The piece depicts a variety of geometric shapes, layered to create the right-angled outline of a mantelpiece as if observed from a plurality of perspectives.
The vivid title of the painting attracts the viewer’s gaze to the objects depicted in the piece, and the sense of intoxication that can be associated with the rum bottle, signified by the letters ‘RHU’, serves to mirror the disorientating experience of viewing it.
Braque clearly uses this composition to explore his interest in musical themes. While the painting depicts a clarinet, the word ‘Valse’, meaning ‘waltz', appears just below the centre of the composition.
Moreover, alongside a scattering of shapes which resemble musical notes and treble and bass clefs, the headstock of a cello is visible at the bottom-right of the piece.
Clarinet and Bottle of Rum on a Mantelpiece was composed during the early stages of Braque’s career.
The body of work which Braque produced between the years 1908 and 1912 bears a striking resemblance to that of his more famous contemporary Pablo Picasso, and this particular piece was painted while the artist was holidaying with Picasso in the French Pyrenees.
As with other works such as Mandora (1909-10), Glass on a Table (1909-10) and Bottle and Fishes (1910-12), Clarinet and Bottle of Rum on a Mantelpiece is a composition which possesses a variety of characteristics that we can associate with Cubism – a movement which Braque pioneered alongside his contemporaries.
However, this work is especially interesting for the way in which it gestures towards how Braque was to develop as an artist and, in some senses, it can be considered to encapsulate the very nature of his aesthetic.
While the mantelpiece theme dominated his thought and subject matter during the early twenties, the still life genre was a form which Braque evoked and manipulated throughout his entire career.