The summer exhibition at Saint Tropez’s Musée Annonciade celebrates the works and lives of two the 20th century’s greatest French artists: Georges Braque (1882-1963) and Henri Laurens (1885-1954).
Not only did the pair share creative talent and artistic vision, but they also experienced a profound friendship that endured from their 20s through to their deaths and a reputation for being quiet men in a world of over-the-top characters. They both had similar starts in life too, one as a stonemason, the other as a painter and decorator. Despite now being known for his role in the development of Cubism, Braque’s work at the time was largely eclipsed by his contemporary, the charismatic Picasso, due to his reserved nature. Meanwhile, Laurens had partially withdrawn from society following the traumatic amputation of his leg.
From their meeting in 1911, the two artists had parallel, but also distinct trajectories in their work. They experimented with space and rhythm, played with form and materials, and pursued simplification and purification in their sculptures. In the years before, during and shortly after WWI, Braque introduced Laurens to some of the greatest contemporary artists — Picasso, Max Jacob, Reverdy, Matisse, Derain, Gris, Léger, Modigliani… — and the latter seemed to pick up the Cubism baton from Braque, developing the concept with inspiration from nature-driven Cézanne. It was in this period too that the duo embarked on a series of papier collé productions, the first of their kind, such as Lauren's Tête de Femme, which is on display at the exhibition.
By the 1920s, the men has begun to break away from Cubism and their works from this era were of a more harmonious nature, with curvaceous female nudes such as in Laurens’ Nue Couchée à la Draperie (1927) and Femme à l’Éventail (1919), and Braque’s celebrated Les Canéphores (1922). As Laurens expanded further into sculpture in the 1930s, Braques also experienced a period of fluid transformation: “I'm clumsy with drawing. Each time I start one, it ends in a table with hatching, shadows and ornamentations.” Some eventually became paintings, such as Grande Nature Morte Brune (1930).
The second world war brought with it a period of withdrawal and restraint for the friends, and their work from this time is characterised by austerity and sober tonalities. For Braque, the occupation era is bleak with greys and dark browns dominating his paintings: Le Pain (1941), Le Poêle (1942-1943) and Les Poissons Noirs (1942). “I am very sensitive to the surrounding atmosphere,” he remarked in 1942. For Laurens, his sculptures seem to be almost tortured souls devoid of the energy and plumpness of previous works.
With peace returned to France and to the world, the last years of their lives are marked by tranquility and memorable motifs from their younger years. Braque’s works feature musical instruments, easels and vases. In his Ateliers series (1949-1956), Braque lays his life experiences bare in complex and labyrinths-like compositions: “I fold around the centre,” he said. Laurens continued his quest for perfect form and produced exceptional pieces, such as L’Archange and La Lune (both 1946). Almost 70 diverse works from the two amis await your discovery at the Musée Annonciade this summer.
Until 8th October
Open every day from 10am to 1pm and 2pm to 6pm