- André Derain
- Londres: Le Quai Victoria
- signed A. Derain (lower left)
- oil on canvas
Pieter van der Velde, Le Havre (acquired from the above on 17th April 1908 or 11th September 1912)
Private Collection, France (by descent from the above)
Stephen Higgons, Paris (probably acquired from the above. Sold: Sotheby’s, London, 3rd July 1968, lot 66)
Wally Findlay, Beverley Hills (purchased at the above sale)
International Art Centre, Geneva (sold: Sotheby’s, London, 30th June 1987, lot 43)
Purchased at the above sale by the family of the present owner
Paris, Galerie Charpentier, Les Fauves, 1962, no. 32, illustrated in the catalogue (titled Quai à Londres)
Paris, Grand Palais des Champs-Elysées, Centenaire de la Société des Artistes Indépendants 1884-1984, 1984, illustrated in the catalogue
Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art & London, Royal Academy of Arts, The Fauve Landscape, 1990-91, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (titled Le Quai de la Tamise)
Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Fauvism: 'Wild Beasts', 1996, no. 17, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (titled Le Quai de la Tamise)
Pierre Cabanne, André Derain, Paris, 1990, no. 37, illustrated in colour (titled Quais sur la Tamise)
Michel Kellermann, André Derain. Catalogue raisonné de l’œuvre peint, Paris, 1992, vol. I, no. 94, illustrated p. 61 (as dating from 1905-06)
André Derain: The London Paintings (exhibition catalogue), Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery, London, 2005-06, no. 12, illustrated in colour p. 95
The series was completed over three short trips to London, the first from 6th until 17th March 1906, the next from late March to mid-April 1906 and the last from late January to February 1907. Roughly thirty canvases were painted over these months, and they depicted many recognisable sights of London, some in direct correspondence with Monet’s chosen views. Mainly focused on the river Thames, Derain’s London is made up of depictions of the Palace of Westminster (fig. 2), St. Paul’s Cathedral, Hungerford (Charing Cross), Cannon Steet, Waterloo, Blackfriars, London and Westminster and Tower bridges, Regent Street, Hyde Park and the Victoria Embankment as well as a number of canvases that show the bustling boats and large ships that sought the wharfs and warehouses that supplied and were stocked by Britain’s Empire.
The subject of this work and one other canvas from the series (fig. 3) is the Victoria Embankment on the north side of the river Thames. This view is taken overlooking the river close to Temple Place and Somerset House. In the upper left corner the piers of Blackfriars Bridge are visible, with two horse-drawn carriages, one an omnibus and the other a private Hansom carriage. Constructed in the 1860s, the Victoria Embankment was a remarkable feat of engineering that did much to modernise the riverbank, removing as it did the numerous piers and walkways which had previously made up this busy stretch of the Thames. This view was perhaps chosen by Derain as an indication of London as a thoroughly modern city, the heart of a vast and progressive Empire. The sleek, sweeping curve of the Embankment improved the flow of traffic allowing both private conveyances and more public forms of transport to navigate the north side of the Thames whilst enjoying a particularly picturesque view of London’s monuments such as Cleopatra’s Needle and the system of grand bridges.
Derain’s Fauve style emerged from a variety of influences and personal interests. In 1905 he and Matisse worked very much under the influence of the Neo-Impressionists, adopting and later adapting the ‘pointillist’ style of short dabs of paint. Over the course of two years Derain’s brush marks became thicker, more expressive with single strokes consciously modelling the forms the artist wished to depict. If the impetus for Derain’s trip to London was Monet’s paintings, his actual techniques and concerns were unequivocally not followed on arrival. In a letter to his friend Maurice de Vlaminck Derain wrote of Monet’s 1904 exhibition of the views of London: ‘Where Monet is concerned, I adore him despite everything, precisely because of his error, which offers me a precious lesson. Isn’t he right, in the end with his fugitive and non-lasting colour, to render the natural impression which is only an impression and which does not last…? As for me, I am seeking something else: what is there in nature, on the contrary, that is fixed, eternal, complex’ (letter from Derain to Vlaminck, June 1904, in Lettres à Vlaminck, Paris, 1994, p. 175, translated from French). The triumph of expression over impression found its apogee in the Fauve period, with Derain’s highly idiosyncratic painting style conveying a personal sense of feeling and experience.
In the fashion of any turn-of-the century visitor to London, Derain did not wholly confine himself to his work. Visiting museums, and in particular the National Gallery and the British Museum, made a significant impression on the artist and may have spurred on his own efforts. In a letter to Vlaminck, Derain wrote: ‘My old mate Maurice […]. It’s imperative that we get out of the circle in which the realists have trapped us. I’m quite moved by my visits in London and to the National Museum [National Gallery] as well as to the musée nègre [the British Museum]. It’s mind-boggling, alarmingly expressive. But there is something else in this excess of expression: these are forms born of open air, from bright light. It is this that we need to be aware of, [when we consider] what we can learn from them’ (letter from Derain to Vlaminck, 7th March 1906, in André Derain. The London Paintings (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 133). Derain’s letters were often illustrated with decorative motifs and boldly stylised sketches of the primitive sculptures he saw in the museums, and in a short letter to Matisse written on 15th March, he declared: ‘My trip has made me more certain of my ideas. I have seen some Hindu sculptures and Egypto-Roman embroideries of the greatest beauty that strongly encourage me to make of the Thames something other than coloured photographs’ (letter from Derain to Matisse, 15th March 1906, quoted in ibid., p. 135).
This concern to paint ‘something other than coloured photographs’ compelled Derain beyond the visual language which had hitherto been applied to London’s iconic sights. Discussing the present work Ernst Vegelin van Claerbergen and Barnaby Wright suggest that the artist’s choice to paint the Victoria Embankment and other views was subject to painterly concerns rather than topographical ones: ‘In painting such stereotypical sights of London, Derain offers an essentially tourist’s vision of the city, but one radicalized by the bold colouring of the yellow and green river and the blue and green embankment’ (E. Vegelin van Claerbergen & B. Wright in ibid., p. 94). With no precedence in the history of art, the brilliance of the colouring and short-hand of indicative brush-marks which make up the key elements of Londres: Le Quai Victoria and other works from the series are distinctly Fauvist, and mark the final point of Derain’s development as a truly modern artist.