the portuguese by georges braque
To understand Cubism it helps to go back to Cézanne’s still life paintings or even further, to the Renaissance. Let me use an example that worked nicely in the classroom. I was lecturing, trying to untangle Cubism while drinking incresingly cold coffee from a paper cup. I set the cup on the desk in the front of the room and said, “If I were a Renaissance artist in mid-15th century Italy painting that cup on that table, I would position myself at particular point in space and construct the surrounding objects and space frozen in that spot and from that single perspective. On the other hand, if this was the late 19th century and I was Cézanne, I might allow myself to open this view up quite a bit. Perhaps I would focus on, and record, the perceptual changes of shape and line that result when I shift my weight from one leg to the other or when I lean in toward the cup to get a closer look. I might even allow myself to render slightly around the far side of the paper cup since, as Cézanne, I am interested in vision and memory working together. Finally, if I were Braque or Picasso in the early 20th century, I would want to express even more on the canvas. I would not be satisfied with the limiting conventions of Renaissance perspective nor even with the initial explorations of the master Cézanne.
As a Cubist, I want to express my total visual understanding of the paper coffee cup. I want more than the Renaissance painter or even Cézanne, I want to express the entire cup simultaneously on the static surface of the canvas since I can hold all that visual information in my memory. I want to render the cup’s front, its sides, its back, and its inner walls, its bottom from both inside and out, and I want to do this on a flat canvas. How can this be done? The answer is provided by The Portuguese. In this canvas, everything was fractured. The guitar player and the dock was just so many pieces of broken form, almost broken glass. By breaking these objects into smaller elements, Braque and Picasso are able to overcome the unified singularity of an object and instead transform it into an object of vision. At this point the class began to look a little confused, so I turned back to the paper cup and began to tear it into pieces (I had finished the coffee). If I want to be able to show you both the back and front and inside and outside simultaneously, I can fragment the object. Basically, this is the strategy of the Cubists. – from smarthistory
While working on this painting, Georges Braque combined the two techniques to come up with the Portuguese. The stencilled numbers and letters in the art are the assertions of realistic intentions of the Cubism technique. In the painting, the stencilled or written letters across the surface represent the most conclusive ways of emphasizing the picture’s two-dimensional character and they also help stress the quality of the artwork. The Portuguese painting marks an interesting stage and point in the development of Georges’ arts. At the top right-hand corner of the painting, there are D BAL letters and numerals under them. Although Georges had included various numbers as well as letters into the painting, they were the representational elements of the art.
The painting is one of the earliest cubist paintings. While it is frequently mentioned in monographs, textbooks and articles on the artist as well as Cubism, this painting has never been a source of serious controversy. Most of his paintings consist of still lives which are remarkable for their low-key colour harmonies, robust construction, and serene, meditative quality. Cubism is the technique that was used in the creation of the Portuguese painting. Georges Braque introduced this technique of painting in 1911. The painting features stencilled letters BAL and numerals under them. The painter first introduced the still life technique in 1910 before introducing the Cubism style.
Golding, “Cubism, A History and an Analysis, 1907-1914”:
“[I]n the spring of 1911 Braque introduced a new element into one of his paintings which was of vital significance. Across a painting entitled ‘Le Portugais’ Braque stencilled the letters BAL, and under them numerals. Braque had first introduced letters into a still life, probably of early 1910, but they are blended into the composition and have no function other than that of identifying as a newpaper the object over which they are painted.
After a period of healing, Braque returned to his artistic ability in the Cubist movement. Braque entered what is called a synthetic phase of Cubism. He began to use more colors and to represent objects through large planes. Braque created “Woman Musician” in 1917, which exhibited the geometric planes and strong colors of synthetic Cubism (Braque). He began to stray away from Cubism and began to draw with a flowing technique such as the smooth framework of “Still Life with Playing Cards.” After this move, Braque experimented with pictures of pagan women, pedestal tables, birds, ancient Greek pottery, and figures. Braque finally won the Carnegie Prize in 1937. He became a world-renowned artist and in 1961 he received the highest honor—he became the first living artist to have his works displayed in the Louvre.
Georges Braque – A Focus on Cubism by Pamela L. Tucker
In the Portuguese, Braque introduced a unique element to his painting, he added the initials D BAL on the top right corner of the painting, then Roman numerals below them; the art of stenciled letters and numerals. This he revealed was an effort to bring the painting closer to a certain kind of reality. Braque’s painting has precise forms, geometric angles, lines and circles(Mullins).
Cloonan, William. “Braque’s Le Portugais and a Portuguese Nun.” French, American Association of Teachers of. The French Review. 1994.