Othon Friesz
Biography of French Fauvist Painter.

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The Seine at Paris, Pont de Grenelle
(1901-4) Glasgow Museums. One of
Friesz's famous landscape paintings
executed in his more muted style.

Othon Friesz (1879–1949)


Early Life and Training
Fauvism: Strong Colours, Broad Brushstrokes
Colour Becomes Less Important
Mature Style of Painting
Final Years
Selected Paintings

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Achille-Emile Othon Friesz was an Academy-trained French painter who dabbled first with Impressionism, before turning to the avant-garde art movement known as Fauvism, during the 1900s, after which he settled into a more traditional style of painting. Although his most innovative work was created during his early involvement with the Fauves (wild beasts), he later became a respected teacher of academic art, paying due regard to the traditions of Nicolas Poussin, Jean Chardin and Camille Corot, while also following Cezanne's ideas on composition, tonality, and solidity of volume. In addition to his fine art painting - which included landscapes, portraits, figure paintings and still lifes - he is noted for his book illustration and tapestry art. Regarded today as an eminent contributor to French painting, his absence from the top ranks of 20th century painters is due to a perception that he lacked the creativity to make use of his enormous natural talent.

Early Life and Training

Born in Le Havre, Friesz was educated at the Lycee and also attended evening classes at the municipal art college, where he met his lifelong friend Raoul Dufy, another native of the city. Along with Dufy he trained at the Le Havre School of Fine Arts (1895-97) under Charles Lhuillier - a former pupil of J.A.D.Ingres - before receiving a grant to study in Paris. In 1899 he enrolled at the Parisian Ecole des Beaux Arts, where he worked until 1904, under the celebrated Professor Leon Bonnat (1833-1922). It was during his time at the School of Fine Arts that he first met Henri Matisse, who was about to paint his masterpiece Luxe, Calme et Volupte (1904, Musee d'Orsay).




Despite being drawn into Matisse's circle of modern artists, Friesz's early style was Impressionist, under the influence of Picasso and the Impressionist painter Armand Guillaumin (1841-1927). He had his first solo art exhibition in 1904, at the Galerie des Collectionneurs, Paris. At the same time he began showing work at the Salon: he exhibited in the Salon des Independants from 1903 and in the Salon d'Automne from 1904, including the seminal 1905 show.

Fauvism: Strong Colours, Broad Brushstrokes

In 1905, after several painting trips to the South of France, Friesz fell under the influence of Matisse's style of Fauvism, and devoted himself to the study of pure colour. He began to use stronger colours, and developed broader brushstrokes. In 1905 he painted in La Ciotat, mid-way between Marseilles and Toulon, in 1906 he was with Dufy at Falaise and with Georges Braque in Antwerp. In Paris, he met other Fauvist painters including Andre Derain (1880-1954), his friend Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958), the Dutchman Kees van Dongen (1877-1968), the devout Georges Rouault (1871-1958), and the Seine-painter Albert Marquet (1875-1947). He exhibited with the group in 1906 and 1907, and it was during this brief period that he shared a studio in Montmartre with Dufy, and created his best work, full of brilliant colour and imaginative lines. In 1906 he signed a contract with the Druet Gallery, which took charge of all his paintings. For more about how Fauvism contributed to the expressionist movement, see: History of Expressionism (1880-1930).

Colour Becomes Less Important

In 1907, as the novelty and excitement of Fauvism wore off, Friesz like several other Fauvist artists changed course and pursued a less colourful style of painting. Under the influence of Cezanne (1839-1906) - who had just died and whose work had been the subject of a major exhibition in 1907 at the Salon d'Automne, Friesz began to give more priority to composition and form. In 1908 he left Paris and returned to Le Havre, determined to emulate the more structured approach of Cezanne. In 1909 he went to Munich with Dufy where he painted rigidly structured urban views which already show a noticeable estrangement from the use of pure colour pigments. In fact, unlike Vlaminck or Van Dongen, both of whom later became involved in the expressionist movement, Friesz had never enjoyed violent contrasts. His colouring always remained relatively discreet and his forms, circumscribed by curbing outlines, never entirely freed themselves from their connections with tradition. Now, under Cezanne's influence, his 20th century painting was transformed: as he said: "1908 marks for me the end of the observation of so-called pure colour which had begun in 1904. Colour ceased to dominate the canvas, form reappeared in light and volume."

Mature Style of Painting

Following a painting trip to Portugal in 1911, Friesz settled on what was to become his signature method: a traditional but looser, style of oil painting. In 1912 he opened his own studio where he taught until the outbreak of war in 1914. He served in the French army until the Armistice, whereupon he returned to Paris. During the 1920s he spend extended periods working in the South of France, at Toulon and in Provence. From 1929 he enjoyed an influential career as an academic Professor at the Academie Scandinave in Paris - and later, during the early 1940s at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere.

Final Years

By the eve of World War II, his paintings were widely exhibited, and purchased by collectors (like the Russian Ivan Morozov) and prestigious museums around the world. In 1940, in collaboration with his longtime friend Dufy, he finished a large mural painting in the Palais de Chaillot, Paris. After the war, he often painted at Honfleur on the Normandy coast. During the last two decades, he produced a number of book illustrations and tapestry designs. He died in Paris, a month short of his 70th birthday. He was interred at the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris.

Selected Paintings

Works by Othon Friesz can be seen in some of the world's best art museums. Here is a short selection.

- The Seine at Paris, Pont de Grenelle (1901) Glasgow Museums.
- The Castle of Falaise, Evening (1904) Tate Gallery, London.
- Autumn Works (1907) Hermitage, St Petersburg.
- Sunday at Honfleur (1907) Musee Toulouse-Lautrec, Albi.
- Portrait of Fernand Fleuret (1907) National Museum of Modern Art, Paris.
- Roofs and Cathedral in Rouen (1908) Hermitage, St Petersburg.
- Hill (1908) Hermitage, St Petersburg.
- Still Life with a Statuette of Buddha (1909) Hermitage, St P.
- Landscape with Figures (1909) Museum of Modern Art, New York.
- Flowers Still-Life (1910) Hermitage, St P.
- Temptation (Adam and Eve) (c.1910) Hermitage, St P.
- The Sunken Road in Winther (1913) SMK National Museum of Denmark.
- The Woman on the Green Sofa (1927) Private Collection, Paris.
- Portrait of Karin (1939) Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

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