Odile Aittouarès will include this painting in the forthcoming second volume of her Friesz catalogue raisonné.
Emile-Othon Friesz, Raoul Dufy and Georges Braque all grew up in Le Havre, France's major port on the English Channel coast, and studied in the city's Ecole des Beaux-Arts. At different times, each young artist travelled to Paris on grants from the Le Havre city government. The men all knew each other and for a while Dufy and Friesz shared a studio. Friesz had shown Impressionist-style works in a 1904 group show at Berthe Weill's gallery alongside other artists who would emerge in the following year as leaders of the Fauve movement. And, of the three Le Havre artists, only Friesz showed paintings in the landmark 1905 Third Salon d'Automne, in a room not far from the famous Salle 7 in which Charles Camoin, André Derain, Henri Manguin, Albert Marquet, Henri Matisse and Maurice de Vlaminck had hung together their radical color-drenched paintings. The exhibition created a storm of controversy in the press, and the critic Louis Vauxcelles bestowed upon Matisse and his circle the sobriquet Les fauves.
Friesz was not yet associated with the group, but he, Braque and Dufy were excited by what they had seen in Salle 7. Friesz and Braque travelled to Antwerp in August through September of 1906 and painted their first Fauve canvases there. Friesz showed some of these recent paintings at the Fourth Salon d'Automne, where they were hung in Salle 3 with paintings by Matisse and the Fauves. During the winter of 1906 Friesz and Braque traveled to L'Estaque, an industrial port near Marseilles on the Mediterranean coast. Cézanne, who had died the previous summer, had worked there, although the influence of his work would not be felt until a year-and-a-half later, following a grand memorial retrospective in the 1907 Salon d'Automne. Derain was also in L'Estaque, and noted that many of the artists associated with the Salon des Indépendants were now working in the area. He saw Braque and Friesz, and reported that they "are very happy. Their idea [about painting] is youthful and seems new to them" (quoted in J. Freeman, The Fauve Landscape, exh. cat., The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1990, p. 97). While Derain painted inland scenes at L'Estaque, Braque and Friesz painted numerous views of the harbor and beaches.
Both Friesz and Braque had to interrupt their work to participate in the Paris Salons and to organize group exhibitions of recent painting for the Cercle de l'Arte Moderne in Le Havre. They returned to the Midi in the late spring of 1907. They spent June in L'Estaque, where Friesz painted the present work. In July they were in nearby Cassis, and in August they arrived in La Ciotat, where Friesz painted views of a nearby cove known as Le Bec de l'Aigle (see Christie's, New York, sale, 8 May 2002, lot 253). Although stylistically the landscapes of both artists were relatively similar at the outset of this trip, Friesz developed a distinctly personal approach which can be seen in the present painting and subsequent views. "In these paintings Friesz's liberation of color was thorough. Using a vivid palette dominated by orange and an ochre-infused green, he abandoned all sense of naturalism in favor of an expressive gestural style characterized by sweeping curvilinear brushwork and layers of pigment. Braque painted these coves too, but his images were much more nature-bound than Friesz's strongly abstract motifs" (ibid., p. 235).
The pictures that Friesz and Braque painted that summer in the Midi represent the climax of their engagement with Fauvism. Their aim was expression through color; the powerful influence of Gauguin was at its height. Upon their return to Paris in September 1907 for the Fifth Salon d'Automne, both artists, as indeed many others among the young painters of the Société des Indépendants, were stunned at the achievement of Cézanne, as seen in his memorial retrospective exhibition at the Salon. Braque probably saw Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon around this time and from then onwards an interest in form took precedence over color.