04. Braque | Carl Einstein

I want to expose the Absolute…

– Georges Braque: The Architectural Record, New York, May 1910

This painting of the absolute, this grasping after the pure visual function, demonstrated that the absolute is not some ideological generality, but always a perfectly concrete individual experience that has nothing to do with any metaphysical or posthumously retrospective theoretical product.

– Carl Einstein: ‘Revolution durchbricht Geschichte und Überlieferung’, unpublished, 1921

Georges Braque, ‘Le Violoncelle’, early 1914, cut and pasted papers (newsprint, block-printed or stenciled decorative paper, and faux bois) on cardboard, with charcoal and graphite, 71.8 x 51.8 cm (28 1/4 x 20 3/8 in.

On 2 August 1914 I took Braque and Derain to the Gare d’Avignon. And (when they returned, although they lived,) I never saw them again. [Picasso]

– Kahnweiler, Galeries, p62. In other versions, “we never saw each other again.” Cabanne, L’Epopee, pp340-341.

He had been left for dead on the field of Neuville-Saint-Vaast, his skull shattered by a piece of shrapnel. After dark, fortuitously, he was picked up by the stretcher-bearers, still unconscious but still breathing, just. For cases such as Braque’s, trepanation was the recommended procedure. The drilling was done immediately, by Deladrière from Dunkirk. When it was over Braque lay in a coma for forty-eight hours. He came round on his birthday. It was 9.00 in the evening, exactly the time he was born. Recuperating, he remembered an absurdist exchange with a nurse: `”Are you the one who’s been trepanned? Take off your shoes.” Would you believe it, I was wounded in the head and they wanted to look at my feet.’ He nearly died in 1915. He nearly died again, of pneumonia, in 1947. Death came definitively on 31 August 1963, after a lengthy period of incubation.

– Alex Danchev: ‘Georges Braque, A Life’, Arcade Publishing, 2005

11 May 1915: Wounded in head at Carency (Artois); temporarily loses sight but recovers after trepanation; long convalescence. John Richardson: ‘Braque’, 1961

Cranial trepanation is the oldest neurosurgical operation and its roots date back to prehistory. For many centuries, religion and mysticism were strongly linked to the cause of diseases, and trepanation was associated with superstitions such as releasing evil spirits from inside the skull. The Hippocratic treatise “On injuries of the head” (about 400BC) was therefore a revolutionary work, as it presented a systematic approach to the management of cranial trauma, one that was devoid of spiritual elements.

– G. Tsermoulas & G. Flint: ‘The skull of Chios: trepanation in Hippocratic medicine’, 2014

What attracted me – and was the principal direction of Cubism – was the materialisation of that new space that I sensed. Then I commenced to focus on still-lives, because in nature there is a tactile space (l’espace tactile), I would say almost manual.

– Georges Braque interview with Dora Vallier, ‘Braque la peinture et nous’, Cahiers d’art, 29 October 1954

You see, I have made a great discovery. I no longer believe in anything. Objects don’t exist for me except in so far as a rapport exists between them or between them and myself. When one attains this harmony, one reaches a sort of intellectual non-existence – what I can only describe as a state of peace – which makes everything possible and right. Life then becomes a perpetual revelation. That is true poetry.

– Georges Braque: ‘The Power of Mystery’, London Observer interview (John Richardson), 7 December 1957

The point of departure is the void, a harmony in which words go farthest, have most meaning. When you arrive at an intellectual void, described by Mallarme as a “musical hollow void”, then you have arrived at painting.

– Louis Goldaine/Pierre Astier: George Braque interview, ‘Ces peintres vous parlent’, Paris, 1964

…he dares not doubt this certainty, although he suspects the presence of inner experiences. He imagines that in contrast to this abyss of inner experience the immediate experience of his own body constitutes the most reliable biological unit.

– Carl Einstein, ‘Notes sur le cubisme’, Documents 1, no. 3 (1929), 146-155, 147. Translated and introduced by Charles W. Haxthausen as ‘Notes on Cubism’, October 107, Winter 2004, 158-168

…this is Einstein’s radical thesis, is not just an analysis of the way the eye perceives the world, but a challenge to the subject – us, the viewer, the audience – to reconstitute itself in order to be able to conceive of seeing and recognizing the object. The world is not the stable, familiar place the brain is used to, and in order to see it in its flux and change, it needs to reconstitute itself, to render itself more plastic, more creative, more visionary.

