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Braque, The Viaduct at L'Estaque

Georges Braque, Le Viaduc à L'Estaque, (The Viaduct at L'Estaque), 1908, oil on canvas, 28-5/8 x 23-1/4 inches or 72.5 x 59 cm (Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris). Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker . Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

(piano playing) Dr. Zucker: We're in the Pompidou in Paris and we're looking at a Georges Braque, it's an early Braque. It was painted just after Cézanne died, Braque went down to the stock in almost a kind of homage, [unintelligible] to work through Cézanne style in his late paintings. Dr. Harris: You can see the viaduct that you see in many Cézanne paintings and the same palette that you see in Cézanne and that same kind of hatching brushwork that you see also in Cézanne, but things are changed. Braque has seen Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, the space is really compressed. Dr. Zucker: His meeting Picasso and seeing how Picasso is, in a sense, filtering Cézanne, not to mention other artists including Matisse at this point, is having an impact here. It's these paintings that Braque is bringing back that Picasso sees that really pushes Picasso forward. We're talking about a compression, that ridge wants to be in the background, but it also pushes forward in some really aggressive ways. The sky above it seems to push forward even more in some ways, so that the entire canvas seems to crest up and towards us. Dr. Harris: The buildings in the foreground seem to, in a way, crest up and back, so that the viaduct in the background and the houses ... it feels like there's no middle ground. Dr. Zucker: Right, how does he pull that off? Dr. Harris: I see a lot of reduction to geometric forms. I see rectangles and triangles and pyramid shapes and semi-circular shapes almost as if the houses look like mountains and the mountains look like houses and the trees look like the sky. It's hard not to see this through the lens of the dissolution of form that's going to happen with analytic cubism. Dr. Zucker: The colors are very much the colors of analytic cubism, grey's and brown. You've got the grey-blues up at the top, you've got the grey-blues in the shadows down below. You've got those beige's and brown's and red's throughout. There's real continuity across the surface of the canvas just articulating the surface. Dr. Harris: You also have those eliding of forms that you see slightly later on in analytic cubism where the roof, that horizontal roof there, with the [unintelligible] and the gold's in it, kind of slips down if you follow the color into another golden side of the roof. There's no real distinction there and space. Also the way that you get sort of modeling with some black outlining, very much, again, analytic cubism. Dr. Zucker: That kind of eliding of one form to another is something that's seen as a key characteristic of Cézanne and is often referred to, in his work, as passage and the way in which it opens up the geometry of that structure. We were talking a moment ago about the nature of surface and the presence of surface here. It's not just from the brush stroke, it's not just from the overall color, but it's also from the arbitrary, look at the green brush strokes on the center left, or look at the beige brush stroke that's in the upper right, these are reminders that we're looking at a two dimensional surface, this refusal of space. Dr. Harris: It almost feels a little bit like, to me, that's Braque's lesson from fauvism, those touches of paint that somehow can be separate from what he's representing, too. Dr. Zucker: Right, but here color is not the vehicle. Dr. Harris: It's true, there's these random strokes of paint. Dr. Zucker: The whole thing feels so rough ... Dr. Harris: And unfinished in a way that Cézanne often always feels unfinished. Dr. Zucker: This is an exploration, in no way meant to be a finished thing so much as a step towards. Dr. Harris: And a working through of Cézanne after his death. (piano playing)