French painter and draughtsman. Although he was born at Le Mans, where his father, an officer in the French army, was temporarily stationed, he came from an aristocratic family whose ancestral home, the Château de la Fresnaye, was near Falaise. His education, which was thorough and classically based, was followed by studies in Paris at the Académie Julian (1903–4) and at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts (1904–5 and 1906–8); from 1908 he studied at the Académie Ranson under Maurice Denis and Paul Sérusier, whose joint influence is evident in early works such as Woman with Chrysanthemums (1909; Paris, Pompidou), which has the dreamlike Symbolist atmosphere and stylization characteristic of work by the Nabis.
In 1909 La Fresnaye travelled to Munich, where he came briefly under the influence of Expressionism in paintings such as Entry to the Village (1910; Troyes, Mus. A. Mod.). From 1910 to 1911 he approached Cubism with the same reserve he showed towards all avant-garde artistic research, prompted by his reflections on the art of Cézanne, in paintings such as Landscape at La Ferté-sous-Jouarre (1911; Paris, Pompidou). His adherence to Cubism was initially expressed in the geometric simplification of his carefully balanced compositions, which unlike the more radical work of Braque and Picasso did not challenge Albertian perspective. The subject remains consistently recognizable in his early Cubist pictures, whether they treat landscapes or figures, as in The Cuirassier (1910–11; Paris, Pompidou), and he never succumbed to the temptation of abstraction. He was associated from 1911 with the Puteaux group, which met in the studio of Jacques Villon and which led later that year to the establishment of the Section d’Or, in whose exhibitions he took part. One of his most important contributions to the work of the group was his collaboration on the Maison Cubiste (exh. Paris, Salon d’Automne, 1912; see Seligman, 1969, p. 102) with Raymond Duchamp-Villon.
From 1913 until the outbreak of World War I, La Fresnaye sought to create a monumental coloured Cubism that resulted in some memorable compositions, such as Conquest of the Air (1914; New York, MOMA) and Fourteenth of July (1914; Paris, Pompidou), which were his most original contribution to the diverse manifestations of the movement. He came closest to abstraction in the simplification of the figure against coloured backgrounds in these and related works such as Seated Man (1913–14; Paris, Pompidou) and The Rower (1914; St Tropez, Mus. Annonciade). He enlisted in the army on the declaration of war, in spite of having been discharged from military service in 1905 because of pleurisy, but was sent home in 1918 with tuberculosis, having twice spat blood. His poor health prevented him from painting again until 1920, and from 1922 he was able only to draw. During this period, his creative output derived from several different aesthetic choices. The Cubist inheritance is always present, sometimes in conjunction with a more naturalistic figuration that recalls Pittura Metafisica and prefigures Surrealism, as in The Grooms (1922; Berne, Kstmus.), in which a number of male nudes and a white horse are placed within an Italianate setting of classical arcades. He also produced a large number of drawings, such as Two Reclining Nudes (pen and ink, c. 1922–3; Paris, Pompidou), that showed a sensitivity and sensuality without precedent in his work prior to 1914. His last drawings, portraits and above all self-portraits (1925; priv. cols; see Seligman, 1969, p. 270, nos 612–17) attest to a profound humanity and to a pathetic study of the ravages of disease in his own face.
From Grove Art Online
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