Pierre Lévy, Troyes
Roger Gros, Paris (acquired by 1965)
Sale: Drouot Montaigne, Paris, 3rd April 1995, lot 85
Private Collection, Switzerland (sold: Christie’s, London, 9th February 2011, lot 16)
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner
Essen, Museum Folkwang, Im Farbenrausch: Munch, Matisse und die Expressionisten, 2012-13, no. 12, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
'Derain fauve', in Connaissance des Arts, May 1995, no. 2, illustrated in colour p. 123
Completed during the summer of 1905 at Collioure, a small town on the Mediterranean coast, the present work is one of Derain’s most accomplished Fauve landscapes. Matisse had invited Derain to the small coastal town in early July and they spent the following two months working in close proximity, often painting very similar subjects. The sun-drenched atmosphere so typical of southern France had a profound effect on Derain and, shortly after his arrival, he wrote to Maurice de Vlaminck celebrating the light: 'a blond light, a golden hue that suppresses the shadows'. Derain's preoccupation with the light and colour of the Mediterranean freed his palette, leading him to explore a new, purified form of painting. Writing about Matisse and Derain's depictions of the landscapes in the south of France, James D. Herbert commented: 'This manner of painting, subsequently known as the Fauve style, reached its first fruition - and perhaps its fullest realization - in the paintings Matisse and Derain executed in Collioure in the summer of 1905' (J. D. Herbert, Fauve Painting: The Making of Cultural Politics, New Haven & London, 1992, p. 89).
When Derain arrived in Collioure, Matisse was working in the manner of Paul Signac and Henri Edmond Cross, using dashes of isolated colour in the ‘pointillist’ technique which was pioneered by Georges Seurat in the 1880s. Derain too fell under this influence, but like Matisse, adapted the Neo-Impressionist style to convey a strong sense of emotion within a radiant spectrum of contrasting colours. Derain executed some thirty oil paintings over the two months he spent at Collioure, and they constitute not only a peak in his own body of work, but also the height of Fauve painting. In September 1905 he returned to Paris, shortly before the opening of the famous Salon d'Automne, where the boldly coloured canvases exhibited by artists including Braque, Matisse, Vlaminck and Derain himself provoked the art critic Louis Vauxcelles to proclaim them the ‘wild beasts’. The similarities in style and subject matter among this group of revolutionary painters are testament to the pace and fervour with which Fauvism evolved.
In the present work Derain has clearly abandoned the technical exactness of Neo-Impressionism in favour of an abstract mosaic of flat patches and short strokes of vibrant colour, whilst the areas of pristine white-primed canvas assume the role of dazzling sunlit patches – a technique which he uses to masterly effect here. As Judi Freeman notes, this was a particular development of the Collioure paintings: ‘Derain, after several weeks in Collioure, realised how he could invigorate his imagery with the rendering of light. The shaded areas of his pre-Collioure paintings were infused with dark tones and touches of black […], they are transformed into ribbons of colour laced with exposed areas of white-painted canvas, so that all areas, both dark and light in hue, seem luminous’ (J. Freeman, Fauves (exhibition catalogue), The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1995-96, p. 80). In Bateaux à Collioure Derain employs the brilliant palette of orange, yellow, turquoise and green tones that defined the Fauves, with little or no concern for naturalistic representation. This important development continued to feature in works over a year later, whilst he was working in the coastal town of L'Estaque.
The exquisite paintings which Derain executed during the summer of 1905 are pivotal not only in the history of the Fauve movement, but are also a milestone in the development of twentieth century art. Describing the unique pictorial effect created in Derain's works of this period, Jacqueline Munck has remarked that 'line and stroke seemed to have travelled back in time to rediscover their origins and invent mark, outline and pulsation, the rhythm of life, the natural extension of the eye that draws, a plunge into instinct, impatient graphs, fluid or solid, irrigating the obverse and reverse of the perceptible and the luminous' (J. Munck in André Derain (exhibition catalogue), Institut Valencià d'Art Modern, Valencia, 2003, p. 66).
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