Painting Review: Georges Braque – Clarinet and Bottle of Rum on a Mantelpiece 1911

Following on from my Cubism Research, and in preparation for assignment 5 annotations I have decided to research Georges Braque’s Clarinet and Bottle of Rum on a Mantelpiece 1911. The obvious choice of Cubist painting to annotate would be a Picasso which is precisely why I choose one by Braque. Picasso is the household name of Cubism but it seems from my research that they participated fairly evenly in the collaboration, even at times so closely as to be indistinguishable. This was the period known as ‘Analytical Cubism’. Additionally, I could go and see this one in person which always helps me!

I tried to keep in mind Terry Smith’s four ways of looking as per assignment 3 feedback. I went to the Tate Modern to see it (apolgies for the wonky picture, there was a rope around an adjacent exhibit so I couldnt start square on to get the photo).

Georges Braque –
Clarinet and Bottle of Rum on a Mantelpiece (Clarinette et bouteille de rhum sur une cheminée),
1911, Oil paint on canvas, Support: 810 x 600 mm
frame: 935 x 723 x 74 mm, Tate, Photo by Suzy Walker-Toye

Again, I’ve tried again to apply the techniques I learned in reading about the OU study diamond to this painting review. The grid format wasn’t that great for the blog so I’ve split into more of a questions and answers format.

Effects & techniques:

  1. What initially catches your eye? Where do you go next? And after that? The section in the middle triangle with the bottle, the clarinet & scrolls of paper (?), then the writing Valse, then the glass.
  2. Where do you end up? Do your eyes stray away from the work altogether? Your eyes rove around the painting from plane to plane trying to make sense of what you’re looking at from one recognisable bit to the next to try and piece together what is there.
  3. Is there anything that you didn’t notice at first but saw later in your reading? I looked at it all but I still don’t understand many elements.
  4. Did your eyes keep coming back to a particular part of the art work? The little round bit under the clarinet because I know it should be recognise it but I’m still not sure what it is.
  5. Is there anything that you didn’t look at or thought wasn’t important? no.

Colour:

  1. Has a wide or narrow palette of colours been used? A very narrow colour palate typical of Analytical Cubism has been used to concentrate the viewer on the forms.
  2. Have contrasting colours been placed next to each other? Not really
  3. Are there more warm colours than cool colours or vice versa? slightly warm colours
  4. Would you describe the colours as being bright or dull? Are there more bright colours than dull colours (or vice versa)? The colours are muted and earthy to concentrate on the forms
  5. In what way is dark and light colour used? dark and light colour is used to separate the planes

I. How wide is the range of colour values featuring in the art work? Very wide from light to black

II. Are contrasting colour values present in the art work? Use of contrasting colour values pick out the various planes of the work. The light is not coming from any clear direction.

III. Are contrasting colour values used to model three-dimensional forms? Contrasting colour values are in places used to model three-dimensional forms, for example the clarinet mouthpiece and holes, which in this part of the painting is lit from above.

IV. In what way are the colour values distributed throughout the art work? In contrast to tradition paintins where the distribution of the colour values helps pull your eye around the composition, light here is used almost randomly to separate the various planes and sections.

Medium:

  1. Does the medium impose any limitations on the way the artist works, or allow any particular effects? The oil paint has been applied in various ways across the surface of the painting. Thinly in places, for example at the edges where you can see the the texture of the canvas. The black lines and white space opaque smooth:
    [Detail 1] Georges Braque – Clarinet and Bottle of Rum on a Mantelpiece,
    1911, Tate, Photo by Suzy Walker-Toye
    and some parts are rather more thickly applied it little dabbing brushstrokes for texture:
    [Detail 2] Georges Braque – Clarinet and Bottle of Rum on a Mantelpiece,
    1911, Tate, Photo by Suzy Walker-Toye
  2. Is the medium used unconventionally or is the medium itself unconventional and, if so, does this contribute to the expressive effect of the art work? It doesn’t seem very conventional, but nothing about Cubism is!
  3. Does the medium used suggest a particular mood? the planes sort of shimmer above the canvas. its an odd effect.
  4. Does the medium used prompt the spectator to read the work in a particular way? yes, the different paint textures mean you associate different sections with different elements

Composition:

Representation of depth Technique: Effect:
(a) overlapping Y The scene feels 3 dimentional because of the many overlapping layers, but they dont overlap in a traditional sense. Its a bit confusing what object is what.
(b) diminishing scale N As far as I can tell there is no diminishing scale.
(c) atmospheric perspective N The space behind is a limited space of the mantelpiece so even if this was painted traditionally this would not have atmospheric perspective.
(d) vertical placement Y Yes, you can read the canvas from the bottom up to the bottle at the top.
(e) linear perspective N

Y

One of the tenants of Cubism is the abolishment of single point perspective to explore forms ‘plastically’

Looking at this a bit longer I’ve changed my mind here, there is linear perspective on one or two of the view points which are not immediately obvious.

(f) modelling Y there is a slight modelling on some aspects for example the curl of something in detail 1 picture above.

I found it hard to see just by looking and making a sketch helped me here:

The different view points overlay so its a bit confusing so here I’ve tried to break down what i see i my head as separate views. I started with the bottle, on which the scheme seems to rest on. it has serveral view on it. the most obvious being the frontal view, where you can also see the glass and the nail. I’ve left the clarinet out of this picture because i dont think it was placed behind the bottle on the mantelpiece.

Here is one view that i think sets out the main pieces in their places on the mantelpiece. I see the clarinet, the rum, a glass, a scroll of paper (probably sheet music given the words written on it) it looks to me like he has pages under the objects which jut out and overlap the edge of the mantelpiece.

Perspective view from the edge of the mantelpiece

Its possible that this view in blue below is the same scene from the other end of the mantelpiece.

this is my suspected bits of mantelpiece views, from all different directions including underneith to see the corbel.

 

 

 

here i thought these were scrolls of music sheet

Use of lines:

Directional lines (horizontal, vertical, and diagonal): There are plenty of diagonal lines radiating out and upwards from the bottom like a fan and a slight overall pyramidal feeling to the composition. The main elements are in an internal triangle section. Internally to that there are bisecting vertical planes and pieces (eg the Clarinet is horizontal and the bottle is vertical) and various little triangles made of overlapping planes of various textures and detail

Contour lines – can also be used to outline forms; such contour lines can be described in terms of their thickness and sharpness. There are thick contour lines all around the painting but many are for the contours of the plane not actual for an object as such.

Meaning – initial thoughts from the observed ‘evidence’/ Context & Meaning:

I’ve blocked these two together because without understanding the concepts Cubism it’s really hard to read the painting and understand any of its ‘evidence’ or even what you’re looking at.

In Harrison & Woods Art in theory 1900-2000 anthology there were quite a few articles which helped me understand this painting (and Cubism in general).

 

mostly I put my research straight into the annotations, the other painting review here and the main research notes page here.

References:

Berger, J. (2001) Selected Essays. New York: Vintage

Clark, K. (1960) Looking at Pictures. Holt Rinehart and Winston, New York

Cooper, D. (1972) Braque: The Great Years. The Art Institute of Chicago
Harrison, C. & Wood, P. (2003). Art in theory 1900-2000: an anthology of changing ideas. (New ed). Blackwell Publishers.

Honour, H & Fleming, J. (2009) A World History of Art. (7th Ed), London, Laurence King Publishing

 

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