la vie en l'olivier

la vie en l'olivier

Georges Braque’s painting Olive Tree near l'Estaque is one so stark and beautiful, perhaps it was this intense beauty that, sadly, led to the piece’s disappearance when it caught the eye of a skilled Parisian burglar .

With ever-improving technology, it is rare to hear of a heist nowadays—especially one involving over one hundred million dollars in fine art. This notion, however, did not intimidate Vjeran Tomic (also known as the Spider-Man of Paris) when he strategized his break-in at Musée d'Art Moderne de Paris (MAM Paris) in May of 2010. 

Tomic worked for six evenings, chipping away at the museum window. When he finally broke inside, he left with five paintings: a Picasso, a Modigliani, a Léger, a Matisse, and Braque’s Olive Tree near l'Estaque. He seamlessly packed the paintings in his car and slipped away, free of suspicion while single-handedly conducting the biggest art heist in French history.

analysis and reflections

Braque painted the Olive Tree near l'Estaque upon moving to the small coastal village in the South of France. He was a young artist and had adopted the characteristics of Fauvism in his early works, given its popularity and strong influence from Matisse. Braque would later become the leading figure in pioneering the Cubist movement alongside Picasso, which helped him gain tremendous recognition for his extensive artistic abilities.

Fauvist characteristics contribute to the bold lines and acidic colors of Olive Tree near l'Estaque. The fiery summer sun is one of the most evident elements in this piece, bringing about a sense of warmth and nostalgia.

A colorful olive tree in the foreground immediately draws the eye. We particularly love the subtle splotches of green, red, and pink along its trunk. Braque was not swayed by rules and reality; he added colors as he saw fit, despite it being unusual for a tree trunk to boast such hues.

Georges Braque, L'Olivier près de l'Estaque (The Olive Tree near l'Estaque), 1906

Past the foreground and across the hillsides, notice that Braque was not just accompanied by one olive tree in L'Estaque, France but dozens. We can only imagine taking a stroll through this olive grove ourselves. While undoubtedly captivating in real life, Braque’s unique take on this scene makes the grove feel much more ethereal than other depictions.

The very foundation of Zimms is rooted in the olive grove, and while we have strolled through our grove numerous times, we must admit that we have yet to view it through the same colored lens  as Braque. It teaches us that perhaps true beauty (the kind we all long to see engulf our days) doesn’t lie in the existence of our immediate surroundings but in the way we perceive them: the colors that penetrate through, the stillness that can be found, and the impermanence of every single moment.

The unique way Braque perceived his surroundings is what made his work world renowned and this painting, specifically, so highly coveted that it fell prey to one of the largest heists in art history.

Unfortunately, the paintings Tomic stole that evening have never been found. After retrieving the artworks, Tomic handed them off to antique art dealers Jean-Michel Corves and Yonathan Birn. When prosecuted, Birn (who stored the paintings) told the court he destroyed all five pieces out of fear of getting caught. In tears, he repeated three times, “I made the worst mistake of my existence.”

To this day, many question the truth of Birn’s statements, believing he still has the paintings secretly stowed away somewhere. We can only hope those theories are true, that all the paintings—especially Olive Tree near l'Estaque—were not destroyed, and that somewhere, someday, they will resurface and return to their rightful place on the walls of Musée d'Art Moderne de Paris for posterity to enjoy for ages to come.
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