After Alice Bailly moved to Paris in 1906, she began to move in Fauvist circles. At the start of the 1910s, her style changed dramatically as she encountered the Cubists in Montparnasse. It is fair to say that her new approach to form and colour were in place by 1912, when she showed this work at the Autumn Salon. The composition is schematic, with geometric, overlapping forms, stylised, faceted volumes, a harmonious palette, and a two-dimension impression of space – all features that gesture to Cézanne and echo her contemporary André Lhote.
Bailly spent the summer of 1912 in the Côtes-d’Armor, Brittany. Maurice Denis had captured the magic of the region’s beaches and granite outcrops as early as 1898. Where his views opened up onto the sea, Bailly’s landscape offers no such perspective. Her knucklebone players are in an enclosed space, sheltered by the region’s famous pink rocks. What Denis and Bailly did share was a Classical imagination that cast a veil of Mediterranean Antiquity over the Breton countryside. This work is a symmetrical inversion of the Niobids playing knucklebones (Naples, National Archaeological Museum), a monochrome painting on Herculaneum marble. Bailly must have worked from a reproduction, since she only travelled to Italy later in life. Her work is powerfully rhythmical in its use of curves and counter-curves. She takes two characters out of the background and adds space between the players to make room for a reclining woman – another inverted quotation from another work, this time one of her own studies of motherhood from her Fauvist period, Femme nue et son enfant (Nude Woman and Child, 1909-1910, Winterthur, Stiftung für Kunst, Kultur und Geschichte).
Exposé actuellementThe Collection
Paul-André Jaccard, Alice Bailly. La fête étrange, exh. cat. Lausanne, Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Milan, 5 Continents Editions, 2005: n° 42.