Georges Braque painted Homage to J. S. Bach toward the end of a period of several months in which Pablo Picasso and he worked very closely together, producing paintings in a style that has become known as Analytic Cubism. In Analytic Cubism, space is very compressed and shallow, colors are reduced to a palette of tans and grays, and identifiable subject matter – here, the parts of a violin – appears only in flickering moments.
With this painting Braque introduced imitation wood grain to Cubism. He had learned this technique while working as a housepainter, and the Cubist practice of stenciling letters – here, BACH, J, and S – was also inspired by Braque’s commercial training. Picasso and Braque employed multiple modes of representation simultaneously. In this work, Braque combined virtuoso illusionistic wood grain with linguistic references and near abstraction.
Braque was trained as a classical musician, and he thought musical instruments added a tactile dimension to the visual image. “The distinctive feature of the musical instrument as an object,” he said, “is that it comes alive to the touch.” Johann Sebastian Bach, whose polyphonic compositions may be seen as musical analogues to the shifting planes and multiple perspectives of Analytic Cubism, was one of Braque’s favorite composers.
Rare for his work of this period, Braque signed his name prominently on the painting’s face, perhaps to invite the slippage of sound between the composer’s name and his own.
Braque died on 31 August 1963 in Paris. He is buried in the cemetery of the Church of St. Valery in Varengeville-sur-Mer, Normandy, whose windows he designed. Braque’s work is in most major museums throughout the world.