Painted in 1905, Environs de Collioure presents the pinnacle of Derain's Fauve style. On Matisse's invitation, in early July of that year Derain joined him in Collioure, a coastal town on the Spanish border, where he spent the next two months working alongside him. The sun-drenched atmosphere of the south of France had a profound effect on the artist, and shortly after his arrival, he wrote in a letter to Vlaminck: 'Above all, the light, a blond light, a golden hue that suppresses the shadows'. While in Collioure, Derain's preoccupation with light and colour of the Mediterranean freed his palette, leading him to explore a new purified form of painting where strongly contrasting areas of colour came to achieve new prominence. When Derain arrived in Collioure, Matisse, under the influence of Signac and Cross, was painting in brilliant, intense tones in a framework of mosaic-like short brushstrokes (fig. 1).
During his stay in this region, Derain executed some thirty oil paintings, which constitute not only a peak of his own art, but also the height of the Fauve movement. The new environment provided a rich source of inspiration, and Derain was fascinated by the daily life of the fishermen and of the busy port (fig. 2), as well as of the more untamed, wild nature of the town's surroundings, as in the present landscape. Derain returned to Paris in September 1905, shortly before the opening of the famous Salon d'Automne, where the boldly coloured canvases by artists including Derain, Braque, Matisse and Vlaminck provoked the art critic Louis Vauxcelles to proclaim them 'wild beasts.' It was primarily his exuberant views of Collioure that represented Derain at this exhibition, pivotal not only in the history of the Fauve movement, but also a milestone in the development of twentieth century art.
In the present work the hallmarks of the Fauve style are very much in evidence. The dazzling effect of light is captured in brushstrokes of pure, primary tones. Derain has rendered the landscape as a vibrant flat pattern of juxtaposed complementary colour contrasts, and the scene is imbued with a mood of wild, primitivist isolation. The influence of Gauguin's Tahitian works is visible in his strongly curvilinear forms and in his use of an increasingly vivid palette, which bears little resemblance to naturalistic representation. The treatment of a single object, such as a tree, in a number of contrasting colours, is a feature that characterises Derain's style of this period (fig. 3), taking the Impressionist rendering of the effect of light to its extreme. Another important source of inspiration was the painting of Van Gogh, whose works Derain saw in 1901, at the artist's first retrospective exhibition held at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in Paris. This was an experience that was to determine the artistic direction of Derain and a number of his contemporaries. In Environs de Collioure, the debt owed to Van Gogh is evident in the choice of palette as well as of subject matter.
Writing about Matisse's and Derain's depictions of the landscapes in the south of France, James D. Herbert commented that '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). Painted in quick, spontaneous brushstrokes, the present work is a remarkable example of Derain's Collioure landscapes, displaying a colouristic boldness and gestural exuberance that place it among his greatest Fauve works. Using a palette dominated by bright, primary tones, this composition displays an explosion of colour that earned Derain and his colleagues the name 'wild beasts'. The fierce yellow, red, green and blue hues are applied onto the monochrome canvas plane in an almost violent fashion. Fuelled by an extraordinary and daring creativity and passion of his youth, Derain's production of this period forms one of the most ground-breaking bodies of work that changed the course of modern painting.
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