– telemachus unedited: ‘What Cubism is to Your Brain’

The power of the absolute is shown in its identity with the unconditional. It has been assimilated in essence and in its own being, and it is through the absolute that one becomes immortal. So much fear of death! Words are supposed to begin to be seen through death so that people can become immortal spirits like them. Words, created by man, become his nightmares, and notions are the isolation chambers of logic. It is through notions that duration gets tangled.

The absolute belongs to tectonic, ecstatic sorts. The ‘snake-man’ of today believes only in his banal and flat ‘I’. Thus, he has found the most vulgar form of the absolute and a freedom that, after forgetting death, has ceased to be limited by ‘taboos’ and is merely petty and vulgar.

– Carl Einstein / “Machete” #2, The Anarchist Library

Following the third chorus (2:36 on the released recording) the bassline descends chromatically to a false ending. The song then returns with a 45-second coda consists of a repeated musical phrase over a pedal point in C major, accompanied by the vocal refrain:

Hela heba helloa

Hela heba helloa, cha cha cha Hela heba helloa, wooo

Hela heba helloa, hela

Hela heba helloa, cha cha cha Hela heba helloa, wooo

Hela heba helloa, cha cah cah 

Carl Einstein: ‘A Mythology of Forms: Selected Writings on Art’, trans. Charles W. Haxthausen, 2019

Haus der Kulturen der Welt: ‘Neolithic Childhood / Art in a False Present c.1930’, 2018

Screensaver “In him a reinvention of the world, of seeing, and of space is attempted and realized.” [Carl Einstein]

David Quigley: ‘Carl Einstein A Defense of the Real’, Pakesch & Schlebrugge, 2010, p154

Braque’s Hands, 2006

Robert Doisneau: Georges Braque’s Hands, 1953

The original photograph of Braque’s hands was reproduced in Le Point XLVI, October 1953. I have a framed copy of this photograph opposite my desk – I see it every time I look up from the computer.

For the last 18 months or so, I’ve been thinking a lot about Braque again – all sorts of things, but particularly about the late ‘Atelier’ paintings. This, though, is about Braque’s invention of papier collé and other events of 1912.

Braque invented papier collé while staying at Sorges, a village near Avignon, France. He and Picasso had arrived in Sorges in the late summer of 1912 following an earlier stay in Ceret.

During (probably) the second week of September 1912, Picasso had to return to Paris briefly to sort out his new studio, and only returned to Sorges towards the end of the month. While Picasso was away in Paris, Braque made the first papier collé using three pieces of wallpaper simulating wood-graining.

In a later conversation with Douglas Cooper, Braque confessed that he had seen this roll of wallpaper in a local shop when he and Picasso first arrived at Sorges, but waited until Picasso had left for Paris before buying it and using it to make the first papier collé (source John Golding).

One of Picasso’s many pet names for Braque was ‘Vilbour’ or ‘Wilbourg’, a reference to Wilbur Wright (see Alex Danchev: ‘Georges Braque’). Picasso saw in his working partnership with Braque through the period 1908 to 1914 something that resonated with that between the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright, the pioneers of sustained powered flight.

In the Wright Brothers’ article on their experiments in flight (published in Century Magazine, September 1908) the paragraph beginning “To work intelligently…” could be read as a conversation between Braque and Picasso on the development of Cubism – the sort of conversation as recorded by Salmon in La Jeune Sculpture Francais.

On 8th August 1908, Wilbur Wright was at Le Mans racetrack to demonstrate the capabilities of the Wright Flyer “in front of a cynical crowd of French reporters and public dignitaries”. By chance, Louis Vauxcelles’ 1908 review of the first Cubist exhibition in Gils Blas, in which he describes Braque as “an exceedingly bold young man”, appeared under a report on Wilbur Wright’s record breaking flight at Le Mans.

So where’s all this going? Well, simply I want to note an intriguing sequence of events that happened in 1912. These are:

• the death of Wilbur Wright on 30th May 1912, at about the same time that Picasso was busy on three paintings titled ‘Notre avenir est dans l’air’ – Our Future is in the Air. I often wonder if Wilbur Wright’s early death began the disintegration of Picasso and Brague’s working partnership – a process that was completed when Braque enlisted in the French army to fight in the First World War.

• Braque making the first papier collé, ‘Compotier et Verre’, in September 1912, and how his inclusion of those three pieces of wallpaper imitating wood-graining changed the possibilities of painting forever.

