Roger de LA FRESNAYE
(Le Mans 1885 - Grasse 1925)
249 x 197 mm. (9 3/4 x 7 3/4 in.)
A stylistically comparable drawing - a schematic portrait of the artist Marie Laurencin, dated 1921 and drawn in ink - is in a private collection. Also similar is a pencil drawing of the head of a man, again dated 1921, which was formerly in the collection of Helena Rubinstein and was sold at auction in 1966. A similar pose is found in La Fresnaye’s self-portrait drawing of c.1919, which was on the art market in Geneva in 1969, as well as in a drawing of A Couple in Conversation of c.1920, in a private collection in New York.
The present sheet was once in the collection of the art dealer André Level (1863-1946), owner of the Galerie Percier in Paris. In 1904 Level founded the La Peau de l’Ours, the first modern art investment fund, for which he purchased several works by Pablo Picasso (with whom he enjoyed a close relationship), Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Matisse, Paul Gauguin, Edouard Vuillard, André Derain, Raoul Dufy and other artists. The collection was sold at auction in 1914 and achieved considerable financial success, quadrupling the initial investment.
The attribution of this drawing has been confirmed by André Schoeller.
Roger de La Fresnaye enrolled at the Académie Julian in Paris in 1903 before being admitted to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts the following year. In 1908, following military service, he entered the Académie Ranson in Paris, where he studied with Paul Serusier and Maurice Denis. From 1910 La Fresnaye began exhibiting yearly at both the Salon des Indépendants and the Salon d’Automne. Shortly thereafter he began to be associated with a group of artists known as the Puteaux group, later known as the Section d’Or, which also included Jacques Villon, Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger, Juan Gris, Fernand Leger, Robert Delaunay, Frantisek Kupka and Francis Picabia, among others. These artists were attracted to Cubism but at the same time wished to move beyond the largely monochromatic or muted tones of much Cubist work, in favour of a more radical use of colour.
La Fresnaye exhibited four paintings at the first exhibition of the Section d’Or in November 1911, and took part again in the second exhibition of the group the following year. In 1914 he had his first one-man exhibition – the only one in his lifetime - at the Galerie Levesque in Paris, where he showed forty-seven paintings, sixteen drawings and twelve watercolours. By this point La Fresnaye was at the height of his career, producing paintings of still-life compositions, landscapes and figural scenes, all executed in a highly toned manner derived from Cubist principles. After serving in the infantry during the First World War, La Fresnaye was honourably discharged in 1918 after suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis, from which his health never fully recovered. After the war, the artist spent much of his time in the town of Grasse in Provence, where, despite his frail condition, he continued to be productive. However, by 1922 his poor health meant that had largely stopped painting, although he continued to make drawings and watercolours, including several self-portraits. La Fresnaye died in November 1925, at the age of forty. The following year a retrospective exhibition of his work was mounted at the Galerie Barbazanges in Paris.