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In conjunction with the Museum's 125th anniversary, Jacques Villon, Poet of Precision: A New Acquisition in Context, focuses upon a magnificent recent gift from The Judith Rothschild Foundation of 33 prints and one drawing by the French master printmaker. Among the exhibition's highlights are the rare 1909 drypoint Young Girl at the Piano and two monumental portraits of 1911 that represent the young woman Renée, in which Villon's simplification of forms and volumes reached new power. Also featured is The Chess Table of 1920, his masterpiece of "constructive decomposition," as he called it, in which the artist slices a form into layered planes, and two small etchings of 1921 in which he carries his system of superimposed planes close to pure abstraction.
The exhibition demonstrates the Museum's rich context for the new acquisition and its impact upon the Museum's existing holdings. Villon's achievements are joined with other works from the collection by the artist's brothers, Marcel Duchamp and Raymond Duchamp-Villon. The plaster bust of Baudelaire (1911) by Duchamp-Villon will be paired with one of Jacques Villon's largest and most technically challenging etchings of the 1920s, Baudelaire on a Socle, one that brilliantly evokes the sculpture.
Jacques Villon (born Gaston Duchamp, 1875–1963) learned intaglio printmaking from his grandfather, Emile Nicolle. In 1907, under the influence of his brother Raymond, he began to simplify dramatically the forms and figures in his prints, working in drypoint—a technique that created dark, velvety lines that stood out against the white of the paper. In the early 1910s, Villon and a group of artists met regularly in his studio in Puteaux to discuss artistic and literary principles that would inspire their development of a unique brand of Cubism. In 1913, he created, in rapid succession, his greatest Cubist masterpieces: seven large drypoints in which forms were broken into shaded pyramidal planes. The exhibition features impressions of each, including the rare extraordinary trial proof of a 1913 portrait of his father, along with a rare drawing related to one of this group.
Among Villon's greatest achievements as a printmaker was his creation of a purely graphic language for Cubism—an accomplishment that no other printmaker, including Braque and Picasso, could claim. "As the world's most important repository of the work of Marcel Duchamp, the Museum has long dreamed of expanding its collection of work by his brother, Jacques Villon," said Innis Howe Shoemaker, The Audrey and William H. Helfand Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. "This gift from the Rothschild Foundation, presented in honor of the 125th anniversary, now makes the Museum one of the greatest public collections of Villon's Cubist prints."