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Details & Cataloguing

Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale

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Emile Othon Friesz
1879 - 1949
LA CIOTAT
signed Othon Friesz and dated 07 (lower right)
oil on canvas
65.7 by 81cm., 25 3/4 by 31 7/8 in.
Painted in 1907.
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Provenance

Galerie Druet, Paris (by circa 1914)
Private Collection, Norway (by 1950)
Private Collection, Oslo (sale: Blomqvist, Oslo, 24th October 1994, lot 35)
Private Collection (purchased from the above sale; sale: Christie’s, London, 28th June 2000, lot 25)
Galerie Larock-Granoff, Paris (purchased at the above sale)
Private Collection, Europe (acquired from the above)
Acquired from the above by the present owner

Exhibited

Lodève, Musée de Lodève, Braque-Friesz, 2005, no. 20, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (titled Les Arbres–La Ciotat)
Roubaix, La Piscine-musée d’Art et d’Industrie André Diligent; Céret, Musée d’art moderne & Le Havre, Musée d’art moderne Malraux, Othon Friesz. Le fauve baroque, 2007-08, no. 69, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (titled Cassis, été and with erroneous dimensions)
Marseilles, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Le Grand Atelier du Midi, de Van Gogh à Bonnard, 2013, no. 41, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Catalogue Note

Fauvism is perhaps the shortest but most highly consequential art movement of the twentieth century. Attributed to the years between 1905 and 1910, Fauvism would continue to influence art for decades to come, paving the way for Cubism and German Expressionism. Its beginnings lay in the experimentations of Henri Matisse, widely regarded as the movement’s principal founder. Matisse prescribed to the belief that personal expression was one of the most essential attributes of a truly great painter; he lent on colour as a means of establishing a deliberate sense of mood in his works. In 1905 he exhibited alongside Derain, Vlaminck, Manguin and Marquet (by then all practicing in a similar vein) at the Salon d’Automne, held at the Grand Palais in Paris. The contrast of their collective works—vivid and saturated in colour— with a certain traditional Italianate sculptural bust, prompted art critic Louis Vauxcelles to describe the scene as ‘Donatello parmi les Fauves’ (‘Donatello among the wild beasts’). Therein, the name— and the movement— was coined.

Émile-Othon Friesz was one of the later additions to the Fauve group. During the seminal 1905 exhibition, Friesz was exhibiting in another hall, unconnected with the bold expressionism being practiced by a few of his fellow artists. It was only when Friesz and his close friend Braque travelled together to Antwerp, and perhaps emboldened by collaborative experimentation, that they both began to liberate their practiced techniques and test the bounds of colour and atmosphere. John Elderfield observed: ‘In 1906, Braque and Friesz were not even at the stage of colorful subjects... It was only when the pair travelled south, as their colleagues had done before, that their color was fully liberated from the atmospheric and the impressionist and their Fauve styles were fully established’ (John Elderfield, Fauvism and its Affinities, New York, 1976, p. 79). 

Friesz and Braque sat side by side, painting the same views and each challenging the other to paint with the most radical colours and the least commitment to literal representation possible. Following their summer in Antwerp, they travelled to Paris and then on to La Ciotat in the South of France. It was here, away from the city views and sounds, where their focus on expressions of light intensified. The influence of the Mediterranean hues is demonstrated in their move away from the more acid palette employed in their depictions of Antwerp, to a gentler one. Indeed, their compositions of La Ciotat and L’Estaque, further up the coast, count among the most harmonious and beautiful of the Fauve pictures. It has been observed of Friesz and Braque: ‘The winter period of 1906-07 spent in the South of France was the time when Fauvism with both artists grew exalted and reached full blossoming’ (Braque-Friesz (exhibition catalogue), Musée de Lodève, Lodève, 2005, p. 51).

The present work depicts a glimpse through the trees of the town of La Ciotat basked in a warm Mediterranean glow. While it is a wonderful example of the expressive and evocative use of colour for which Fauvism is renowned, it also demonstrates a pivotal moment in Friesz’s Fauve style where he begins to reintroduce the influences of Paul Cézanne into his work. Cézanne had died in 1906 and an exhibition of his work in 1907 brought his distinctive style once more to the fore. Friesz had long respected Cézanne’s commitment to logical composition and articulated separation of planes. In the present work, vertical trees rhythmically break up the horizon, while mountain and sea counter with horizontal lines. This is in direct contrast to some of his and Braque’s other works, where form comes second to colour, such as in the latter’s Arbres à La Ciotat, dating to the same year (fig. 2).

This re-evaluation of the work of Cézanne was a natural progression for both Friesz and Braque who instinctively began to sense a limit to the sole use of unbridled colour. Braque explained in 1908: ‘The first year, it was pure enthusiasm, the astonishment of a Parisian man discovering the Mediterranean. The following year, things had already changed… One cannot count on enthusiasm for more than ten months’ (quoted in Jean Paulhan, Braque le Patron, Paris, 1946, pp. 34-35). And so it was that Fauvism began to reach a natural conclusion as the wild beasts sought expression in different manners. Friesz in fact returned to a more Impressionist style with a particular focus on form. His Fauve period, however, produced some of his most exalted and brilliant paintings, of which the present work is one such example.

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