Catalogue entry

P77198 Profile with Palette 1953

Profil à la palette

Lithograph 520 × 712 (20 1/2 × 28) on Arches paper, same size; watermark ‘ARCHES’ bottom centre; printed by Mourlot Imprimeurs, Paris, and published by Maeght éditeur, Paris, in an edition of 75
Inscribed ‘G. Braque’ b.r. and ‘70/75’ b.l.
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) from Waddington Graphics 1987
Lit: Francis Ponge, with notes by Fernand Mourlot, Braque lithographe, Paris 1963, p.55, repr. in col. (another impression); Dora Vallier, Braque: L'Oeuvre gravé. Catalogue raisonné, Paris 1982, p.11 and p.139, no.82, repr. (another impression); Tate Gallery Report 1988, p.78 repr. (col.). Also repr. Georges Braque: Printmaker, Tate Gallery 1993, no.46 in col. (another impression)

The central section of P77198 depicts a woman's head with quasi-classical features and an artist's palette with brushes. Thick black curving lines flow between these two motifs, echoing the rounded contours of the head and palette. Three broken and faint black lines describe part of a right-angle triangle, around which can also be seen traces of partially erased lines, printed in brown. This triangular shape suggests that the artist may have used some sort of geometric system in planning the design. If this was so, Braque subsequently departed from it, drawing the central image in a markedly free manner and overlaying the triangle with ribbons of curving lines. Alternatively, the triangle might be read as a schematic table-top, implying, but not representing, a three-dimensional pictorial space. The central section of P77198, which measures 332 × 512 mm, has a fawn-coloured ground with mid-brown textural marks. The border or ‘frame’ surrounding the central section is mid-grey.

An early state of this print is reproduced lithographically in Braque lithographe, published in 1963 (it was probably Henri Deschamps, see below, who copied the original work for this publication). In this illustration the motifs of the head and palette appear to be the same as in P77198, but are shown as having been printed on green paper and lacking any border. In the accompanying notes, Fernand Mourlot, who ran the printing works where this and most of Braque's lithographs were printed, indicated that Braque pulled several proofs of this work using different types of paper of various colours. This would not have been unusual: Braque was interested in the variety of hues and textures resulting from the use of different types of paper, and often experimented in this way. Again according to Mourlot, Braque had the central image printed twice in order to strengthen the impact of the black lines. Two stones or plates would have been used to printed the central image: one for the bold sweeps of black, another for the finer lines which imitate the effect of charcoal drawing (Braque probably drew the lines on a sheet of lithographic transfer paper, placed on some textured surface, such as a coarse-weave canvas, to create this effect). He also used two shades of grey, one slightly darker than the other, to enhance the effect of brushwork in the border.

Braque often sought a handworked effect in his lithographs of the 1940s and early 1950s. He cultivated a free and seemingly rapid style of drawing; and he sometimes deliberately misaligned the lithographic stones or plates in the printing process. In his first post-war lithograph, ‘Phaethon’, published in 1945, for example, Braque had a border printed a second time 1 mm to one side, in order to create a softened, handworked edge (Mourlot 1963, p.22). In P77198 small slivers of the white paper are allowed to show between the left and upper edges of the central image and the surrounding border, while in other areas the grey and fawn areas overlap. Given the professionalism of Mourlot's workshop, this ‘imperfect’ registration of the plates or stones used for printing the image must have been deliberate. Using a separate stone or plate, Braque gave the central section of P77198 a misty, almost dirty, appearance using the flat side of a lithographic crayon to make faint, rubbed marks. These were then printed in mid-brown, over or under the fawn-coloured ground.

Braque was one of the first major School of Paris artists to take up colour lithography in the post-war years. Prior to this, colour lithography had been unfashionable, largely because it was associated with cheap chromolithographic reproductions. Most artists preferred to work exclusively in black and white, in part because the processes of lithography required them to draw their images using a black greasy ink or crayon, and in part because they were reluctant to accept the delays and considerable technical assistance involved in multiple colour printing. Braque made only two colour lithographs in the interwar period, the first in 1921, the second in 1932, but it is possible that he would have liked to have made more had there been a significant market for contemporary prints (see Jennifer Mundy, Georges Braque: Printmaker, exh. cat., Tate Gallery 1993, p.17). There was more commercial and scholarly interest in contemporary printmaking in the 1950s, and this revival in the print trade, albeit relatively small, undoubtedly helped finance the making of original prints, and provided a commercial incentive for artists and print publishers alike.

During the war years Braque regularly visited the workshop of Fernand Mourlot at 18 rue de Chabrol, near the Gare de l'Est in Paris. His purpose was to supervise the making of lithographic reproductions of some recent paintings for a monograph, which was finally published in 1945; but he was attracted by the creative possibilities of the medium, and Mourlot easily persuaded him to begin making original prints. ‘I set out to do something new with [lithography]’, he said near the end of his life, ‘I made it almost like painting, rather than trying to produce simple touched-up drawings, as was traditional’ (quoted ibid., p.15).

Although he worked at Mourlot's workshop in the early years, and later occasionally visited it to supervise corrections, Braque, like many other painter-lithographers in this period, preferred to work in his own studio. He would draw his images generally on lithographic transfer paper, and correct proofs in his studio in the rue du Douanier, in the south of the city; and these would be collected by someone from the printworkshop, on a daily basis if necessary. In making lithographs printed by Mourlot Imprimeurs, Braque was assisted by Henri Deschamps, with whom he built a strong professional partnership. It was Deschamps's role as a ‘chromiste’ or ‘dessinateur’ to transfer designs onto the stones and plates, offer advice about what was and was not technically possible, perform corrections and, when necessary, make supplementary plates. It was, Deschamps has said, a ‘very close, very secret sort of relationship’ (quoted ibid., p.24).

Although not explicitly classical, the shape of the head in P77198 recalls prints by Braque that were overtly related to Greek themes. Braque had first become fascinated with the art and myths of ancient Greece c.1931, when the dealer-publisher Ambroise Vollard commissioned him to produce a series of etchings for a luxury edition of the ancient Greek text, the Theogony by Hesiod. In style, these etchings suggested the influence of recent work by Picasso and some Surrealist artists; but Braque's insistent use of profile, and his choice of subjects (figures with birds, horses and chariots), evoked in a general way early Greek and Etruscan art of c.900–600 BC, which he would have known from reproductions, or at first hand from the collection in the Louvre. Like the female head in P77198, the goddesses in these illustrations are represented with their hair pinned up and projecting behind their heads (see, for example, the fifth and sixth illustrations, repr. Vallier 1982, pp.38–9).

In 1949 Braque included a female head similar to that in P77198 in one of the etchings used to illustrate Le Soleil des eaux, written by René Char and published in 1949 (repr. Vallier 1982, p.100). In the following year he combined this motif with an artist's palette in a poster for an exhibition of his work held at the Galerie Maeght, Paris in 1950 (repr. Fernand Mourlot, The Original Posters of Braque, Chagall, Dufy, Léger, Matisse, Miró, Picasso, Monte Carlo and London 1959, p.3 in col.). The head and palette were printed in shades of blue on a white central area, with a fawn-coloured border. This composition, which is markedly similar to that of P77198, can be seen as alluding to the traditional theme of the artist and his muse, a theme that Braque had explored in the interwar years with his paintings of studio interiors with female figures, which were inspired by the early nineteenth-century French master, Corot.

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