- André Derain
Paysage aux environs de Chatou
Signed a Derain (lower right)
Oil on board laid down on cradled panel
Private Collection, Milwaukee (by the 1950s)
By descent from the above
Georges Hilaire, Derain, Geneva, 1959, no. 79, illustrated pl. 79
Michel Kellerman, André Derain: catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre peint, vol. I, Paris, 1992, no. 35, illustrated p. 25 (catalogued as oil on canvas and with the incorrect dimensions 55 by 65 cm)
Paysage aux environs de Chatou is an early Fauve painting that embraces the brilliant color that would become a hallmark of the Fauve movement. The subject, composition, and brushwork are reminiscent of the mature work of Cézanne (fig. 1). As William Rubin notes in his discussion of The Seine at Chatou of 1906, “the brushwork . . . has close affinities with what is usually described as the ‘constructive’ brushstroke of Cézanne. The Cézannist influence in this Derain is also felt in the block-like small patches and touches which Derain has used to build up the image of the town in the background” (William Rubin and Matthew Armstrong, The William S. Paley Collection (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1992, p. 44). However, the use of bold, expressive color suggests an awareness of the work of both van Gogh and Gauguin. In this connection, it is very likely that Derain saw the van Gogh exhibition at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in March 1901 and the Gauguin exhibition that the legendary dealer Ambroise Vollard organized at his gallery in Paris in the spring of 1903 (Jacqueline Munck, “Vollard and the Fauves: Derain and Vlaminck”, Cézanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant-Garde, New York, 2006, p. 119).
Derain is well-known for his central role in the early development of Fauvism in the years 1904-06, but the paintings of 1904-05 have been subject to less scrutiny by scholars and critics than those of 1906-08. Although the present work is among the best of Derain’s proto-Fauve works, it has escaped attention because it hung discreetly in an American private collection for most of the 20th century. Paysage aux environs de Chatou belongs to a series of landscapes that Derain executed in the winter of 1904-05. These precocious works launched his professional career and contributed to the creation of the School of Chatou. Interestingly, Matisse introduced Derain to Vollard in February 1905, and the dealer subsequently bought out Derain’s studio, including his paintings of Chatou.
At the turn of the century, Chatou was a small suburban town on the banks of Seine just north of Paris. It was popular with the Impressionists, and Renoir had painted some of his best work there. As it happens, Derain and another of the great Fauve painters, Maurice de Vlaminck, grew up in Chatou, where they shared an atelier in the beginning of the 1900s. During the winter months of 1904-05, Derain and Vlaminck painted in the area surrounding the town, still a relatively rural and picturesque area that had been spared the widespread industrialization and growth that had begun to affect the appearance of many towns in the Seine valley to the north and west of Paris. Vlaminck later recalled, “A major part of my young adult years were spent along the Seine. My first attempts and scribbles date from Chatou. It was through them that I tried to render the emotion felt when looking at the river flow through the landscape of the Parisian suburbs” (quoted in Vlaminck: il pittore et la critica, Milan, 1988, p. 142). He also described the earliest days of the Fauve moment in 1904 when he and Derain often worked side-by-side in Chatou: “Each of us set up his easel, Derain facing Chatou, with the bridge and steeple in front of him, myself to one side, attracted by the poplars. Naturally I finished first. I walked over to Derain holding my canvas against my legs so that he couldn’t see it. I looked at his picture. Solid, skillful, powerful, already a Derain. ‘What about yours?’ he said. I spun my canvas around. Derain looked at it in silence for a minute, nodded his head, and declared, ‘Very fine.’ That was the starting point of all Fauvism” (as quoted in Judi Freeman, The Fauve Landscape (exhibition catalogue), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1990, p. 15).
Derain and Vlaminck shared and exchanged ideas and pursued a similar stylistic course, and there was an important element of cross-pollination as both began to develop rapidly (see fig. 2). Vlaminck used larger, wider brushstrokes and produced images that are more spontaneous and less controlled than those of Derain, but the absence of shadow reflects Derain’s influence. Derain underscored this point in a letter of 1905 to Vlaminck from Collioure where Derain was working alongside Matisse: “A new conception of light consisting in this: the negation of shadows. Light, here, is very strong, shadows very bright. Every shadow is a whole world of clarity and luminosity which contrasts with sunlight: what are known as reflections” (as quoted in Judi Freeman, The Fauve Landscape, exhibition catalogue, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1990, p. 15).
Derain’s paintings of 1904-05 incorporate a use of color that is increasingly less naturalistic and more arbitrary. The abstract imperatives of painting began to override more representational approaches that had dominated the aesthetic of 19th century artists. Only a few months after Derain painted Paysage aux environs de Chatou, “Matisse spent the summer of 1905 working alongside André Derain in the small Mediterranean seaport of Collioure. The paintings they made there, and in Paris on their return, caused a sensation at the Salon d’Automne, in October, when they were exhibited alongside work by other of Matisse’s acquaintances, including Maurice Vlaminck and Henri Manguin. This group of artists became known as les fauves (‘the wild beasts’) for the supposedly violent appearance of their paintings” (John Elderfield, Henri Matissse: A Retrospective, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1992, p. 133). Not surprisingly, there are clear stylistic affinities between Paysage aux environs de Chatou and works by Matisse, such as the remarkable early Fauve work, Les toits à Collioure [fig. 3] painted in the summer or autumn of 1905, further attesting to the precocity, significance, and importance of Derain’s achievement during the winter of 1904-1905.
Fig. 1 Paul Cézanne, Hameau à Payennet près de Gardanne, 1885-1886, oil on canvas, The White House, Washington, D.C.
Fig. 2 Maurice de Vlaminck, Vue de Chatou, 1906, oil on canvas, Tel Aviv Museum
Fig. 3 Henri Matisse, Les Toits à Collioure, 1905, oil on canvas, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg