Born in Le Havre, Othon Friesz studied at the Le Havre School of Fine Arts with his lifelong friend Raoul Dufy with whom he later went to Paris to study further. In Paris he met Henri Matisse under whose influence he adopted the vivid, anti-naturalistic palette of the Fauve painters, later exhibiting with them in 1907. (Matisse and Friesz rented studios in the same building from 1905 to 1908).
In 1908 he left for Normandy and turned to a more traditional style of painting. He opened his own studio in 1912 and taught until 1914 at which time he joined the army for the duration of the war. He returned to Paris in 1919 and remained there, except for brief visits to Toulon and the Jura Mountains, until his death. Having abandoned the brilliant colours of his Fauve years, Friesz returned to a more sobre palette he had learned in Le Havre and to an early admiration for Poussin, Chardin and Corot. He painted in a manner that respected Cezanne's ideas of logical composition, simple tonality and distinct separation of planes.
Raoul Dufy described Friesz as 'the most gifted painter of our generation' in 1934. Although he received much honour by the end of his life, he never attained the status of some of his colleagues.