Georges Braque

Glass on a Table


Original title
Le Verre sur la table
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 331 x 372 mm
frame: 582 x 620 x 73 mm
Bequeathed by Sir Antony Hornby through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1988

Display caption

Instead of presenting the single vantage point of traditional painting, Braque and Picasso fragmented the object into a series of geometric facets and planes, which imitate the darting, fleeting nature of sight. In this painting, the glass and pears on a table appear obscured by the scaffolding of vertical, horizontal and curvilinear forms. Braque believed that it was only by breaking up the picture plane that he could get closer to a true depiction of the object.

Gallery label, August 2004

Catalogue entry

T05028 Glass on a Table 1909–10 Le Verre sur la table

Oil on canvas 331 × 372 (13 × 14 5/8)
Inscribed ‘G Braque’ b.l.
Bequeathed by Sir Antony Hornby through the Friends of the Tate Gallery and acquired 1988
Prov: Galerie Kahnweiler, Paris; Wilhelm Uhde, Paris, by 1914; sequestrated by French government 1914–21; sold Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 30 May 1921 (11) bt unknown buyer; ...; Robert Lebel, Paris, from whom bt by Arthur Tooth & Sons Ltd. Nov. 1955; purchased by Antony Hornby Dec. 1955

Exh: Recent Acquisitions, Arthur Tooth & Sons Ltd., Nov.–Dec. 1955 (19, repr. [p.16] as ‘Nature morte cubiste’); G. Braque, Arts Council tour, Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh, Aug.–Sept. 1956, Tate Gallery, Sept.–Nov. 1956 (23, repr. pl.20i); Private Views, Tate Gallery, April–May 1963 (75, repr. [p.17] as ‘Nature morte cubiste’); Georges Braque, Haus der Kunst, Munich, Oct.–Dec. 1963 (25, repr. fig.23); The Essential Cubism, Tate Gallery, April–July 1983 (11, repr. p.57, dated early 1910); Picasso and Braque: Pioneering Cubism, Museum of Modern Art, New York, Sept. 1989–Jan. 1990 (no number, repr. p.146 in col., dated autumn 1909); Braque: Still Lifes and Interiors, South Bank Centre tour, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, Sept.–Oct. 1990, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, Oct.–Dec. 1990 (2, repr. p.28 in col., dated autumn 1909)

Lit: Georges Isarlov, Georges Braque, Paris 1932, p.16, dated 1910, as ‘Le Verre’; John Golding, Cubism: A History and an Analysis 1907–1914, 1959, p.85, pl.29a; Jean Leymarie, Braque, Paris 1961, p.48, repr. p.45 in col.; Edwin Mullins, Braque, 1968, p.59, fig.38; Raymond Cogniat, G. Braque, trans. I. Mark, Paris 1980, p.89, col. pl.9; Brinsley Ford, ‘Sir Antony Hornby Chairman of the NACF’, National Art Collections Fund Magazine, Dec. 1984, p.20; Malcolm Gee, Dealers, Critics and Collectors of Modern Painting: Aspects of the Parisian Art Market between 1910 and 1930, London and New York 1981, appendix F, p.48; Friends of the Tate Gallery Report 1987–8, 1988, p.16, repr.; Tate Gallery Report 1986–88, 1988, p.64, repr. (col.); John Golding, ‘Braque and the Space of Still Life’, Braque: Still Lifes and Interiors, exh. cat., South Bank Centre tour, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, Sept.–Oct. 1990, Bristol Museum of Art Gallery, Oct.–Dec. 1990, p.10. Also repr. Pierre Descargues, Tout L'Oeuvre peint de Braque 1908–1929, Paris 1973, no.55; Nicole Worms de Romilly and Jean Laude, Braque: Cubism 1907–1914, Paris 1982, p.265, no.54, repr. (col.), as ‘Glass (Le Verre)’, dated ‘1910 (1909?)’, as coll. Lady Hornby

‘Glass on a Table’ is a Cubist still life representing a glass (centre), two pears (above centre left) and a small boxlike shape (below centre left) on a circular wooden table. The work is painted in warm yellows and browns, with accents of blue, deep red and green (the mainly green colour of the glass suggests perhaps the presence of water). Highlights of grey and white contrast with the burnt umber and black lines used to define shapes, while small areas of primed canvas (originally white) are visible in the interstices of the planes.

The style of T05028 should be seen in the context of Braque's pioneering development of Cubism in the preceding years. Inspired in part by the French painter Paul Cézanne (1839–1906), Braque began in 1907 to paint objects as if they were made up of discrete flat planes. In this early ‘stereometric’ phase of Cubism, Braque often represented objects from more than one angle (in T05028 this hallmark of early Cubism is most noticeable in the treatment of the glass, which is shown from above and from the side). From 1908 Braque further reduced naturalistic detail and depicted his objects, and the spaces between them, as faceted volumes. In the following year he began to ‘open’ up these volumes, allowing some to merge together, thereby suggesting a more fluid space.

