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Les Arbres, Printemps / Trees, Spring



(Achille-Émile-)Othon Friesz (1879-1949)
Les Arbres, Printemps / Trees, Spring
oil on canvas
AGLC 298 @ A.G Leventis Gallery

Othon Friesz, son of a long line of voyagers and master mariners, was born in 1879, in Le Havre, like his friend Raoul Dufy (1877-1953). He soon went to Paris and in 1897 began his studies at the École des Beaux-Arts under Léon Bonnat (1833-1922), as did Dufy. However, not unlike many young artists before him and a great number of his contemporaries, including Georges Rouault (1871-1958), Albert Marquet (1875-1947) and Henri Matisse (1869-1954), who were all taught by Gustave Moreau (1826-1898), Friesz’s eye and style were formed more by copying the Old Masters at the Louvre, by working from nature, and by observing the proponents of a newly established avant-garde: the Impressionists and the younger generation represented by Paul Gauguin (18481903) and Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). Friends and acquaintances from the Paris Salons, and especially the famous Salon d’Automne of 1905, turned him into a Fauve, like Matisse, André Derain (1880-1954), Kees van Dongen (1877-1958) and Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958); indeed, Friesz’s work was exhibited at the Salon d’Automne not far from the famous Salle VII, where a critic, taken aback by the modernity of the young artists, felt he had to warn the public of their excesses. Friesz painted views of harbours – Honfleur, Anvers and La Ciotat, where he stayed with Georges Braque (1882-1963) – as well as people, monumental figures in landscapes or circus performers. As in the case of many Fauves, the teachings of Paul Cézanne and a tradition dating back to Paolo Veronese (15281588) and Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) combined to provide structure to the young painter’s art, yet without leading him as far as Cubism. Very quickly, the brilliance of his Fauvist palette evolved into a more muted harmony, dominated by a range of earthy tones. 

Picking up his paint brush again after the longinterlude of World War I, Friesz prolonged thisexperience by underlining his desire to revive atradition, but without becoming a slave to formulae.His prolific – at times even excessive – productionduring the interwar period brought him success,yet did not shelter him from financial woes, theconsequence of an extravagant lifestyle. He alsobecame an influential teacher.Dated 1940 and given the title Les Arbres, Printempsby the artist, this landscape was probably paintedin Honfleur, near Le Havre, where Friesz stayedregularly. Inspired by a commonplace motif, theelderly painter – his hand still steady and quick –played skilfully with a dark palette, brightened byochre and orange to express the dazzling sight ofthe renewal of vegetation.

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About the artist

He studied in Le Havre, where he met Raoul Dufy (who became a lifelong friend), and at the École des Beaux- Arts in Paris. After his early paintings in an Impressionist style, he joined the Fauves, but soon embraced a more traditional style under the influence of Paul Cézanne. After a visit to Portugal in 1911, he adopted a looser, freer handling. He painted landscapes, harbours, figures and still lifes, and was also an illustrator, designer and influential teacher.

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