Houses at l'Estaque is an important work in the foundation of Cubism, even inspiring the movement’s name. It was painted by Georges Braque in oil on canvas during the summer of 1908.
Braque’s works of this period marked a stylistic change toward muted colour palettes and simple geometric forms.
Art critic Louis Vauxcelles commented that Braque reduced everything in his painting to cubes, leading to the adoption of the label Cubism several years later.
This work is one of several paintings Braque produced of the village of L’Estaque in France. It was a popular subject among artists, especially Impressionists. Paul Cézanne in particular painted many pieces depicting the area.
Following Cézanne’s death in 1906, a large exhibit of his works was shown in Paris the next year. This exhibition was an important inspiration for Braque and other Cubist painters.
Until this point, Braque had been painting in the Fauvist style, but, after seeing Cézanne’s work, began to experiment, as seen in this piece. Houses at l'Estaque uses a muted, earthy colour palette, which became a staple of Braque’s work.
He has also broken the traditional rules of perspective: there is no central vanishing point and the foreground is impossible to distinguish from the background.
Most important, though, is the simplification of the houses and trees in the painting to their barest geometric forms, while paradoxically using shading to create depth within these shapes.
While there is some debate as to whether this was the first Cubist landscape or simply a precursor to true Cubism, these elements form the basis of the Cubist style.
Braque’s experimental works were initially ill-received, with his series of six landscapes of l’Estaque, including this piece, knocked back by the Salon d'Automne.
They were later shown at Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler's gallery in Paris. In the following years, Braque began to work in partnership with Pablo Picasso, who had developed a similar style. Together the two established Cubism, which proved to be the most prolific movement of the 20th century.