Georges Braque: A Life by Alex Danchev - review by John McEwen

John McEwen

Bric-A-Brac Painter

Georges Braque: A Life


Hamish Hamilton 414pp £35

This is the first full-length biography of Georges Braque (1882–1963), who is described in one of Alex Danchev’s more felicitous phrases as ‘the third man’ of modern art – in the Graham Greene sense that he was elusive, while also one of the big three with Picasso and Matisse. And that seems to be his fate.

Over a quarter of this book details its research – appendices, notes, bibliography, etc; but for all Danchev’s efforts (and too effortful prose), Braque remains a shadowy figure. We learn a commendable amount about what made him tick as an artist, but, owing to Braque’s discretion, not much about the nitty-gritty of his life. ‘Of course, there are anecdotes,’ Braque’s friend the writer and curator Jean Leymarie said, ‘but they are secret.’ When Braque delivered the ‘authorised version’ of his autobiography in a series of interviews for Cahiers d’art in 1954, he refused to allow the twelve-hour marathon (the product of a series of one-hour evening meetings) to be tape-recorded. ‘Even as a young man he conveyed a strict injunction: no gossip,’ writes Danchev.

To offset this uneventfulness, the book begins with a bang – a literal one, and the most shocking incident of Braque’s life

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RLF - March