Two new stylistic traits emerged in the winter of 1909–10, in which Braque worked in a studio at 48 rue d'Orsel, Paris. First, Braque began to emphasise the volumetric character of his objects less, and used, instead, a scaffolding of vertical and horizontal lines to structure his composition. John Golding (1959, p.85) writes: ‘In a few small still-lifes of early 1910, such as ‘Glass on a Table’, the objects are blocked in in a much more direct manner than hitherto. The linear quality of the original idea or sketch is retained, and these outlines become the starting point for the breakdown of the entire surface in terms of flat or tilted planes, a few of which are quite arbitrary’.

Secondly, Braque began to use a predominantly horizontal, dabbing brushwork, creating a new luminosity and textural quality in such works as ‘Violin and Candlestick’ (San Francisco Museum of Art, repr. New York exh. cat., 1989, p.159 in col., dated spring 1910). Both these stylistic features are present in T05028, as well as in a stylistically similar work entitled ‘Bottle and Glass’, 1910 (repr. Worms de Romilly and Laude, no.2), and were to be developed by Braque over the course of the year.

In the light of this stylistic development T05028 has traditionally been dated 1910. It was listed as such in the first catalogue of Braque's paintings, which was produced by Georges Isarlov in 1932. Isarlov, who was assisted in his research by Braque himself and had access to the records of the painter's dealer, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, included in his list of works presumed to have been executed in 1910, ‘“The Glass” in a sort of fashioned oval’ (‘“Le Verre” dans une sorte d'ovale composé’). Although Isarlov gave slightly different dimensions to those of T05028-‘about 33 × 41 cms’- (he may not have had access to the work itself and may have had to guess the measurements from a photograph), he cited the correct Kahnweiler number for T05028 (K1143), taken from the photographic records kept by the dealer to help identify and distinguish between the Cubist pictures of Picasso and Braque.

Although Isarlov clearly believed the work to have been executed in 1910 (he placed it towards the middle of the 1910 list, suggesting that he thought it might have been executed in the late spring or early summer of that year), later writers have felt that it may have been executed in late 1909. The authors of the 1982 catalogue raisonné, Nicole Worms de Romilly and Jean Laude, listed it as ‘1910 (1909?)’. In the 1989 exhibition Picasso and Braque: Pioneering Cubism, T05028 was dated autumn 1909, on the basis of a reinterpretation of the stylistic evidence, though the reasons for the redating were not discussed in the catalogue. However, in a letter to the compiler dated 29 October 1993, the curator of the exhibition, William Rubin, explained:

It is true that Izarlov and Golding dated the picture 1910. However, Izarlov's catalogue, which was a list rather than a catalogue raisonné has been shown to be wrong in a number of ways (his dates were based very much on Braque's recollections, which have also been proved-some from his own letters-to be faulty) ... The center of the picture clearly looks much more like 1909, though the brushwork in certain areas suggests the transition took place in winter 1909/1910.

Our choice of date was, therefore, somewhat of a ‘crapshoot’, with our committee [William Rubin, Pierre Daix and Edward Fry] coming down on the side of late 1909 ... I seem to recall that during this installation, we all felt this picture looked like it could have swung either way.

As it is impossible to be sure whether T05028 was executed in late 1909 or early 1910, or over a period spanning the two years, it has been decided to express its dates as 1909–10.

Many writers have commented upon the oval shape of the table which encloses the central part of the image. Both Jean Leymarie (1961) and Edwin Mullins (1968), for example, suggested that the strong curving motif in T05028 presaged Braque's adoption of oval-shaped canvases later in 1910. Braque had long favoured the use of a curving line to energise an otherwise static image and guide the viewer's attention to the centre of the picture. In many landscapes of 1908, for example, he employed curving tree trunks and arching foliage, at the left or right edge of the image, to provide a point of entry into the scene and to lead the eye towards the distance. In his still lifes, curving napkins, mandolins, even bananas, performed a similar compositional function. With T05028 Braque transformed what might have been a static ellipse into a more dynamic spiral, by appearing to continue the line of the table edge through the edge of the largest pear and the curving line below.

