Villon settled in Montmartre in 1894, where he combined law studies with developing his art. He established his reputation as a humorist illustrator, and helped organize the drawing section of the first Salon d’Automne of 1903. But following further study at the Academie Julian, in 1906 he moved out of Paris to the quieter suburbs of Puteaux. There he attracted to his studio a like-minded group of artists, similarly interested in exploring the boundaries of Cubism, including Albert Gleizes, Fernand Léger, Jean Metzinger and Alexander Archipenko.
In the autumn of 1912 Villon masterminded the group’s first joint exhibition at the Galerie de la Boétie in Paris. They exhibited under the title La Section d’Or, the name reflecting Villon’s interest in composition, and his familiarity with the writings of Leonardo da Vinci and Pythagorean theory. Twenty-one artists exhibited more than 200 works, including ‘Woman in a Kitchen’ by Albert Gleizes, ‘Portrait of Gleizes’ by Jean Metzinger, ‘Dancers at the Spring’ by Francis Picabia, ‘Nude Descending a Staircase’ by Marcel Duchamp, and different cityscapes by Fernand Léger.
Jacques Villon was one of six siblings. His two brothers were also artists: Cubist and Dadaist Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), and sculptor Raymond Duchamp Villon (1876-1918). His sister Suzanne Duchamp (1889-1963) also became a Dadaist and married the painter Jean Crotti (1878-1958), while his other sisters Yvonne and Magdeleine were regularly pressed into service as models both for him and Marcel. Villon was born Gaston Duchamp, but changed his name to Jacques Villon in tribute to the eponymous French medieval poet, and to distinguish himself from his brothers and sisters.