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Jacques Villon
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Prize-winning painter, printmaker and draftsman Jacques Villon (the pseudonym of Gaston Duchamp) is principally remembered for his Cubist works, particularly his graphic art. He was the eldest of an extraordinary family of artists, who with his brothers Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) and Raymond Duchamp-Villon (1876-1918) and sister Suzanne Duchamp (1889-1963) helped reshape art in the Twentieth Century. Emile Méry Frédéric Gaston Duchamp was born in 1875 in Damville, Normandy. His father was a notary and his mother was a gifted draftswoman. Duchamp learned etching from his maternal grandfather while attending boarding school in Rouen. He went to Paris in January 1894 to study law at the University of Paris, but returned to Rouen in the summer to study art at the École des Beaux-Arts. While in Rouen he published drawings in local newspapers. Duchamp returned to Paris in 1895 and resumed his study of law but also studied art at the Montmartre atelier of Fernand Cormon (1845-1924) while living with his brother Raymond, who was studying medicine. He created his first lithographs that year and began to sell illustrations to Parisian newspapers and satirical journals. He adopted the pseudonym “Jacques Villon,” inspired by the medieval French poet François Villon (1431-1463) and the protagonist of Alphonse Daudet’s (1840-1897) 1876 novel “Jack.” Villon served a year in the French Army beginning in 1897, but while serving sold his drawings, including illustrations for “Le Rire” and “Le Courrier Français;” he would publish illustrations weekly in the latter journal until 1910. Villon moved to Montmartre in 1898, frequented the Moulin Rouge, met Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) and created color lithographic posters for cabarets. Villon first exhibited his works in a Parisian salon in 1901, two prints shown at the Société Nationale. In 1903 he was an organizer of the drawings displayed at the first Salon d’automne in Paris, and the following year became a life member of that Salon, where he would exhibit annually for the rest of his life. Villon studied painting at the Académie Julian for about a year starting in 1904. The following year he exhibited his prints along with his brother Raymond’s sculptures at the Galerie Legrip in Rouen. In 1906 Villon moved to the western Paris suburb of Puteaux along with his favorite model Gabrielle Boeuf (1879-1968). His brother Marcel lived in nearby Neuilly, and Villon was soon joined in Puteaux by his brother Raymond, with whom he shared a studio. Villon created fewer illustrations and satirical cartoons late in the decade, and with the death of the director of “La Courrier Français” in 1910 he stopped entirely to concentrate on painting. All three brothers exhibited Cubist works at the 1911 Salon d’automne. His studio became a gathering place for weekly gatherings of artists and writers, including Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918), Fernand Léger (1881-1955) and Francis Picabia (1879-1953). Villon named a 1912 group exhibition at the Parisian Galerie La Boétie “La Section d’Or” (the “Golden Section”) after Leonardo da Vinci’s (1452-1519) “divine proportion.” The Duchamp brothers all exhibited in the 1913 Armory Show in New York City, where Marcel exhibited his famous “Nude Descending a Staircase” and Raymond showed five sculptures. All nine of the paintings exhibited by Villon were sold. Villon married Gabrielle Boeuf in 1913. Called up for Army service in 1914, Villon fought in the Battle of the Somme. In 1916 he was assigned to the Army’s camouflage section. On his discharge he was awarded the Croix de Guerre. After World War I, Villon resumed painting and printmaking, with his art becoming increasingly abstract. His first solo show in America was in 1921 in New York City at the Société Anonyme, a group established by Marcel (who mad moved to the United States in 1915) and others. Beginning in 1922, the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune commissioned Villon to create color aquatints after works by contemporary masters, eventually creating about forty-five editions. He had one-man exhibitions in New York in 1928 and in Chicago in 1934. Villon was awarded two diplomas of honor and a gold medal for painting and engraving at the 1937 Paris International Exhibition. He became a Knight of the Legion of Honor in 1938. Villon spent most of World War II outside of Paris, living with friends. During the war Louis Carré (1897-1977) became his exclusive dealer and in 1944 mounted a solo exhibition of Villon’s works, including thirty-nine paintings, at his Galerie Louis Carré in Paris. Villon received many awards at international exhibitions over the next two decades, including Grand Prix de la Gravure at the International Print Exhibition in Lugano (1949), the first prize at the Carnegie International Exhibition of Paintings, Pittsburgh (1950), the Grand Prize for painting at the 1956 Venice Biennale and the Grand Prize for painting at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. He designed stained glass windows for a chapel in the Cathedral of Saint Stephen in Metz, France in 1955. Villon was elected an Officer of the Legion of Honor in 1947, a Commander in 1954 and a Grand-Officer in May 1963, not long before he died in Puteaux on June 9, 1963. (TNB 5/2019). Selected bibliography: Robbins, Daniel, ed. Jacques Villon. Exhibition catalog. Cambridge: Fogg Art Museum, 1976. Wick, Peter A. Jacques Villon, Master of Graphic Art (1875-1963). Exhibition catalog, with a preface by Jean Cassou, an essay by Simone Frigerio and a chronology by Chantal Maisonnier. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1964.