New York

Andre Lhote

Selected Artists Gallery

The retrospective of the work of Andre Lhote (1885–1962), is revealing if after a certain moment—in Lhote’s case coincidental with the end of the First World War—equally deceiving. I am intrigued and instructed by the careers of painters such as Lhote who are first sustained by the vitality of a great new style, any style, and who then, when the style wanes, are revealed to be artists of dubious achievement. This is certainly a complex and painful issue as well as the central dilemma as to the distinction between modern artists and modern art as we see that speaking generally the life of a modern artist is far longer than the vitality of the ideas he is exploring. The truth is that Art is short and Life long.

Lhote gained an early foothold into the workings of synthetic Cubism, which inspired his paintings with an intellectual rigor and quality absent from his earlier, cautious adoptions of Fauve sensibility. When Synthetic Cubism degenerated into decorative exercises of naturalistic stylization Lhote was lost. However the intervening years of about 1910 to 1917 are marked by an intelligent, at moments impressive, production. This period, best exemplified here in the Portrait de Marguerite (1913), is typified in suave geometrical simplifications and surface modulations which point to the strong influence of Metzinger, Section d’Or Cubism, and possibly even Juan Gris.

Throughout the 1920s and ’30s Lhote’s painting eased into formula solutions for small landscapes, touching portraits and pièces d’occasion. During this time, until his death in fact, Lhote was highly esteemed asa teacher and theorist. His Traité du paysage (1939) still must be read if only to better understand how Cubism slipped into the pettiness of what is amorphously termed The School of Paris.

In 1950 travel in North Africa oddly revived Lhote’s work, opening it structurally and chromatically, a reflection perhaps of Lhote’s interest in Egyptian painting. This fresher, more emotive execution reveals as well the far greater influence of the superior models established by Jacques Villon in the period following the Second World War.

Robert Pincus-Witten