Georges Braque painted the present picture in the second half of 1906, following his move from Antwerp to l'Estaque, a Mediterranean hamlet on the coast just west of Marseilles. The vibrantly colored views of the port (fig. 1), the houses, the hillsides and the trees of l'Estaque which Braque executed during his several months there come at the height of his Fauvist inventions. Along with his fellow Norman artists Othon Friesz and Raoul Dufy, Braque had been captivated by the Fauve experiments of Henri Matisse, Andr Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck which he saw at the 1905 Salon d'Automne, and shortly thereafter had traded the harmonious tonalities of the second-generation Impressionists for the intense color and brilliant light favored by the Fauves or "wild beasts".
With its bold juxtapositions of unmodulated pigment, used for expressive rather than descriptive ends, Fauvism was a self-consciously revolutionary style; as Vlaminck proudly proclaimed, "I wanted to burn down the Ecole des Beaux-Arts with my cobalts and vermillions and I wanted to express my feelings with my brushes... Life and me, me and life" (quoted in J. Freeman, exh. cat., The Fauve Landscape, County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, 1990, p. 21). Braque also recalled the artistic liberation which his Fauve years represented:
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 M. Rosenthal, exh. cat., The Annenberg Collection, Museum of Art, Philadelphia, 1989, p. 116)
And Derain too spoke of the radical departure from the turn-of-the-century artistic norms which the Fauve aesthetic embodied:
Fauvism was our ideal by fire... Colors became charges of dynamite. They were expected to discharge light. It was a fine idea, in its freshness that everything could be raised about the real. It was serious too. With our flat tones, we even preserved a concern for mass, giving for example to a spot of sand a heaviness it did not possess, in order to bring out the fluidity of the water, the lightness of the sky... The great merit of this method was to free the picture from all imitative and conventional contact. (Quoted in D. Sutton, Andr Derain, London, 1959, pp. 20-21)
Like most of the Fauve group, Braque painted out-of-doors, frequently setting up his easel alongside Friesz. The two artists painted side-by-side first in their native Le Havre, then in Antwerp during the first months of 1906, and finally in l'Estaque. Their stay at l'Estaque was a productive one; Derain, who was also in l'Estaque at the time, wrote to Vlaminck, "Friesz, Braque are very happy. Their idea [about painting] is youthful and seems new to them" (quoted in J. Freeman, op. cit., p. 207). Both artists were invigorated by the strong light of Provence, particularly after the gray tonalities of Antwerp, and their paintings from this period are suffused with it; the pink and rose which dominate the present picture are typical of Braque's palette during his months in l'Estaque. In an interview with Jacques Lassaigne, Braque conceded the importance which the sun-drenched Mediterranean environs had upon his art:
I can say that the first pictures in l'Estaque were conceived before I set out. I set myself, nevertheless, to submit them to the influences of the light, of the atmosphere, and to the effect of the rain which enlivened the colors. (Quoted in P. Daix and D. Vallier, Georges Braque, Rtrospective, Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul-de-Vence, 1994, p. 42)
Other factors too were important in Braque's decision to travel to l'Estaque, including such pragmatic considerations as the mild weather, which allowed him to paint en plein air into the autumn and winter months. Foremost in his mind, however, was no doubt the legacy of Czanne, whose many views of the region are among his most beautiful and characteristic landscapes; it is probably no accident that the present picture structurally resembles some of Czanne's most celebrated images of the area surrounding Marseilles (fig. 2). Furthermore, compared to the work of Derain and Vlaminck, Braque's l'Estaque paintings demonstrate a spatial compression and a solidity of form which has been read as reflecting Braque's mounting interest in Czanne's fascination with volume (J. Freeman, op. cit., p. 235). And in fact, it was in l'Estaque, during a second sojourn there in 1907-1908, that Braque began the transition from Fauvism to Cubism, painting such revolutionary works as Les Arbres (fig. 3) and Le Viaduc l'Estaque (fig. 4), canvases that are both homage to Czanne and forerunners of Cubism. L'Olivier prs de l'Estaque and the other Fauve pictures which Braque made in 1906 thus form a key chapter both in the development of the painter's own aesthetic and in the evolution of Modern art in the early years of the century.
(fig. 1) Georges Braque, Le port de l'Estaque, 1906
Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen
(fig. 2) Paul Czanne, L'Estaque vu travers les arbres, 1878-1879
Private Collection (sale, Christie's, New York, 14 May 1997, lot 6)
(fig. 3) Georges Braque, Les arbres, 1908
Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen
(fig. 4) Georges Braque, Viaduc l'Estaque, 1907
Institute of Arts, Minneapolis (The John R. Van Derlip Fund)
L'Olivier prs de l'Estaque (Olive Tree near l'Estaque)
Oil on canvas
Signed and dated 'G Braque 06' (lower right)
Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Fondation Maeght, Georges Braque, July-September 1980, p. 192, no. 11 (illustrated in color, p. 45).
23.5/8 x 28 in. (60 x 73 cm.)
S. Fauchereau, Braque, New York, 1987, no. 8 (illustrated in color, p. 39).
Galerie Kahnweiler, Paris
Galerie Nathan, Zurich
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1962