The Cubist still-lifes and figure paintings executed by Braque and Picasso between 1910 and 1911 are arguably the most majestic and successful of the movement. It was not until the summer of 1910 that Braque could put the experiments and uncertainties of the early Cubist years behind him and paint works of astonishing clarity and complexity.
An event of decisive importance to the history of modern painting occurred towards the end of 1907 when the poet Apollinaire introduced his close friend Picasso to Georges Braque. Braque, who was almost the same age as Picasso, had for some two years been a leading exponent of Fauve painting but when this meeting took place he had begun to give a more formal, almost 'Cézannian' structure to his paintings.
In the summer of 1908 Braque made his third visit to L'Estaque, where he had painted so many of his Fauve works. Discussing this visit with Dora Vallier in 1954, Braque remembered, "When I returned a third time to the south, I found that the exaltation which had overwhelmed me on my first visit, and which I put into my pictures, was no longer the same. I saw something else". The something else which he saw was not so much the colour as the structure and line of the landscape. The move to Cubism was only a step away.
In November 1908 Kahnweiler arranged a one man exhibition of Braque's work at his gallery in rue Vignon. The contemporary critic Louis Vauxcelles described the radical change of direction in Braque's painting: "Monsieur Braque is a very daring young man. The bewildering example of Picasso and Derain has emboldened him. Perhaps, too, the style of Cézanne and reminiscences of the static art of the Egyptians have obsessed him disproportionately. He constructs deformed metallic men, terribly simplified. He despises form, reduces everything, places and figures and houses, to geometrical schemes, to cubes. Let us not make fun of him, since he is honest. And let us wait". (Louis Vauxcelles, 'Exposition Braque. Chez Kahnweiler, 28 rue Vignon, Gil Blas, Paris, 14 November 1908.)
Picasso and Braque continued their Cubist experiments, at times working independently and at others in tandem. Picasso had never exhibited any of his Cubist works at the large Salons or taken part in any group exhibitions. After 1909 Braque too distanced himself from the Parisian exhibitions.
Both Picasso and Braque continued to experiment with their new cubist vocabularies. Picasso made a conscious decision only to deal with Kahnweiler, and Braque stopped exhibiting publicly after the Salon des Indépendants of 1909. Many critics have termed these 'the years of isolation' yet nothing could be further from the truth since Braque and Picasso continued to collaborate and discuss their work with one another. Braque later noted "nous étions surtout très concentrés". Between 1910 and 1911 their work is almost indistinguishable and pictures of this period have always been notoriously difficult to date. Bouteille et Clarinette is no exception. Einstein felt that it was painted in 1911, whilst Worms de Romilly and Laude felt less sure, preferring to date it 1910-11. The 1911 date certainly seems more likely. Stylistically the painting shows a maturity and unity of composition which Braque did not achieve until 1911. A related painting, Picasso's Clarinette in the Národní Galerie, Prague, is dated and inscribed Céret 1911 on the reverse (Fig. 1). Indeed, there are a wealth of still-lifes incorporating the clarinette which were painted by both artists in Céret. Other Céret works incorporating this unusual instrument include: Braque's La Cheminée (Fig. 2), his charcoal Clarinette sur la Table in the Kunstmuseum, Basle, and Picasso's black ink Homme et Clarinette in the Musée Picasso.
Dr Marilyn McCully believes that the clarinette is in fact an instrument native to the Catalan region of the Pyrenees called a 'tenora'. The 'tenora' was a wooden reed instrument played at traditional Catalan dances or sardanas, which both Braque and Picasso would have seen at Céret. As well as being wooden, the 'tenora' has an open reeded mouthpiece in keeping with the instrument in Bouteille et Clarinette.
In addition to these factual clues, Bouteille et Clarinette has all the poise and visual complexity of Braque's Céret paintings. As in all his finest works, he concentrates on the elaborate relationship between the objects in his composition rather than on the depiction of the objects themselves. Their relationship is invoked by a complex series of bisecting lines, glimpses of form and interplay of light and shade. At the same moment we see a 'tenora', a wine bottle, a glass and a table and yet the drawer seems to be open, the 'tenora' floats above the table and a bottle seems to be both in front of and behind the instrument. Space has thus been 'materialized' and the concept of a simple single viewpoint entirely abandoned. The end result is extremely pleasing, the composition complex, readable and perfectly balanced. Braque has created a perfectly structured three dimensional object rather than a simplistic two dimentional still-life.
