated life, being secretly
invoked, pictured, and placed by a stranger in a sanctum of his thoughts,
so as to serve him as a witness, a judge, a father, a hallowed mentor.

Paul Valéry2

The Second World War crept up on Europe, with almost Braquian slowness, during the winter of 1939–40. This was the drôle de guerre – the Phoney War – war declared but not yet battle joined. Seasoned Parisians carried their gas masks with soldierly resignation and expected the worst. They were not disappointed.

At the declaration, in September 1939, Braque was at his second home in Varengeville, near Dieppe in Normandy, coaching Joan Miró in poker-work and life. Miró took refuge there throughout the Phoney War, renting a house in the village and seeking his own version of renewal. Down the lane was the great Georges Braque. The newcomer went to call on him regularly. Miró’s working notes offer glimpses of what passed between them:

The preparation of the series of large canvases for Daphnis and Chloe is
very unsatisfactory; if you press on the back of them with your finger the
preparatory coat comes off. Use a solvent to remove that preparation and
then give the canvas a coat of white lead or casein, the preparation Braque
and Balthus use… Using the lost wax process – which Braque taught
me – I could make some designs that could later be made in gold, like the
primitive Mexicans used to… I could start out by taking red-hot irons
and applying them to the wood the way Braque and Mariette did…3

In spite of the times, Miró profited in both creation and reflection. Encouraged by Braque, he began an experimental series of works

-100-

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