Selected by Jonathan Dodd

JACQUES VILLON, Femme lisant (Yvonne Duchamp), 1914


Our featured artwork this week is a wonderful 1914 Cubist painting by Jacques Villon. Born Gaston Duchamp, the artist chose his surname in tribute to the medieval poet François Villon, and primarily in order to distinguish himself from his five siblings. Both his brothers were also artists: the celebrated Dadaist and Cubist Marcel Duchamp and the sculptor Raymond Duchamp-Villon. His sister Suzanne Duchamp–Crotti also became a Dadaist artist and married the painter Jean Crotti, while his other sisters Yvonne and Magdeleine were regularly pressed into service as models both for him and Marcel.


‘Femme lisant’ belongs to a series of works Villon executed in a variety of media of his sister, Yvonne, between 1912 and 1914. Developing his personal response to the Analytical Cubism of Picasso and Braque, the faceted diagonals and interlocking planes of the composition draw on the painter’s desire to underpin Cubism with a sense of mathematical order, while the pastel blocks of color reflect his own description of himself as the ‘Impressionist Cubist’. The series of depictions of the seated Yvonne are all constructed out of small, volumetric pyramids, an idea inspired by Villon’s reading of Leonardo da Vinci’s Treatise on Painting, which had recently been translated into French.


Other closely related works in in the series include the much larger oil paintings ‘Young Girl’ from 1912 in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and ‘Portrait of Mlle Y D’ from 1913 in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Villon also executed a series of highly-regarded drypoint etchings of Yvonne seated, including the very similar composition ‘Yvonne D en profil’ (though reversed by the printing process). Indeed, these etchings are so well thought of by collectors that they often sell at auction for more than $50,000, which unusually for printed artworks is significantly more than the oil painting featured above.


JACQUES VILLON (French 1875-1963)

Femme lisant (Yvonne Duchamp)

Signed & dated 1914

Oil on panel 

10 x 8.5 in / 25 x 22 cm

This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from Patrick Bongers and will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné.



Collection of the artist

Galerie Louis Carré, Paris (acquired from the above circa 1944)

Private collection, Paris (acquired from the above in 1977)

February 1, 2021