André Lhote spent 10 years on an apprenticeship in Bordeaux learning his craft from a sculptor-decorator, and also followed courses in decorative sculpture at the École des Beaux-Arts. He was a self-taught and erudite man. He was a wood carver and it was through reading the Salons of Diderot, the Journal of Delacroix and the Aesthetic Curiosities ( Curiosités Esthétiques) of Baudelaire that he took up painting. He became acquainted with the Impressionists, admired Gauguin and copied Rubens and Delacroix. In 1907 he settled in Paris. From 1918 he taught in various academies until he founded his own academy in 1922 in Rue d'Odessa. He set out his instruction in many works and articles, abundantly illustrated with reproductions to compensate for the lack of practical application of theory, which he taught during the course of actual work in the studio, adhering to the rules for art of the New French Review ( Nouvelle Revue Française) from 1918 to 1940.
Mischievously, wishing to demonstrate that his work should not necessarily be ignored simply because he wrote about art, Lhote collected texts by many great masters, among them one suspected to be by Leonardo da Vinci, and published them under the title From the Palette to the Writing Desk ( De la Palette à l'Écritoire). But the fundamentals of his teaching are contained in his two essays Essay on Landscape ( Traité du Paysage) and Essay on Figure Painting ( Traité de la Figure). He was a master who was able to extract all the transmissible elements of the works of both the past and the present.
Lhote may have acquired from his apprenticeship a sense of the monumental which would later characterise his style and allow him to execute large compositions such as Port of Call (1913) with ease. From 1907 he was fully conversant with the lessons of Cézanne. Charles Morice, Apollinaire, André Gide and Maurice Denis soon became aware of his talents. Lhote fitted quite naturally into that part of the Cubist movement which could be called 'French' and which more or less fully represented the Section d'Or group. These artists attempted to reconcile the emotive factor offered by external reality with the spiritual element brought out by the translation of this external reality into the language of the visual arts. La Fresnaye, Delaunay and Jacques Villon also belonged to this French branch of Cubism, and their successors (Pignon, Singier, Manessier, and many others) were mainly the result of the teaching of André Lhote, at least in their early style.
Lhote's art was often accused of timidity, but it was more a question of restraint. He made every attempt to maintain an equal distance between pure sensationalism and aesthetic speculation. Like the other French Cubists, it was in the art of 'transitions' which he excelled. A 'transition' is the transcription into visual media of the optical phenomena by means of which certain shapes are captured, for example when the shaded part of a mass combining with the shadow of the background itself becomes part of the background. It is not simply an exercise in pictorial rhetoric but one of the surest methods of creating pictorial unity, as these 'transitions', cleverly manipulated, integrate the different elements together. This excellence in the technique of manipulating transitions among the French Cubists may be interpreted as a will to achieve Classicism inasmuch as Classicism is understood to be a quest for unity in the created work, in opposition to Gothic or Baroque styles. Lhote certainly gave the impression of a typically French Classical painter in his major works: Sunday (1910); Port of Call (1913); Judgement of Paris (1913); Tribute to Watteau (1918); Sailor with an Accordion (1920); Beach (1922); Rugby (1924); Friends (1925); and Leda (1930).
Lhote also spent a considerable part of his time as an illustrator of works such as The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Coleridge, Ports of Call ( Escales) by Jean Cocteau and Animals and their Men, Men and their Animals ( Les Animaux et leurs Hommes, les Hommes et leurs Animaux) by Paul Éluard. For the 1937 Exposition Internationale in Paris he produced the wall decoration Coal Derivatives. He also did other wall decorations, including Gas for the Palais de la Découverte in Paris, and The Glory of Bordeaux for the medical school of Bordeaux.
Lhote was a tireless worker and as well as being involved in many activities he produced a large body of work. While some of his canvases remained unrivalled in the overall perspective of the Paris School during the period 1900-1950, others were less valued, but never, as in the case of so many other artists, because he took the easy route, but rather on the contrary because of too much esotericism.
In Paris Lhote took part in the Salon des Indépendants from 1906, the Salon d'Automne in 1907, and the Section d'Or exhibition in 1912. In 1910 the Galerie Druet organised his first solo exhibition on his behalf. He participated in the first Cubist exhibitions. A major exhibition of all his works took place in his home town of Bordeaux in 1943. Retrospectives include those held at the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris (1958) and at the museum of Valence (2003).
Museum and Gallery Holdings
Aarau (Aargauer Kunsthaus): Still-life (1929); Natural Nude (c. 1930)
Bordeaux (MBA): Landscape (1906)
Geneva (Petit Palais): Sunday with Alain Fournier (1912)
Paris (BNF): Half-length Portrait of Male Nude Stretched Out (c. 1934)
Paris (MNAM-CCI): Port of Call (1913); Rugby (1917); Leda (1930); 14th of July in Avignon; Harvest (1955); Family Life; Woman at her Toilette; Harvest; View of Avignon; Houses in Mirmande
St-Tropez (Mus. de l'Annonciade): Omnes Docet (1935)