Emile Othon Friesz, who later simply called himself Othon Friesz, was born in Le Havre in 1879. He was encouraged by his parents early on in life to become a painter and as soon as 1892 he began training at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Le Havre, where he worked at Charles-Marie Lhullier's workshop. It was there that he met with Raoul Dufy and George Braque, with whom he developed a lasting friendship and travelled.
In 1897 Friesz was granted a scholarship and studied until 1903 under Léon Bonnat at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. There he met with Henri Charles Manguin, Albert Marquet, Henri Matisse and Charles Camoin. However it was his contact with Camille Pissarro that especially influenced him during that period.
Friesz made his artistic debut in 1900 at the Salon of the Société des Artistes français. He exhibited in 1904 at the first Salon d'Automne and again in 1906 at the Salon des Indépendants.
Over the years Friesz abandoned his former nature-orientated concept in favour of works formed by Fauvism. The artist travelled extensively, to Portugal in 1911 and to Belgium in 1912. Stays in Munich and Düsseldorf as well as the participation in exhibitions by the Berlin Secession made Friesz's work known in Germany.
He participated in exhibitions not only throughout Europe but also in the United States, for instance at the Armory Show in New York, as well as in Chicago. Between 1912 and 1921 he taught at the Académie Moderne in Paris, and from 1925 at the Académie Scandinave before moving on in 1944 to the Académie de la Grande Chaumière.
An outstanding late work is the decoration he completed with Raoul Dufy for the Palais de Chaillot on the occasion of the world fair in Paris in 1937. Even though the artist used a more traditional, austere technique in his late works, several of his earlier works, especially from 1907, are regarded as the boldest examples of Fauvism.