With unprecedented dynamic force, L'Oliveraie provides a rare glimpse into the Fauve revolution at the beginning of the 20th century and Braque's seminal contributions to this movement. From an early age Braque knew he wanted to be an artist. His father was a professional house painter and had intended his son to follow a more commercial path. However Braque pursued his studies and by 24 had already exhibited his paintings in several exhibitions garnering highly favourable reactions from important collectors and dealers such as Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, who was the first owner of the present work. Already resistant to the strictures of his academy training in Paris, the dramatic Collioure landscapes of Matisse, Derain and Vlaminck which populated the Salon d'Automne of 1905 had an immediate effect on Braque. He was inspired by the unrestrained colour and spontaneous brushstrokes of his contemporaries. The boldly coloured canvases exhibited by these artists provoked the art critic Louis Vauxcelles to proclaim them, famously, the 'wild beasts.' The similarities in style and subject matter among the group of revolutionary painters are testament to the pace and fervour with which Fauvism evolved. In 1906, he too would travel to the South of France but he chose instead the rich terrain of the Provencal landscape as opposed to the port towns. In the current work, Braque depicts an avenue of olive trees in the region between La Ciotat and L'Estaque - an area that figures prominently in Braque's œuvre up through his Cubist landscapes.
Judi Freeman writes of the current work: 'The sky, painted with varied tones of white on primed canvas, is a luminescent area that extends into exposed canvas in the trees, the road, and the earth. The blocks of pigment are not set against contrasting or complementary tones but instead are confined to separate areas of canvas. The calligraphic trees, arranged in undulating waves as they recede along the path, resemble those in Friesz's renderings of similar sites in the L'Estaque-La Ciotat region' (J. Freeman in Fauves (exhibition catalogue), The Art Gallery of South Wales, Sydney, 1995, p. 44). The jubilant hues Braque used to create this vibrant image owe less to nature and more to his own emotional response to the landscape. The artist stated that 'Nature' he said in1908 'is a mere pretext for decorative composition, plus sentiment. It suggests emotion, and I translate emotion in to art.' (quoted in Masters of Colour: Derain to Kandinsky (exhibition catalogue), Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2002, p. 131)
The influence of Matisse and Derain is clearly identifiable in the present work (figs. 1 & 4), but there is a sophistication of form that is entirely unique to Braque's Provençal landscapes. Richard Schiff writes of his landscapes from this period in a recent exhibition catalogue: 'Freely arranged, his colours "constitute a pictorial fact" and become, only in their secondary function, the description of a limited number of characteristics of the locality. Whether L'Estaque or Antwerp, the given configuration of land, water, and sky remains no more than summarily translated. A sense of height and a distinctive form of vegetation distinguish the southern location from the northern one. In March 1906, as if to speak for Braque as well, Derain wrote to Matisse that their generation of artists was fortunate in being the first at liberty to capitalize on a newly acknowledged condition: whatever material an artist chose to use would assume "a life of its own, independent of what one makes it represent." The means would come first, followed by its object, so that the "subject" of art would be the means and not the representation' (R. Schiff, 'Infinition', in Georges Braque, Pioneer of Modernism (exhibition catalogue), Acquavella Galleries, New York, 2011, p. 36).
Braque's explosive Fauve period would end quickly when he turned to Cézanne's example in the construction of the Cubist idiom. The rarity of his Fauve canvases make them all the more valuable to these early moments in Modernism. Braque stated that 'For me Fauvism was a momentary adventure in which I became involved because I was young... I was freed from the studios, only twenty-four, and full of enthusiasm. I moved toward what for me represented novelty and joy, toward Fauvism... Just think I had only recently left the dark, dismal Paris studios where they still painted with a pitch!' (quoted in The Annenberg Collection (exhibition catalogue), Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, 1989, p. 116). Braque's attention to form within the Fauvist landscape would have immeasurable influence on subsequent movements, such as the German Expressionists who would reiterate a freedom of colour a few years later (fig. 3). This sense of freedom pervades works such as L'Oliveraie and Paysage à l'Estaque now at the Centre Georges Pompidou (fig. 2). A potent energy and formal sophistication position the current work as a vital instance in these early, vanguard moments of Modernism.
Fig. 1, Henri Matisse, Paysage à Collioure (bois de l'Ouille), 1905, oil on canvas, Museum of Modern Art, New York
Fig. 2, Georges Braque, Paysage à l'Estaque, 1906, oil on canvas, Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
Fig. 3, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Blühende Bäume, 1909, oil on canvas, Private Collection
Fig. 4, André Derain, Arbres à Collioure, 1905, oil on canvas. Sold: Sotheby's, London, 22nd June 2010
Oil on canvas
Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales & Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria, Fauves, 1995-96, no. 7, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Vienna, Bank Austria Kunstforum, Georges Braque, 2008-09, no. 6, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
38.3 by 46cm. 15 1/8 by 18 1/8 in.
Georges Isarlov, Catalogue des œuvres de Georges Braque, Paris, 1932, no. 19, catalogued p. 14 (titled Les Oliviers)
Georges Braque et le paysage: De L'Estaque à Varengeville, 1906-1963 (exhibition catalogue), Musée Cantini, Marseille, 2006, no. 113, illustrated p. 162
Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Paris (acquired from the artist circa 1907)
Moritz Horkheimer, Stuttgart (acquired from the above circa 1914)
Private Collection (by descent from the above. Sold: Kornfeld & Klipstein, Bern, 17th June 1965, lot 105)
Purchased at the above sale by the father of the present owner