THE TRIUMPH OF COLOR: IMPORTANT WORKS FROM A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION
By the 1870s the valley of the Seine, long praised as an idyllic rural retreat, offered the ideal escape for Parisians seeking a respite from the increasingly industrialized capital. The sections of the Seine where the river reaches its widest and deepest point, making it ideal for sailing and the wide promenades and occasional woods stretches along the banks of the river, offered a leisurely alternative that drew crowds from the city. It also supplied the opportunity to paint modern life in a bucolic setting and this combination proved an irresistible attraction for the Impressionists. Monet rented a house in the town of Argenteuil in 1871, and Caillebotte, Manet, Renoir and Sisley were regular visitors. For Vlaminck and Derain, the towns along the Seine were their home; one needed merely to step outside to capture the distinct character of the sites that were so dear to many of the Impressionists. As John Klein explains, a certain intimacy with the local environments is palpable in the paintings of Derain and Vlaminck: “Because Derain and Vlaminck were longtime residents of the region, the motifs that they painted in Chatou and the surrounding area were deeply familiar to them. The sense of being of the place gives their paintings a profoundly different character, at once more intimate and more poignant, that the canvases of Bougival, Chatou, or La Grenouillère by Renoir or Monet, who had been tourists like the others” (The Fauve Landscape (exhibition catalogue), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, 1990, p. 131). The particular characteristics of the area that initially drew the Impressionist artists to these small stretches of riverside—the fusion of modernity with rural calm and, most crucially, the ever-changing panorama of the river itself—are still apparent in the works of the Fauves. While Vlaminck and Derain were working within the established modern practice of painting in the suburbs of Paris, their works visually referencing those earlier works of Monet and Caillebotte, the renewal of subject matter could not match the abrupt break in the style and shockingly-vibrant colored canvases which set the Fauves miles apart from their predecessors.
As the first avant-garde movement to flourish in France at the turn of the century, the spontaneous, often subjective response to the natural world that characterized the works produced by the Fauves shocked the art world to its core and launched a revolution of color in the years that followed. The rapidly applied and forceful brushstrokes were, in the case of Vlaminck, energized by the artist’s passion. He referred to this fact on many occasions in his writings: “I intensified all the tones, I transposed into an orchestration of pure colors all the feelings I was aware of. I was a barbarian, both tender and full of violence. From instinct and without method I translated a truth that was not artistic but human. I crushed and spoiled the ultramarines, the vermilions that nonetheless were very expensive and that Père Jarry, the paint seller on the corner of Chatou bridge, used to let me have on credit” (quoted in M. Vallès-Bled, op. cit., p. 114). As with many canvases of the period, in Paysage au bois mort (Ramasseur de bois mort) Vlaminck focused his attention on the vivid chromatism of the landscape, providing a work that resonates with all the passion and exuberance that characterize the greatest of Fauve paintings.
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