Roger de La Fresnaye: Biography, Artwork & Cubism

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Some artists merge several different styles in their work. That's the case with French artist Roger de la Fresnaye. In this lesson, explore de la Fresnaye's life and work.

Early Years and Multiple Influences

Artists gain inspiration from many sources. Sometimes they learn about different art styles and incorporate elements of several into their work. That's how artist Roger de la Fresnaye developed his distinct style.

Self-portrait by Roger de la Fresnaye, circa 1907

Roger de la Fresnaye (1885 - 1925) was born in France to a well-to-do family. As a young man, he studied at several Paris art schools, including the École des Beaux-Arts and the Ranson Academy in Paris. At the latter, one of his teachers was the school's founder, artist Paul Ranson, who painted in a style similar to Symbolism.

Symbolist painters depict dream-like states and use simplified forms. Their colors tend to be bright, and they're interested in representing emotions rather than realism. But Symbolism isn't completely abstract. In total abstraction, art doesn't portray anything that resembles things found in the real world.

Influenced by his teacher, de la Fresnaye's early style recalls elements of Symbolism. His canvases feature images rendered in colorful shapes with a dreamy quality. His work from that time also echoes elements of a style called Expressionism, which features swirling brushstrokes, bold colors and curved lines and figures.

Brittany Landscape by Roger de la Fresnaye, 1909
early de la Fresnaye painting

De la Fresnaye was never afraid to experiment with what he saw in the art around him, and he was in the perfect place to explore new things. At the beginning of the 20th century, Paris was an especially exciting place to be an artist. It was the center of the art world, full of new ideas and cutting-edge art styles.

Around 1910, de la Fresnaye began incorporating elements of a yet another style into his work, a new, more abstract style called Cubism.

Influence of Cubism

Cubism was developed around 1907 by artists Pablo Picasso and George Braque. Instead of painting illusionistic depictions of three-dimensional space, Cubist paintings break forms into fractured geometric elements and show them from multiple simultaneous views. They focus more on formal elements rather than the subjects being portrayed, and tend to use a limited palette of earth tones like browns, grays and greens.

By 1910, other artists became interested in Cubism and began painting in the style. Picasso and Braque's work had been seen only among a select group of artists and art dealers, but these later Cubists wanted the style to get more public awareness. In 1912, they formed a group called the Section d'Or, or the Golden Section, aiming to spread Cubism's influence.

De la Fresnaye was a member of this group, but his work was Cubist-influenced with a twist. He adopted the geometric emphasis, but used more color and retained some elements of recognizable form. In his focus on color, he was influenced by another artist within the Section d'Or, Robert Delaunay. Delaunay had come up with an abstract style he called Orphism. Orphism focuses on light, color and rhythm in the interplay of shapes on the canvas.

Artillery by Roger de la Fresnaye, 1911

In works like Artillery, painted in 1911, you can clearly see de la Fresnaye's strong geometric emphasis, but he was still interested in his subject. While its shapes are simplified and emphasized with splashes of bold color, he has also captured the rhythm of movement of large weapons of war, horses and guns pushing forward.

In 1912, de la Fresnaye and the other members of the Section d'Or held a large show, the Salon de la Section d'Or, that featured more than 200 Cubist works and became one of the most important art shows of its time. Among the Cubists, de la Fresnaye's work was known for its color and distinct style.

Sitting Man by Roger de la Fresnaye, 1914
Sitting Man

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