Although rooted in the experience of reality, Cubism often permitted an associative, sometimes arbitrary, play with appearances. In T05028, the artist has focused almost exclusively on the formal aspects of this simple composition, and left certain shapes curiously unresolved. The grey arc-shape below the pears, for example, recalls the napkin in ‘Napkin, Knife and Pears’, 1908 (Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pennsylvannia, repr. Worms de Romilly and Laude 1982, no.28). It also hints at the curving rim of a white plate. Although this shape evokes objects which were familiar part of Braque's still life repertoire, it remains ambiguous, and may have been merely a formal device linking the rounded volumes of the pears to the flat surface of the table. ‘It's all the same to me,’ Braque later said, ‘whether a form represents a different thing to different people or many things at the same time ... I occasionally introduce forms that have no literal meaning whatsoever. Sometimes these are accidents which happen to suit my purpose, sometimes “rhymes” which echo other forms, and sometimes rhythmical motifs which help to integrate a composition and give it movement’ (quoted in John Richardson, Georges Braque, 1959, p.26).

The signature on T05028 lies above a layer of retouching varnish (applied, perhaps, during some restoration work), and must be presumed to have been added sometime after the completion of the painting. A black and white photograph of the work in its unsigned state, taken by Kahnweiler shortly after the work was finished and now held in the archives of the Galerie Louise Leiris in Paris, is reproduced by Edwin Mullins. Braque, followed quickly by Picasso, is known to have stopped signing the front of his canvases towards the beginning of 1910 (both, however, signed the backs of their pictures, or allowed an assistant of their dealer to sign on their behalf). The artists felt that signatures on the front of canvases interfered with the formal qualities of their compositions; and, more importantly, each sought, in this period of close collaboration, to reduce the element of individuality in their work. Braque later explained, ‘Picasso and I were engaged in what we felt was a search for the anonymous personality. We were prepared to efface our personalities in order to find originality’. However, Braque came to feel that, ‘without “tics”, without recognisable traces of the individual personality, no revelation was possible’ (quoted by William Rubin in New York exh. cat., 1989, p.19). In 1914 both artists returned to signing the fronts of their canvases, and in later years were willing to autograph their unsigned works of 1910–14 at the request of dealers or collectors. In discussion with the writer of this entry at the Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris, on 12 December 1991, Quentin Laurens, an expert on Braque's work, claimed that the signature looked like those found on paintings of the 1940s and 1950s. The painting was certainly signed at the bottom left by November 1955, when reproduced in the exhibition catalogue of Arthur Tooth and Sons Ltd.

The early history of T05028 is uncertain, but it seems likely that it passed directly to Kahnweiler, who owned a gallery at rue Vignon, Paris, and specialised in the work of Braque, Picasso and Derain. A close friend of Kahnweiler was Wilhelm Uhde, one of the very few collectors of Cubist works of this period. Keen to publicise this new art, Uhde allowed the public into his home at the Quai aux Fleurs twice a week to view his collection, and sent some of his works, though not T05028, to exhibitions in Germany. With the outbreak of war in 1914, Uhde's belongings, together with those of Kahnweiler and other foreign nationals, were sequestrated by the French government. Udhe's collection was auctioned at the Hôtel Drouot in May 1921. The art historian Malcolm Gee suggested recently that it was likely that the work listed as ‘Le Verre sur la table’ in the catalogue of this sale is T05028; and, given the accurate description of the image in the title and the fact that the dimensions are the same, this claim has been generally accepted. (The catalogue also states that the painting was signed on the back. However, at some point T05028 has been relined, and the use of X-rays and transmitted ultra-red light by the Tate Gallery has failed to establish whether or not there was a signature on the back of the original canvas.) The forced sales of the collections of Uhde and Kahnweiler drastically brought down the value of the works by Cubist artists. Braque's prices were particularly low at the Uhde sale, achieving a range of only 300–1,500 francs, while works by Picasso sold for between 2,000 and 18,000 francs. ‘Glass on a Table’ sold for 420 francs.

In the entry in the exhibition catalogue The Essential Cubism, 1983, it was claimed that the painting had belonged to the French critic and writer Robert Lebel (1901–86). According to Gary Tinterow, this claim was made by his co-organiser of The Essential Cubism, Douglas Cooper, who ‘remembered that Lebel had the painting before Tooth did, but I cannot document that’ (letter to the compiler, dated 19 November 1991). This is supported by the stock book of Arthur Tooth & Sons Ltd which shows that the painting was bought in from a R. Lebel through a shipping company called Bronner and Co., in Basle. However, Jean-Jacques Lebel, the son of Robert Lebel, wrote in a note to the compiler of 23 January 1992 that he had no knowledge of this painting ever having been in his father's collection. Known as ‘Nature morte cubiste’, T05028 was acquired from Arthur Tooth & Sons Ltd (along with a photograph of the work endorsed by Braque) by Antony Hornby (1904–87) who was to build an important collection of nineteenth-and twentieth-century works (for details of the life and collection of Sir Antony, see Ford 1984, pp.18–21).

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996