• France, collection particulière
Artist, Writer, Critic
One of the founders of Cubism, a painter as well as a professor, art critic, and theoretician, André Lhote counts among the figures who left their mark on early 20th century art. Originally from a modest Bordeaux family, the young man did an apprenticeship in a cabinet-making workshop while following courses at the School of Fine Arts in Bordeaux. At the age of twenty-one, he chose to devote himself exclusively to painting. Gauguin triggered the young painter’s first artistic passion and Cézanne was a revelation. The latter master’s retrospective at the Autumn Salon of 1911 in Aix-en-Provence pulled the young Lhote into cubism. Influenced as much by mural painting as by the primitive art which he had collected since his youth. Lhote embraced the movement very personally. Lhote was a proponent of synthetic cubism with assorted bright colors and constructed compositions whose subjects were always identifiable.
As an art critic associated with the Nouvelle Revue Français from the beginning of the publication, André Lhote maintained a life-long correspondence with its director and friend, Jean Paulhan. A demanding theorist at the forefront of reflection on painting and art’s place in society, Lhote published many keenly and precisely written texts. The artist, who exhibited regularly in France and in foreign countries, starting in the 1920’s, opened his first studio in 1922 on rue d’Odessa. Among the students most influenced by him were Tamara de Lempicka, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Georges Rickey, and Aurélie Nemours. Lhote alternated his life in Paris with travels and sojourns in southern France. He installed his Summer Academy in Mirmande (Drôme), then bought a house in Gordes where he sheltered Chagall during World War II.
Woman in her Dressing Room was created during the war. While his work as a landscape painter went through successive phases, his work on the human figure remained consistent throughout his career. Lhôte exclusively explored the female figure in a quest focused on form. Seated beside a table on which are a pitcher and basin, the sitter reaches down to her ankle as she leans forward with her legs crossed. “The secret of art lies not in the degree to which a painted figure resembles the living object, but in that from which it differs,” wrote the artist who conceived his picture as a juxtaposition of forms combining straight lines and ellipses.
Lhote extolled art that was constructed and premeditated as opposed fleeting inspiration which he considered baseless. His composition was perfectly structured and held together by a system of harmonious chromatics. In our painting, Lhote displayed his qualities as a colorist accustomed to reducing his chromatic range and playing on the intensity of values to modulate light without ever seeking volume, which, like three-dimensionality, movement, and perspective, was banished from his vocabulary. The painter limited his palette here to a few fundamentals which he broke down into flatly juxtaposed neighboring hues. Fleshtones are drawn with pink tinted with ochre or veering to violet. Blue-grey supports shadows, the bench and wall in the background. Orangey ochres complete this range of pastels parcimoniously heightened by bright colors – the red of the vest, blue in a shadow in the hair.
“Innocent tonal freshness and the virginal fling of a line are the prerogatives of the old artist who can allow himself to take this liberty,” wrote Lhote in his Traité de la figure (Treatise on the Figure) in 1950. Even with the most sensual subjects, such as getting dressed or undressed, the painter did not seek to enter his sitter’s psychological state. As opposed to Picasso, he did not primarily conceive his Woman in her Dressing Room as an expression of desire. Without deviating from a sensitive silent gracefulness, our gouache is first and foremost a demonstration of how purity of line and equilibrium between structure and color result in formal masterpieces. The artist, who willingly worked in gouache, did not establish a hierarchy between different versions of the same œuvre. He could thus consider a drawing more finished than an oil painting. He produced a version in oil of Woman in her Dressing Room in a larger format with the composition re-centered on the figure. Today this work, acquired by the State in 1943, is on permanent loan to the Museum of Modern Art in Granville.
General Bibliography (Unpublished Work)
Jean-Roch BOUILLER, Définir et juger l’art moderne: les écrits d’André Lhote (1885-1962), Doctoral Thesis, University of Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne, 2004.
Hélène MOULIN, François FOSSIER, André Lhote, 1885-1962, exh. cat., Valence Museum, 2003.
Paulhan-Lhote. Correspondance. 1919-1961, Paris, Gallimard, 2009.
André LHOTE, Traités du paysage et de la figure, new expanded edition. Paris, Grasset, 1958.