Impressionist & Modern Art

The Riotous Color of Auguste Herbin's Cityscape

By Mark Stephen

C onsigned to Sotheby’s from a client who used the online request a valuation service, it was purchased in the late 1930’s by the vendor’s father, a successful Industrialist who collected Dutch art, both classical and contemporary. With the help of an artist friend, our clients father purchased this oil and a large drawing from Herbin’s studio. Some thirty years later the artist friend tried to swap the Herbin for two of his own works, but such was his attachment that our client’s father couldn’t part with the oil, and only exchanged the drawing instead. The painting was unknown to the art world until the family lent it to the Musée Matisse where Geneviève Claisse, the author of the artist's catalogue raisonné, was delighted to include it in the 2012 Herbin retrospective exhibition.

Auguste Herbin, Rue en Corse, 1907. Estimate $200,000–300,000.

The painting is a riot of colour, pinks, roses, greens, blues and purples. The colours painted in blocks seemingly squeezed straight from the tube and not mixed or diluted. We know that road surfaces look grey, yet this road painted with blocks of pink and green perfectly conveys the physical narrow Corsican street before us. The painting really works as a successful composition, and the strong colours balance each other to create a harmony, the use of light and colour conveying the impression of the heat and atmosphere of Corsica. It is one of fifteen paintings of Corsica all painted in 1907 by the artist who was only twenty-five at the time and starting to create a name for himself. He must have worked with speed and energy and loved what he was doing to produce so many paintings in one season. His earlier work was influenced by the Impressionists, but these 1907 Corsican views have taken on a bolder approach to colours and form and can be termed as Fauve. A school of art that can be categorised as the use of painterly qualities and strong colour over the representational values of the Impressionists. The works anticipate his abstract paintings that he would later produce in the 1920’s. Herbin exhibited this group of paintings in the fifth Salon d’Automne in 1907, alongside André Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, and Georges Braque.

In later years Auguste Herbin experimented with both Cubism and abstraction, becoming publisher and author for the journal Abstraction-Création. Art non figurativ. He is possibly best known now for paintings of triangles, circles and rectangles, all in strong colours, in a desire to simplify painting down to an abstract formula. As a man he was exempted military service in the Great War because of his short stature and he worked in an aeroplane factory near Paris. He was a committed communist, and berated fellow artists who remained indifferent to politics. He left the party in the 1940’s when he saw how Stalin had destroyed the original ideals of communism, and in 1953 after suffering a stroke, he had to learn to paint with his left hand only. He died in 1960 with an unfinished work still on his easel entitled `Fin.’

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