Guitar and Jug is a rectangular, horizontally orientated oil painting on canvas by the French artist Georges Braque that depicts a collection of objects: a guitar, pitcher, glass, branch and two pieces of fruit. These are arranged on a flat surface, possibly a guéridon (pedestal table) or a tray. The palette is dark and sombre and dominated by browns and greys. The guitar is shown on its back and at an angle, slightly twisting towards the viewer. It forms a strong diagonal, leading the eye to the earthenware pitcher on the right, which is outlined in white paint and has a spout that faces forwards. Below the pitcher are two fruits resembling apples, arranged on a piece of fabric. The fabric flows over the edge of the table and out of the bottom of the picture. A vivid green branch with leaves placed next to the pitcher curves elegantly, following the shape of the table. Behind the guitar to the left is depicted a goblet seen slightly from above. The scene’s background appears to feature a white wall, adding depth to the image, as well as what may be a section of peeling wallpaper to the left. The signature ‘G. Braque’ appears in white paint in the lower right corner of the image.
It is likely that Braque painted Guitar and Jug in his house on rue du Douanier in Paris, to which he had moved in 1924. It was completed towards the end of 1927 or very early in 1928. Sources contemporary with Braque (including his dealer Paul Rosenberg) have indicated that the painting was not photographed until 1928, which may suggest that it was created in winter 1927–8 (see Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery’s Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, London 1981, p.80). Braque has applied the oil paint in long, luscious brushstrokes that are particularly visible in the rendering of the fabric. These expressive elements are offset by shorter brushstrokes used in the white area in the background, which has a choppy, scumbled appearance. The painting’s surface is therefore varied in texture. Rosenberg’s records indicate a different title for this image: Mandolin, Glass, Pot and Fruit. However, in 1950, when Braque was shown a photograph of the painting, he named it Guitar and Jug (Alley 1981, p.80).
By the time Guitar and Jug was painted Braque had moved beyond the analytical cubist style that he had developed in collaboration with Picasso in c.1908–12. By the late 1920s he was concentrating on aspects other than form and space, and according to the art historian Douglas Cooper ‘his work at this time was characterised by its serenity, smoothness, suavity and resonance; his forms are more freely invented, and have an appealing pliability, but they are still cubist in conception although they correspond more nearly than before to natural appearances’ (Cooper 1994, p.221). The curved lines of the guitar, apples and flowing fabric in Guitar and Jug are examples of the ‘appealing pliability’ and ‘smoothness’ identified by Cooper. The jug’s rounded form has been particularly emphasised by the addition of a white outline, as if light is shining on its glaze. Braque’s concern with depicting a variety of materials and textures in Guitar and Jug is also clear: wood, glass, fabric, organic elements and wallpaper are all featured. This emphasis on texture and shape appeals to what Cooper refers to as the viewer’s ‘tactile experience of reality and space’ (Cooper 1994, p.221) and represents a departure from the faceted, fractured planes of his earlier analytical cubist paintings, which were aimed at bringing a new awareness to the viewer’s visual experience of the world. (See, for instance, Clarinet and Bottle of Rum on a Mantelpiece 1911, Tate T02318.)
Braque was a keen collector of musical instruments; he played the violin and accordion and had studied the flute. Instruments often appear in his cubist paintings: ‘first of all because I was surrounded by them and also because their forms, their volume, came into the ken of the still life as I understood it’ (quoted in Cooper 2002, p.44). The guitar is a particularly recurrent motif in Braque’s works from this period, and his oeuvre more generally; for example, a guitar features in Mandora 1909–10 (Tate T00833) and Fruit, Glass, and Mandolin 1938 (National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC). The symbolism of the guitar in Braque’s work is not clear, although it may represent artistic harmony.
Guitar and Jug is linked to a series of works Braque began in earnest from 1918 and continued throughout the 1920s, in which he focused on painting collections of objects, often musical instruments, on a guéridon. The Round Table 1929 (Phillips Collection, Washington, DC) is another work in this still life format. More generally, Guitar and Jug is an example of Braque’s later synthetic cubist style, which fully developed following his recovery from a head wound sustained in military service in 1915. According to Cooper, Braque’s move towards depicting the decorative textures of materials in Guitar and Jug can be viewed as his ‘personal contribution to the expressive range of late cubism, and he continued to elaborate it in a succession of luscious, sonorous still lifes during the next ten years’ (Cooper 1994, p.221).
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery’s Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, London 1981, pp.79–80, reproduced p.79.
Douglas Cooper, The Cubist Epoch, London 1994.
Philip Cooper, Cubism, London 2002.
Supported by Christie’s.