Twentieth-century art emerged out of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, which ruled French art at the end of the nineteenth-century. Experimental artistic movements, such as Cubism, Expressionism, and Surrealism, came to light during this time period. Two highly prominent and influential painters of this era were Georges Braque, head of the Cubism movement, and Max Beckmann, often regarded as an Expressionist artist, although he rejected the term as well as the movement (Falconer). Both artists currently have works on display at the Los Angeles Museum of Modern Art (LACMA), respectively titled, Still Life with Violin (1913) and Bar, Brown (1944), however, the way in which they depict their subject matter differs greatly. In his work, Still Life with Violin, Braque abandons all forms of traditional painting, focusing on key aspects of Cubism, which in turn emphasize the physical and spatial qualities of the objects portrayed. Beckmann adopts a different approach in his piece, Bar, Brown, and chooses instead to apply aspects primarily found in Expressionism, thus presenting the objects in a manner that emphasize both the physical and spatial qualities of the objects depicted, as well as the qualities of paint on canvas.
Cubism was one of the most dominant art styles of the early twentieth-century. Pioneered by Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, Cubist painters rejected the long-time idea that art should copy nature, and furthermore, that they should use the traditional techniques of perspective. Instead, they strove to highlight the two dimensionality of the canvas, achieving such by reducing and breaking apart objects into geometric forms (Rewald).
Georges Braque’s, Still Life with Violin, perfectly showcases that of the Cubist movement. The composition of the painting features a fragmented violin that has been transformed into various geometric pieces, surrounded by similar geometric shapes that lack a clear back, middle, and foreground, thus creating the perception of a flattened space. Braque’s use of an oval format further pushes the idea of a two-dimensional space. This is representative of Cubism in that the sole purpose of this movement was to question the way in which we view things, even if it is not accurate. By completely altering the natural form of the violin, Braque was able to emphasize its physical and spatial qualities in ways that we don’t normally encounter, making the form more important than the subject matter.
Max Beckmann was active in the art realm 20 to 30 years after Braque; therefore, the painting style of that time had changed drastically (Falconer). The next popular artistic movement was referred to as Expressionism, in which the artist attempts to depict the subjective emotions and reactions that objects provoke within a person, rather than the usual objective reality seen virtually everywhere else. This image of reality is distorted in order to express the artist’s inner feelings or thoughts. Stylistically, Expressionist paintings usually contain intense color, messy brushstrokes, strong outlines, a sense of distortion, and a jumbled sense of space (Walter).
While Beckmann continuously denied the movement, his paintings seemed to represent many facets of Expressionism. Bar, Brown, one of Beckmann’s most notable pieces, contains multiple references to Expressionism. The composition of this particular painting is comprised of a man and a woman who appear to be in some sort of romantic relationship. Both of their bodies seem to be elongated with skinny faces, made up of agitated brushstrokes and harsh outlines, emphasizing the physical qualities of the subject matter. An unclear sense of space within the painting emphasizes the spatial qualities of these subjects.
Georges Braque chose to use oil paint on canvas as his medium for Still Life with Violin. Although, at first glance, the painting appears as though it was crafted with only colored pencils. This illusion can be attributed to the sketch-like qualities found within the entirety of the painting, as well as the grey outlining of the shapes that make it appear as though regular writing pencils were used to define the edges. This uncommon technique used by Braque invites the viewer to more closely inspect the different qualities of the object.
Similar to Braque, Beckmann focused much of his time using oil paints, such as in Bar, Brown, for example. He layers the paint on to create chunky brushstrokes and texture, which highlight the physical traits of the paint on canvas. This is a hugely different technique than the one that Braque used, in which he attempted to conceal the fact that he used oil paint, while Beckmann is doing everything he can to showcase that he did.
When examining Braque’s, Still Life with Violin, it is clear to see that a very distinct color scheme exists. The painting is covered in assorted shades of muted colors such as brown, grey, blue, and green. Braque’s use of a restricted color palette throughout the painting is a key aspect of Cubism. As for Beckmann, he utilizes deep, intense tones that are fairly unrealistic, whereas Braque uses soft, neutral colors. This technique draws more attention to the physical elements of the subjects depicted.
Both Braque and Beckmann showcase a unique style in which to provide information about the world and objects they depict through painting. While similar in some aspects, the two artists each approach the challenge of portraying subject matter in diverse ways that emphasize certain components of their respective pieces.
Falconer, Amy. “Max Beckmann Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works.” The Art Story. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Nov. 2016.
Rewald, Sabine. “Cubism.” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Nov. 2016.
Walter, Josh. “Expressionism Movement, Artists and Major Works.” The Art Story. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Nov. 2016.