The girl ran by on winged feet...faster than a Scythian arrow...Running itself made her beautiful. The wings on her speeding feet flew on the wind, her hair was lifted from her ivory shoulders, bright ribbons at her knees streamed behind her, and her fair skin glowed with a rosy hue.

Ovid, The Metamorphoses

Atalante

In 1961, Georges Braque began working on a collection of jewelry and small sculptures based on the myths recounted in Ovid's epic poem, The Metamorphoses. The tale of the Arcadian heroine Atalanta (Atalante is a variant spelling) appears in Book Ten, in which Venus, who has fallen in love with Adonis and is accompanying him on a hunting expedition, tells the story of Atalanta while the two rest under a tree, as a warning to Adonis about not heeding advice from the gods.

Braque was surely entranced by the legend of Atalanta, a virgin huntress, known for her swiftness and ability to compete with men (her name may originate from the Greek word atalantos, meaning “equal in weight”). An oracle warned Atalanta that she would be doomed if she were to ever marry. Whenever a suitor approached her, she declared: “You cannot have me unless you defeat me in a race. Bid for me with your feet! To the swift, my hand and bed will be the prize; to the slow, the prize is death!”

Countless men were put to death for trying and failing to win over Atalanta, until Hippomenes challenged her after being taken with her beauty and strength. Knowing he wouldn't be able to outrun Atalanta, Hippomenes asked Venus to help him—she supplied him with three golden apples, which he used during the race to distract Atalanta when she would get ahead.

I couldn't portray a women in all her natural loveliness..I haven't the skill. No one has. I must, therefore, create a new sort of beauty, the beauty that appears to me in terms of volume of line, of mass, of weight, and through that beauty interpret my subjective impression...I want to express the absolute, not merely the factitious woman.
George Braque
Atalanta and Hippomenes by Guido Reni, 1620–1625

Hippomenes ends up winning the race and Atalanta's hand in marriage, though, failing to properly pay tribute to Venus for aiding his victory, both are transformed into lions as punishment.

Braque's expressive illustrations of the myths of The Metamorphoses occupied him in the last years of his life. His depiction of Atalanta, with wind-blown hair, elegant proportions and winged feet, is an especially ecstatic distillation of his artistic legacy of grounded, organic forms, suffused with an internal rhythm and spirit.

The Transformation of Georges Braque

Late-Era Jewelry from an Artist of Mythic Proportions

In 1961 Georges Braque, already one of the most famous and respected painters of the 20th century, began designing jewelry in collaboration with goldsmith Baron Héger de Loewenfeld. The resulting collection, Metamorphoses, was inspired by Ovid's epic narrative poem of the same name, which chronicles the history of the world through the telling of 250 myths. The works first debuted at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs at the Louvre in 1962 and traveled to New York in the summer of 1963. Braque passed away later that year, leaving de Loewenfeld, who Braque once called an "extension of [his] hand," to carry out the production of the jewelry collection, as based on detailed gouaches Braque left behind.

Debut of Braque's collection of jewelry and small sculptures at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris in 1962
Gouache depicting the Hermes brooch by Braque
Braque's depiction of Atalante

The stunning works that comprise Metamorphoses illustrate the changes Braque underwent as an artist over his long career. A sense of movement and transformation informs the pieces and Braque's distinctive and visionary take on playing with planar perspective and building up a whole through its parts is on full display in these jewelry designs. The departure from his oeuvre is in his focus on iconography and direct representation, which he often avoided. The simple, expressive depictions of Greek gods and goddesses, birds in flight, and darting fish in the collection speak to Braque's mastery and artistic intuition, while also showing his joie de vivre toward continuously expanding upon his seismic body of work, right up until his death. Braque takes the colossal, airy myths of history and grounds them in organic, approachable forms, tactile surfaces and refined materials, creating epic tales that you can wear and carry with you.

Braque and de Loewenfeld with a selection of works from the Metamorphoses collection