Discussing this synthesis, Golding writes: "When he fragments and decomposes the objects in his still-lifes and landscapes, it is not in order to strip form bare or to disengage some essential quality, but it is rather as a means of creating a completely new kind of pictorial space. And it was probably because of his desire to 'touch' space that he began to abandon landscape painting and to devote himself increasingly to still-life, in which the depth was naturally more restricted and could be more easily controlled. Braque's interest in space gives his work an 'overall' quality, which has ever since remained one of the main features of his style" (J. Golding, Cubism: A History and an Analysis 1907-1914, New York, 1959, p. 82).
Picasso noted Braque's immense creativity and self-assuredness in Céret, "Braque est très content d'être ici je crois. Je lui ai montré tout le pays et il a déjà des tas de sujets en tête". Gertrude Stein wrote, "Life between 1910 and 1912 was very gay, it was the period of the Ma Jolie picture, it was the period of all those still-lifes, the tables with their grey colour, with their infinite variety of greys, they amused themselves in all sorts of ways, they still collected African sculptures but its influence was not any longer very marked, they collected musical instruments, objects, pipes, tables with fringes, glasses, nails, and at this time Picasso commenced to amuse himself with making pictures out of zinc, tin, pasted paper". (Gertrude Stein, Picasso, London, 1938, p. 26.)
Writing to Kahnweiler, Braque wrote "Voilà l'été qui se termine [...] je suis en train de faire une grande nature morte et un émigrant italien sur le pont d'un bateau avec le port dans le fond et j'espère que ni la guerre, ni la famine ne m'arracheront la palette des mains".
Like other paintings of the period (notably the Tate Gallery painting, Fig. 2), Bouteille et Clarinette is executed on a thin linen canvas with a particularly tight weave and fine surface. After priming, the canvas has a very pleasing warm ivory colour which Braque clearly liked very much. Some of the most appealing and complex passages in the canvas involve areas which remain completely unpainted.
The painting was originally sold by Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, the great force behind the Cubist movement (Fig. 4). Kahnweiler was a young German aesthete from Mannheim who gave up banking to become an art dealer. Knowing little about painting other than what he thought was exciting, innovative and good, Kahnweiler first bought Fauve paintings and then struck upon Cubism when he purchased a large group of early analytical Cubist paintings by Braque after all but one had been rejected by the reviewing committee of the Salon d'Automne in 1908. In November 1912 Kahnweiler convinced both Picasso and Braque to sign exclusive contracts to sell their Cubist paintings with him (Fig. 5). As a result, almost without exception the great masterpieces of Cubism passed through his hands.
Bouteille et Clarinette has hung in a very discreet private collection of exceptional quality for many years. Indeed, it seems likely that it was bought directly from Kahnweiler himself and, although known, has not been lent to any of the major Cubist exhibitions which have taken place since the War. To date it has also only been known in black and white reproduction.
Bouteille et Clarinette
Oil on canvas
Signed 'Braque' (on the reverse)
Basle, Kunsthalle, 1966 (on loan).
Zurich, Kunsthaus (on loan, as Die Klarinette).
25½ x 19¾in. (65 x 50cm.)
G. Isarlov, Georges Braque, Paris, 1932, no. 107.
G. Apollinaire, in "Georges Braque", Cahiers D'Art, Paris, 1933 (illustrated p. 18).
C. Einstein, "Georges Braque", XXe Siècle, Paris, 1934 (illustrated pl. XI - titled Le Flageolot and dated 1911).
N. Worms de Romilly and J. Laude, Braque, Le Cubisme, Catalogue de l'oeuvre, 1907-14, Paris, 1982, no. 94 (illustrated p. 135).
D.-H. Kahnweiler, Galerie Kahnweiler, Paris.
Galerie Simon, Paris (6852, as La Clarinette).
Private European collector, by whom probably purchased directly from Galerie Simon in the late 1920s.