Georges Braque

Black Chariot


Not on display

Georges Braque 1882–1963
Original title
Char Noir
Etching and aquatint on paper
Image: 236 × 295 mm
Purchased 1988

Catalogue entry

Georges Braque 1882-1963

Black Chariot (Chariot V) 1958
Char noir (Char V)


Etching and sugarlift aquatint 236 x 295 (9¼x 11½) on Rives paper 477 x 551 (18¾ x 24¾); plate mark 285 x 375 (11¼ x 14¾); watermark ‘BFK Rives’; printed by Crommelynck and Dutrou, Paris and published by Maeght éditeur, Paris in an edition of 79

Inscribed ‘G Braque’ in pencil below image b.r and ‘24/75’ in pencil below image b.l.

Dora Vallier, Braque: L’Oeuvre gravé. Catalogue raisonné, Paris 1982, no.116, repr. in col. (another example)
Jennifer Mundy, Georges Braque: Printmaker, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London 1993, pp.30-1, repr. p.59 in col. (another example)

One of the many Braque prints inspired by the art and myths of ancient Greece, Black Chariot (Chariot V) depicts a figure in a chariot pulled by two horses.

Braque never discussed his fascination with Greek themes, but it is known that he first became interested in the art and literature of the very early (and rather unfashionable) Geometric or Protoattic periods, c.900-600 BC, in the early 1930s. Commissioned by the dealer-publisher Ambroise Vollard around 1931 to illustrate the ancient text, The Theogony, by Hesiod, Braque made a suite of etchings which combined allusions to the contemporary work of Picasso and some Surrealist artists with a ‘Greek’ subject matter of gods and chariots. In the late 1930s he adopted a more obviously archaic imagery in certain drawings and in engraved plasters. These works showed the particular influence of the painted and incised scenes of stick-like figures, chariots and horses found on ancient terracotta craters, and of the refined engravings of people in flowing drapes, surrounded by birds and plants, on Etruscan bronze mirrors.

The subject of a chariot and horses was a recurring theme of Braque’s prints in the late 1940s and early 1950s. His very first post-war work was a lithograph entitled Phaethon (Chariot I) 1945,[1] after the son of the Greek sun-god Helios. There followed between 1946 and 1948 no less than six variant images of a figure driving two horses, each entitled Helios.[2] In these the figure appears to be travelling from left to right. The opposite was the case, however, in the above-mentioned Phaethon, and Braque’s other figure and chariot images: White Chariot 1950-1, Chariot 1953, The Blue Chariot 1952, Varnished Chariot 1955,[3] and in Black Chariot (Chariot V) and its pair, White Chariot 1958.[4]

Unlike Picasso, Braque is generally not considered a technically creative printmaker. However, the complex procedures used to make Black Chariot provide evidence of the artist’s willingness to explore the possibilities of intaglio printing in dialogue with his printer, Aldo Crommelynck.[5]

Two etching plates were used to make Black Chariot, one for each colour. The technique of sugar-lift aquatint was used on one plate to reproduce the effect of brushwork in the brown ‘frame’ area. The image of the figure and chariot was so deeply etched in the second plate that the lines stand noticeably proud of the surface of the paper. This was not uncommon in the etchings Braque made with Crommelynck, who has stated that the artist often had his plates bitten as many as five or six times to achieve the surface texture he required.[6] In conversation with the compiler on 5 August 1992, Crommelynck recalled that it had been extremely hard, when printing Black Chariot, to ensure that sufficient black ink was worked into the thick grooves to prevent gaps appearing in the lines: for each successful print, he said, many proofs, had had to be discarded. At least two aquatints were used to create the dark oval-shaped area at the centre of the print. After the first, fine-grained aquatint, a second, much coarser aquatint was applied to the central area, with cut-out stencils – one vaguely cuneiform, the other more irregular in shape – laid on the plate to protect it from the second aquatint and so define the abstract shapes that can just be discerned behind the horses and figure. The black speckles, fingerprints and smudges that extend over the whole image were produced by sugar-lift aquatint on the same plate.

Black Chariot (Chariot V) is a variant of White Chariot 1958.[7] White Chariot was made from a single printing of the plate with the deeply etched line drawing of the figure and horses. In this work, however, the embossed lines were left white: when inking the plate, the printer skilfully avoided wiping ink into the grooves. Although the outer edge of the oval shape containing the figure and horses is dark, and appears to have been made from a coarse-grained aquatint, the inner area of the oval is relatively pale, and seems to have had only a fine-grained aquatint. The underlying abstract shapes are also indistinct. This suggests that Crommelynck applied a further coarse-grained aquatint to the central area of the plate to achieve a darker effect and stronger contrasts in Black Chariot (it was the printer, not the artist, who recorded the aquatint).

From the plate used for White Chariot (and, subsequently reworked, for the black areas of Black Chariot), Crommelynck made for Braque two series of prints on plaster, each measuring 240 x 300mm. One set of twelve was inked in grey, another set of twelve in brown. To make these plaster prints, the surface of the plate was lightly inked, but the deep grooves were left free of ink: when the plate was pressed onto the wet plaster, white plaster was forced into the grooves, leaving the image of the figure and horses standing out in white relief against the inked surface of the plaster.

This technique of making prints on plaster is associated in particular with the English artist-printer Stanley William Hayter, who lived in Paris during the 1920s and 1930s, and again after the Second World War. In 1927 Hayter established a print studio, known from 1933 as Atelier 17, in which he and his students explored the creative possibilities of intaglio printing. He began to make plaster prints as early as 1931,[8] and, although there is no evidence that Braque knew Hayter or worked in his studio, it seems possible that he was influenced by news of Hayter’s experiments when, also around 1931, he made some carved plaster reliefs. In such works as Figure from ‘The Theogony’ 1931,[9] Braque drew his designs, which showed as white, into black-painted plaster while it was still soft using a sharp point. A few years later he appears to have used an etched plate to create a plaster print, Io 1934-5,[10] which, like Black Chariot (Chariot V), shows a stick-figure and a horse-pulled chariot. It is not known how Braque hit upon this technique, but it seems possible that he, like Hayter, saw a connection between this innovative type of intaglio printing and the painted and incised decorations found in the archaic art he so admired (see Mundy 1993, pp.19-20).

Jennifer Mundy
November 1993

[1] Reproduced in Dora Vallier, Braque: L’Oeuvre gravé. Catalogue raisonné, Paris 1982, no.26.
[2] Reproduced ibid., nos.30-2, 36, 40-1.
[3] Reproduced ibid, nos. 61, 81, 96, 98.
[4] Reproduced ibid, no.115.
[5] For Crommelynck’s creative role as a master printer, see Jennifer Mundy, Georges Braque: Printmaker, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London 1993, pp.30-3, and Pat Gilmour, Aldo Crommelynck, exh. cat, Waddington Graphics, London 1987.
[6] Quoted in Mundy 1993, p.31.
[7] Reproduced in Vallier 1982, no.115.
[8] See S.W. Hayter, New Ways of Gravure, London 1966, p.131.
[9] Reproduced in G Braque et la mythologie, exh. cat., Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris 1982, no.26, in colour.
[10] Reproduced ibid. no.35, in colour.

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