Nationalism, primitivism and the golden age in Othon Friesz's Autumn Work (1908)


  • * I extend my gratitude to Dr Christine Ross of the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University, Montreal for her insights and help with early versions of this paper. I further thank Dr John A. Hall of McGill's Department of Sociology for his suggestions.


Abstract. This paper focuses on a detailed analysis of the Fauve artist Othon Friesz's painting Autumn Work (1908) within the contextual juncture of nationalism and primitivism. The painting occupies a unique position within this framework as it elucidates a point a convergence between nationalist ideologies and the primitivist turn towards peasant cultures as a repository of the past. This interpretation also identifies how Friesz's fusion of the Virgilian golden age with the contemporary, rural myth disrupts the Self/Other framework of primitivism via the lens of national identity. Friesz's employment of classically influenced and avant-grade aesthetics further underscores the ways in which the painting references not only his personal artistic negotiation between tradition and modernity, but also the significance of ancestral myths and temporal oppositions in both nationalist and primitivist discourse.