• Radul Minkov and Prodan Toprakchiev, both pilots in the Bulgarian Air Force, carrying out the first aerial bombing on 16th October 1912 at Karaagac near Edime. And how this must have changed our future in the air forever, and, without doubt, led to Braque being bombed while on the Western Front.

More on Braque

2008 Sketchbook

Georges Braque died on 31st August 1963. On the 3rd September 1963, two parallel memorial services were held for Braque – one in the Cour Carree at the Louvre, and the other onboard the SS France.

Six days before Braque’s death, the SS France had set sail from Le Havre to New York. On board were the 113 jewels Braque had made in collaboration with Baron Heger de Loewenfeld (and shown at the Louvre between 21st March and 13th May 1963, the day of Braque’s 81st birthday).

In the Cour Carree at the Louvre, “…under the fasts of national funerary and in front of his casket covered by the French flag and Beethoven’s Heroic March, André Malraux brought him [Braque] the homage of the entire Nation.”

There’s an audiovisual clip of Malraux bringing Braque “the homage of the entire Nation” here.

The SS FRANCE was launched by Madame Charles De Gaulle on 11th May 1960 and, at the time, was the longest (but not largest) Atlantic liner. She measured 1,035 X 109 ft (315.5 X 33.7 m) and weighed 66,348 GRT. Her sea trials began on 19th November 1961, and she made her maiden Trans-Atlantic crossing from Le Havre to New York on 3rd February 1962.

On that same day, the 3rd September 1963, “the entire [United States of] America at the initiative of his Excellency Hervé Alphand, Plenipotentiary and Extraordinary Ambassador of the French Republic, joined with fervor the funeral ceremony officiated aboard the ship France in the New York harbor…” [‘Métamorphoses de Braque’ (Éd. F.A.C., Paris, 1989)]

I can’t help but think (and I’ve been thinking this for a very long time now), that the SS France should be dry docked in the Cour Carree – so that the two parallel memorial events could now become the one location. Or site (Foucault).


Braque’s Paris studio, 31st August 2005

…the Ateliers are a microcosm of the painter’s professional universe…canvases and frames are stacked; on a lectern is a pile of sketchbooks which Braque claims he uses as `cookerybooks’ to provide ideas and suggest subjects for compositions…tables are laden with artists’ materials, while others are covered with pots, vases, musical instruments, bowls of fruit, pieces of sculpture, objets trouvés, philodendron plants and all kinds of odds-and-ends…

 – John Richardson: ‘The Ateliers of Braque’, Burlington Magazine XCVII no. 627, June 1955

This is, on one level, a very simple enquiry – what happened to Braque’s studio objects after his death? I’ve just mailed this question to Alex Danchev.

Wouldn’t it be something to find those things that triangulated so essentially with painter and painting? 

It isn’t possible to assess to what extent Braque arranged his affairs before his death (Danchev reports that Braque, slipping in and out of consciousness, asked for his palette when close to death, and this suggests the painter had a sense of on-going project, of unfinished business, and not of termination or extinction). So let’s assume that Braque simply left everything to his wife, Marcelle. Or maybe he left all his studio objects to Mariette Lachaud, his studio assistant for over thirty years. Maybe this is as simple as finding a couple of Wills and understanding the distribution of Braque’s Estate.

This could just be a case of chasing the paperwork, and of seeing where this takes us. 

Or maybe some provision was made (by Braque, by Marcelle?) whereby the studio objects were dispersed along with the late paintings. The seven volumes of Braque’s Catalogue Raisonne (Maeght Editeur, Paris) don’t extend beyond 1957, and, therefore, are not of much use in this instance. Certainly Marcelle Braque made a bequest to the Musee National d’Art Moderne before her death in 1965. Also, some of the late paintings went to Aime Maeght.

I’m sure I’ve seen somewhere a partial inventory of the objects shown in some of Braque’s paintings… Anyway, to do a full inventory would be fascinating. But better still would be to draw and paint these objects (or the ‘rapport’ with and between these objects) in the hope that this would make “everything possible and right” (again). Perpetual revelation?

Alex Danchev has replied very promptly. He says: “I’m sorry to say that I think they [the studio objects] are either dispersed or inaccessible. After Marcelle’s death, the Braque estate passed to the Laurens family…legally, the inheritor is now Quentin Laurens, the director of the Galerie Leiris.”

PDF: Braque 1962 Sunday Times