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Mark Harden's Artchive Braque, Georges
Le Portugais (The Emigrant)
Ceret [and Paris], autumn 1911-early 1912
Oil on canvas
46 x 32 in. (117 x 81 cm.)
Kunstmuseum Basel
Romilly 80

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Golding, "Cubism, A History and an Analysis, 1907-1914":

"[I]n the spring of 1911 Braque introduced a new element into one of his paintings which was of vital significance. Across a painting entitled 'Le Portugais' Braque stencilled the letters BAL, and under them numerals. Braque had first introduced letters into a still life, probably of early 1910, but they are blended into the composition and have no function other than that of identifying as a newpaper the object over which they are painted...

"The stencilled letters and numebrs are assertions of [the realistic intentions of Cubism] - 'as part of a desire to come as close as possible to a certain kind of reality, in 1911 I introduced letters into my paintings', Braque has said - but the implications are wider. In 'Le Portugais' they fulfill several obvious functions. In the first place, in a style in which one of the fundamental problems had always been the reconciliation of solid form with the picture plane, the letters written or stenciled across the surface are the most conclusive way of emphasizing its two-dimensional character; Braque has stressed this when he said of the letters: 'they were forms which could not be distorted because, being quite flat, the letters existed outside space and their presence in the painting, by contrast, enabled one to distinguish between objects situated in space and those outside it.' In other words, Braque is in effect saying 'My picture is an object, a flat surface, and the spatial sensations it evokes are a painter's space which is intended to inform and not deceive.'...Secondly, the letters in Cubist painting always have some associative value;...Here the letters D and BAL (the D must be the last letter of the word GRAND) were probably suggested by a dance hall poster hanging in a bar, and help to convey a 'cafe' atmosphere. Then, in the 'Portugais' the letters have a purely compositional value, providing a terminal note for a system of ascending horizontal elements. Fourthly, they have a certain decorative value.

"But the stencilled letters and numbers have yet another effect on the paintings in that they serve to stress their quality as objects...For in the same way in which the number or title of a painting in an exhibition catalogue gives it an identity as a material object different from all others of the same type, so the letters and numbers on a Cubist painting serve to indiviualize it, to isolate it from all other paintings. Then, again, and in this they point ahead to the invention of collage, the letters and numerals stress the material existence of the painting in another way: by applying to a canvas or sheet of paper letters, other pieces of paper or fragments of glass or tin - elements generally considered to be foreign to the technique of painting or drawing - the artist makes the spectator conscious of the canvas, panel or paper as a material object capable of receiving and supporting other objects."