Musée d'Orsay: Othon Friesz Portrait of Karin

Othon Friesz
Portrait of Karin

Portrait of Karin
Othon Friesz (1879-1949)
Portrait of Karin
Oil on canvas
H. 53; W. 46 cm
© ADAGP, Paris © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Portrait de Karin [Portrait of Karin]

Karin (1927-2005), the model for this portrait, was the eldest daughter of Max Kaganovitch (1891-1978), an eminent dealer and collector. In 1939, he asked Friesz to paint a portrait of his two daughters. The dealer wanted a well-known artist, and at that time Friesz's work was widely exhibited, collected and bought by museums throughout the world.
The portrait of Karin is an example of his undertaking "to reconstruct painting for one's own purposes", developed by the artist in the 1920s. The viewer's attention is drawn to the child's face and determined expression. The close framing gives the model a strong presence. This technique brings to mind Velasquez' portraits of the Infantas, whereas the treatment of the background evokes baroque settings and drapery. In doing this, Friesz echoes the traditions of royal and aristocratic portraits.
The frontal, pyramidal composition and the great clarity give this portrait its monumentality. The brushwork also contributes to its stability: large, thick brushstrokes and copious use of black. However, this construction does not exclude movement. Although the little girl is immobile, her position, slightly off-centre to the left, and the vigorous brushstrokes of the folds in her dress, introduce a note of animation.
Although this portrait fall outside the historical period normally covered by the Musée d'Orsay collections, 1848 to 1914, it finds its natural place here beside the portraits of Karin's parents by Cuno Amiet, and carries on the tribute to these great donors to the national museums.