Georges Braque
(Argenteuil-sur-Seine, 1882-1963, Paris)
The Violinist, 1912
Oil on canvas, 100 x 73 cm
Signed on the back: Braque
Maeght 07-14.125
By the 1950s, when Emil Bührle was buying most of the works now in his collection, Impressionism had long been consigned to a place in art history. What people were excited by at the time was non-figurative painting, which was taking the art world everywhere by storm. Even though Emil Bührle did not take up a position in this debate as a collector, he did react to it indirectly. Around the core of his collection, he began to accumulate a range of significant works by artists who had explored the paths leading to abstraction before the First World War. The most advanced work in the Bührle Collection in this respect dates from spring 1912; it is the Violinist by Georges Braque. Beginning in 1908, Braque, working closely with his friend Pablo Picasso, had developed a method of re-casting visible, three-dimensional reality into crystalline, two-dimensional forms and assembling them on the picture plane in such a way as to create a whole new reality. That said, this process of abstraction never went as far as to abandon all traces of the relationship to conventional reality. Braque's Violinist belongs to the phase that comes closest to non-figurative painting and which is referred to as Analytical Cubism. Here the model seems to exist only as a memory of his physical presence before the painter. We may still be able to make out the pale contours of a face lower down, topping the vaguely pyramidal arrangement of a seated human form – but in order to interpret the picture any further, we have to rely on visual quotes supplied by the artist to help us identify its parts. For instance, we recognise the four strings of the instrument that the figure is holding in its lap and the S-shaped openings typical of the body of a violin.