Jacques Villon (July 31, 1875 - June 9, 1963) was a French cubist painter and printmaker.
Born Gaston Emile Duchamp in Damville, Eure, in the Haute-Normandie region of France, he came from a prosperous and artistically inclined family. While he was a young man, his maternal grandfather Emile Nicolle, successful businessman and artist, taught him and his siblings.
Gaston Duchamp was the elder brother of:
- Raymond Duchamp-Villon (1876-1918), sculptor
- Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), painter, sculptor and author
- Suzanne Duchamp-Crotti (1889-1963), painter
In 1894, he and his brother Raymond moved to the Montmartre area of Paris. There, he studied law at the University of Paris but received his father's permission to study art on the condition that he continue studying law.
To distinguish himself from his siblings, Gaston Duchamp adopted the pseudonym of Jacques Villon as a tribute to the French medieval poet François Villon. In Montmartre, home to an expanding art community, Villon lost interest in the pursuit of a legal career, and for the next 10 years he worked in graphic media, contributing cartoons and illustrations to Parisian newspapers as well as drawing color posters.
In 1903 he helped organize the drawing section of the first Salon d'Automne in Paris. In 1904-1905 he studied art at the Académie Julian.
During the First World War Villon worked as a cartographer for the army.
At first, he was influenced by Edgar Degas and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, but later he participated in the fauvist, cubist, and abstract impressionist movements.
By 1906, Montmartre was a bustling community and Jacques Villon moved to Puteaux in the quiet outskirts of Paris. There, he began to devote more of his time to working in drypoint, an intaglio technique that creates dark, velvety lines that stand out against the white of the paper. During this time he worked closely to develop his technique with other important printmakers such as Manuel Robbe.
His isolation from the vibrant art community in Montmartre, together with his modest nature, ensured that he and his artwork remained obscure for a number of years.
At his home, in 1911, he and his brothers Raymond and Marcel organized a regular discussion group with artists and critics such as Francis Picabia, Robert Delaunay, Fernand Leger and others that was soon dubbed the Puteaux Group. Villon was instrumental in having the group exhibit under the name Section d'Or after the "golden section" of classical mathematics. Their first show at La Botie gallery in October of 1912 involved more than 200 works by 31 artists.
In 1913, Villon created his cubist masterpieces — seven large drypoints in which forms break into shaded pyramidal planes. That year, he exhibited at the famous Armory Show in New York City that helped introduce European modern art to the United States. His works proved popular and all his art sold. From there, his reputation expanded so that by the 1930s he was better known in the United States than in Europe.
An exhibition of Jacques Villon's work was held in Paris in 1944 at the Galerie Louis Carré, following which he received honors at a number of international exhibitions. In 1950, Villon received the Carnegie Prize, the highest award for painting in the world, and in 1954 he was made a Commander of the Legion of Honor. The following year he was commissioned to design stained-glass windows for the cathedral at Metz, France. In 1956 he was awarded the Grand Prix at the Venice Biennale exhibition.
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 his fellow cubists Pablo Picasso or Georges Braque, could claim.
Villon died in his studio at Puteaux.
In 1967, in Rouen, his last surviving artist brother Marcel helped organize an exhibition called Les Duchamp: Jacques Villon, Raymond Duchamp-Villon, Marcel Duchamp, Suzanne Duchamp. Some of this family exhibition was later shown at the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris.
Many important museums include works by Villon in their collections, including: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; MOMA, New York City;, The University of Michigan Collection; The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia; La Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris; and Musee Jenisch, Vevey, Switzerland. Leading private collections which include the works of Villon are the Joachim Collection of Chicago, the Vess Collection of Detroit, and the Ginestet Collection of Paris.