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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



Georges Braque: A Life by Alex Danchev (Arcade Publishing) Georges Braque (1882-1963), cocreator, along with Picasso, of cubism, was a patient and steadfast artist given to hard work rather than extravagant gestures. As Danchev makes clear in the first full-length biography of this pivotal yet overlooked French painter, Braque's paradigm-altering paintings are not expressions of ecstasy or despair but, rather, of constancy, the fruits of a sustained exploration of form, space, light, and rapport. The son of a housepainter, a strong and good-looking man who liked to box and drive fast cars, Braque, inspired by Cezanne, brought to art a love of craft and intense curiosity about the structure of matter. Deliberate and contemplative, he was the opposite of mercurial Picasso, with whom he forged an intimate and fertile alliance, "the most phenomenal in the history of art," according to Danchev, who examines their complex interaction with supple insight. At once comprehensive and buoyant, Danchev is fluent in facts and penetrating in his analysis of this deeply private man, a philosophical artist utterly devoted to his work and his wife, who found new ways of understanding nature and perception, dissonance and harmony. Though he created both the ideas and the first canvases of the cubist movement, Georges Braque is frequently overshadowed by his celebrated colleague Pablo Picasso. English critic Danchev's detailed biography, the first full-length study of Braque, reveals the reason why: Braque was that rare artist who was just as happy working and producing as seeking glory, an individual who didn't require the fawning attention that others, like Picasso, seemed to subsist on. Braque's friendship with Picasso is extensively explored and, although their relationship had slight sexual undertones (Picasso liked to refer to Braque as his "wife," and he "pursued Braque as relentlessly as he did any woman... over a far longer period"), Danchev makes it clear that their friendship was based on artistic affinity more than anything else. Intriguing revelations about Braque's much-protected private life abound, including discussions of his military service and his unswervingly faithful marriage to Marcelle Vorvanne. Danchev's intimate, conversational tone may put off readers with a preference for more formal biographies, but those with a penchant for lively prose and some familiarity with art history terminology will relish Danchev's meticulous contribution to the study of cubism.

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