Music and printmaking come together with Georges Braques’ ‘Homage to J.S. Bach’

By Daniel Fulco, Ph.D., Agnita M. Stine Schreiber Curator

In celebration of Georges Braque’s birthday (May 13), we hope you enjoy this print from the collection.

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Georges Braque (French, 1882‒1963)
Homage to J.S. Bach, ca. 1950
17 3/16″h x 23″w
Gift of Donald Gillett, in memory of Mr. John Hose, Moller Music Company

In Homage to J.S. Bach, painter and printmaker Georges Braque created an energetic Cubist still life in which fragments of musical instruments and interior furnishings are carefully arranged in space. This print is based on an oil painting of the same subject (1911‒12, see below) and it pays tribute to the renowned and highly influential German Baroque composer, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685‒1750), whom Braque admired greatly. Trained as a classical musician, the artist believed that musical instruments (here, an abstracted violin) added a sense of tactility to the composition. As he explained, “The distinctive feature of the musical instrument as an object is that it comes alive to the touch.”

Indeed, the violin’s body, f-holes, and scroll appear to flicker and fade in and out of the composition. The initials that Braque stenciled, BACH, actually form a four-note musical motif in German (B-flat, A, C, B-natural), which numerous composers have employed in their music, including Bach himself in his Art of Fugue (1751) In addition, Bach’s complex, polyphonic compositions may be seen as musical equivalents to the shifting planes, angles, and viewpoints in both works.. Also, note how Braque contrasted blacks, grays, and browns, and incorporated illusionistic wood grain on the lower left, an addition that reflects his initial training as a house painter and in commercial work.

Braque first studied at Ecole des Beaux-Arts (Le Havre) from 1897‒99 and trained at the Academie Humbert, Paris from 1902‒04. Prior to his transition to Cubism, Braque collaborated with the Fauves (that included famed artists Henri Matisse and André Derain), an artist group whose work emphasized painterly qualities and strong color over the representational subjects favored by the Impressionists. Braque is perhaps best known for his seminal role in revolutionizing visual expression through the development of Cubism and collage in collaboration with his Spanish colleague, Pablo Picasso (1881‒1973), from 1908‒14. In their work, both artists focused on abstracting objects into geometric shapes that were then broken up, divided, and reconfigured. The name Cubism was coined by the critic, Louis Vauxcelles (1870‒1943), who reviewed Braque’s first solo exhibition in 1908 and referred to the “little cubes” created by the abstraction of shapes in his works. Homage to J.S. Bach exemplifies Braque’s use of Analytic Cubism, a style in which forms are compressed, shallow, and represented from multiple perspectives.

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Georges Braque (French, 1882‒1963)
Homage to J.S. Bach, 1911‒12
Oil on canvas
21 ¼ x 28 ¾ ”
Collection of Museum of Modern Art, New York

This WeekendArt is sponsored by Ms. Martha Williams