Private Collection, United States
Achille-Émile Othon Friesz, later known as Othon Friesz, was born in Le Havre in 1879, into a family of shipbuilders and sea captains. As a child, he met Raoul Dufy, who became his lifelong friend and fellow artist. Friesz’s parents encouraged his natural flare for painting and enabled him to enrol at L’École des Beaux Arts in Le Havre 1892, where he would receive a traditional art education, with Dufy at his side. He studied under the famed Charles-Marie L’Hullier, one of Monet’s former students.
It was at art school that Friesz met George Braque, with whom he travelled and became friends. In 1897 Friesz won a scholarship to study under Léon Bonnat at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Whilst he was there, he associated and learned with acclaimed painters such as Henri Charles Manguin, Albert Marquet, Henri Matisse and Charles Camoin. His friendship with Camille Pissaro, by whom Friesz was much inspired, was especially formative for his painting style.
Over the next few years, Friesz became caught up in the excitement of a new art movement that was happening in Paris; Fauvism. The name “les fauves” (the wild beasts) was coined by the art critic Louis Vauxcelles when he saw the work of Henri Matisse and André Derain at the Salon d’Automne in Paris, in 1905. The paintings Derain and Matisse exhibited were the result of a summer spent working together in Collioure in the South of France and were made using bold, non-naturalistic colours (often applied directly from the tube), and wild loose dabs of paint. The forms of the subjects were also simplified, in a move towards abstract art. Georges Braque, Georges Rouault, and Maurice de Vlaminck were included in this group of artists, as well as Friesz, and his friend Raoul Dufy.
Friesz became well known as a Fauvist, and travelled extensively, in Portugal and Germany amongst others. He participated in exhibitions not only throughout Europe but also in the Armory Show in New York, and one in Chicago, and taught between 1912 and 1921 at the Académie Moderne in Paris, from 1925 at the Académie Scandinave and from 1944 at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. Perhaps Friesz’s most successful and well-known accomplishment was the decoration he made in collaboration with Raoul Dufy for the Palais de Chaillot on the occasion of the World Fair in Paris in 1937.