By 1954, Georges Braque had become one of the most famous and influential artists of the 20th century, celebrated for his collaboration with Picasso and the formation of Cubism. Braque had been a quiet symbol of resistance during the Second World War from his studio at Varengeville in Normandy and in the aftermath, now in his 70s, he continued to tackle subjects close to him including the studio, still lifes and the recurring image of a bird in flight.
The bird, with its wings outstretched, first appeared in Braque’s work during the 1930s and into the final years of his life it became an almost obsessive theme. Braque was adamant that this poetic image had no symbolic meaning, arguing “To define something is to substitute the definition for the thing”. However, the movement of the bird is often seen as a final attack on the laws of perspective begun in the first flushes of Cubism. In ‘L’oiseau de feu’, Braque continues to disrupt pictorial space with vibrant geometric shapes for the body of the bird and layers of repeated forms that suggest a distant landscape beyond.
‘L’oiseau de feu’ comes from a group of works picturing the bird in flight produced by Galerie Maeght in collaboration with the artist. Notably, Braque reinterpreted the bird multiple times during the 1950s, including the painting ‘Bird Returning to its Nest’ (1956) now in the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. The flying bird also became a talisman in Braque’s acclaimed ‘Atelier’ series, watching over the sacred space of the studio. Key examples from this group of eight canvases can be found at MoMA, New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf. In the year preceding ‘L’oiseau de feu’, Braque also chose the bird in flight as the subject of his pivotal state commission for the ceiling of the Louvre in Paris.
This work was originally gifted by Braque in 1955 to the renowned Cubist collector Douglas Cooper and his partner, the celebrated art historian and Picasso biographer, John Richardson. From their home in Provence, Cooper continued to nurture a close friendship with Braque and other leading avant-garde artists of the period, and in 1956 organised two Braque exhibitions at The Arts Council and Tate Gallery in London. Following the end of their relationship the work was acquired by the Triton Foundation’s major collection of 19th and 20th century works of art.
‘L’oiseau de feu’ has been displayed in major international exhibitions of the Douglas Cooper Collection at Kunstmuseum, Basel; Tate, London; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and LACMA, Los Angeles as well as Braque retrospectives at Royal Academy, London and The Menil Collection, Houston.
John Richardson & Douglas Cooper, Uzès (gifted by the artist c.1955)
John Richardson, New York
Triton Foundation Collection, The Netherlands (acquired from the above December 1999)
Basel, Kunstmuseum, Douglas Cooper and the Masters of Cubism, 22 November 1987 - 17 January 1988; London, Tate Gallery, 3 February - 4 April 1988
Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Picasso, Braque, Léger, Gris: Douglas Cooper Collecting Cubism, 14 October - 30 December 1990; Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 31 January - 21 April 1991
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Braque, The Late Works, 23 January - 6 April 1997; Houston, The Menil Collection, 25 April - 31 August 1997
The Hague, Gemeentemuseum, Parijs, Stad van de moderne kunst 1900-1960, 15 October 2011 - 29 January 2012
Rotterdam, Kunsthal, De collectie van de Triton Foundation, 7 October 2012 - 20 January 2013
S. van Heugten, Avant-gardes, 1870 to the present: The Collection of the Triton Foundation, Mercatorfonds, Brussels, 2012, p.540 (illus. p.425)
Dorothy M. Kosinski, John Richardson, Douglas Cooper and the Masters of Cubism (exhibition catalogue), Kunstmuseum Basel, 1987, no.8, p.200 (illus. p.74)
Dorothy M. Kosinski, John Richardson, Picasso, Braque, Léger, Gris: Douglas Cooper Collecting Cubism (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1990, no.9
John Golding, Sophie Bowness & Isabelle Monod-Fontaine, Braque, The Late Works (exhibition catalogue), Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1997, no.30, p.96 (illus. p.97)
Franz-W. Kaiser, Parijs, Stad van de moderne kunst 1900-1960 (exhibition catalogue), Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, 2011, p.122 (illus. p.204)