Yesterday The Phillips Collection staff and volunteers were treated to a preview of the much-anticipated Georges Braque and the Cubist Still Life, 1928–1945 exhibition. Led by Phillips Assistant Curator Renée Maurer, we explored the works chronologically in an effort to understand the artist’s stylistic transitions in the context of time and history.
Braque painted during one of the most tumultuous time periods in history and, as an artist living and working in France, this meant much upheaval in his life and work. Nevertheless, he was a methodical artist, and often kept works in his studio for years, retouching them every now and then until finally presenting the finished product a decade or more after he started.
But what I find most interesting about Braque is his artistic process: he ground and made his own pigments. Trained as a house painter and decorator, he began to experiment more with texture in the 1930s. Braque would use a comb to create the illusion of wood grain in his paintings by dragging it through the wet paint. In The Pink Tablecloth (1933), on loan from the Chrysler Museum of Art, Braque places equal emphasis on color and texture by adding sand and powdered quartz to the white ground, giving the painting a three-dimensional feel. Just looking at it I felt as if I could touch it too. I could imagine the feel of the coarse floor beneath my bare feet.
Being surrounded by so many Braque paintings (there are 44 on view!) was like being in a surreal, dream-like state. His juxtaposition of color and texture implores the viewer to not just see the work but to experience it, to live it.
This renowned painting will be on view at The Phillips Collection this fall, one of the exceptional loans to Van Gogh Repetitions from the Musée d’Orsay. Vincent van Gogh, Van Gogh’s Bedroom in Arles, 1889. Oil on canvas, 22 11/16 x 29 1/8 in. Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Vincent van Gogh seems to endlessly fascinate us. We love his art and feel so attached to him as a person. Perhaps we’re moved by the admiration and respect for common men and women that underlie so many of his works. Perhaps it’s the vulnerability that we perceive in him as a human being, based on accounts of his life and personality. The most recent van Gogh biography, a New York Times bestseller, is nearly a thousand pages long–we just can’t seem to get enough.
In spite of this intensive, longstanding interest in the Dutch artist (or perhaps because our knowledge is obscured by the mythology that’s grown up around him ), much remains to be learned about how van Gogh actually worked. The time has come to take a closer look at his process. Last spring, the Philadelphia Museum of Art examined his working methods toward the end of his brief, ten-year career in Van Gogh Up Close . Then in the fall, the Denver Art Museum mounted Becoming Van Gogh, an in-depth look at the artist’s influences and evolution. Now at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Van Gogh at Work brings forward new insights, gained through years of conservation analysis, into the artist’s materials and methods.
Soon the Phillips adds its own distinctive voice to this groundswell with Van Gogh Repetitions, an exhibition opening this October that invites very focused study into a specific aspect of van Gogh’s process–his practice of making more than one version of certain subjects. His bedroom, his friends, the weavers and road menders whose labor he so admired. Perhaps by visiting this exhibition we will all learn a bit more about what fascinated him and drew him back in again and again.
Seal (1959) by Morris Louis is a recent gift to the Phillips from the Marcella Brenner Revocable Trust. To celebrate the painting’s installation, National Gallery of Art Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art Harry Cooper spoke at the Phillips in September, considering the artist’s technique and aesthetics. Learn more about the picture and Louis’s process through these excerpts from the talk.