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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