André Lhote was a French painter, theoretician, critic, and art teacher. He trained at the École des Beaux-Arts in his native Bordeaux from 1898 to 1906 before moving to Paris in 1906. Initially influenced by Paul Gauguin, Paul Cézanne, and the Fauves, by 1910 Lhote had gravitated toward Cubists, among them Fernand Léger, Albert Gleizes, and Jean Metzinger, exhibiting with the group at the 1911 ‘Salon d’Automne’.
In 1912, Lhote joined Section d’Or (also known as the Puteaux Group), a short-lived association of Cubist artists spearheaded by brothers Jacques Villon and Raymond Duchamp-Villon. Lhote’s paintings were included in the association’s large group exhibition, ‘Salon de la Section d’Or’, which was held at Galerie de la Boëtie in Paris in October 1912.
Rugby became a vehicle for Cubist compositions, with both Gleizes and Lhote transforming the sport. Rugby first appeared in France in the late 19th century, imported by English residents before making its way to schools in the Paris area then spread to Toulouse and other provincial cities.
Painted in 1916, ‘Les Footballeurs’ is one of Lhote’s first rugby compositions, with the artist creating an entire series of the subject in the years that followed. Here, the players overlap as various planes merge, and the angular block like figures contrast against the round of the ball. The areas of bright flat colour and animated dotted lines challenge the traditional view of perspective. Although he had just officially joined the Cubists and was similarly drawn to ground breaking subjects, Lhote would never completely adopt their dogma: as seen in the present painting his works featured figurative themes and were easily readable.
In July 1916 Lhote exhibited ‘Les Footballeurs’ at an exhibition entitled ‘L’Art Moderne en France’ which was organised by André Salmon. ‘Les Footballeurs’ was first purchased by the influential writer and publisher Adrienne Monnier before entering the collection of the artist Arthur Fages.
Another example from Lhote’s rugby oeuvre is now in the collection of the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris (‘Rugby’, 1917).