PAINTED LIGHT: WORKS FROM A DISTINGUISHED AMERICAN COLLECTION SOLD TO BENEFIT CHARITABLE CAUSES
Vlaminck and Derain eventually shared a studio, and over the following years regularly painted together, often depicting the same views. Unlike Derain's portrayals of the Chatou landscape, which were more radical in composition, "Vlaminck would generally set up a firm but unobtrusive structure that imposed further order on a landscape already highly mediated by suburban development. Such a solid... approach to composition enabled him to organize and make legible his arbitrary treatment of color and abrupt, summary brushwork" (ibid., p. 124). Vlaminck rarely left this region during his Fauvist years, preferring its surroundings along the Seine over the landscapes of the south of France, favored by Matisse, Derain and Braque. He drew inspiration for most of his early landscapes from this region, characterized by the red roofs typical of the surrounding villages, the varied greenery along the shoreline and the graceful combination of pleasure boats and industrial craft that regularly sailed along the Seine.
Derain and Vlaminck’s special focus on Chatou in these critical Fauve years would not be the first time that a young and bold artistic movement was drawn to this particular location on France’s most famous river. A generation before the young artists, who had flocked to Paris and turned the Salon on its head, delighted in spending long and pleasurable summer days boating here and dining in a variety of restaurants catering to the ever-more mobile urban population. “Although in terms of color and touch their art indeed made an abrupt break with convention, Vlaminck and Derain were working within an established modern practice of painting in the Paris suburbs, and in Chatou particularly. Pierre-Auguste Renoir was most closely associated with Chatou. In Luncheon of the Boating Party, and in many other paintings of boaters, strollers, and diners on the Île de Chatou, Renoir celebrated a suburban world of social pleasures. His focus, and the subject of this painting, was the Restaurant Fournaise. About a mile downriver at Croissy, Renoir and Claude Monet had painted another pleasure spot, La Grenouillère, and Bougival, across the river from there also provided them with many motifs” (ibid., p. 127).
Of all of the Fauve painters, Vlaminck was perhaps one of the most vocal about the trans-sensory impact of vibrant color. He would frequently use musical and visual qualifiers interchangeably in his descriptions of his art, enabling him to express the powerful, multi-sensual experience he attempted to convey in his paintings. “When I had spent a few days without thinking, without doing anything, I would feel a sudden urge to paint. Then I would set up my easel in full sunshine… Vermilion alone could render the brilliant red of the tiles on the opposite slope. The orange of the soil, the harsh crude colors of the walls and greenery, the ultramarine and cobalt of the sky achieved an extreme harmony that was sensually and musically ordered. Only the series of colors on the canvas with all their power and vibrancy could, in combination with each other, render the chromatic feeling of that landscape” (quoted in G. Diehl, The Fauves, New York, 1975, p. 104).
An expression of his youthful instincts, Vlaminck’s passion for color was, however, not without influence. In 1901 he saw the first retrospective exhibition of van Gogh’s work, held at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in Paris, an experience that was to determine his artistic direction. In Rueil, le garage à bateaux, the debt owed to van Gogh is evident in the choice of palette as well as of subject matter. Writing about the influence of van Gogh on Vlaminck’s art of this period, John Rewald commented: “In spite of all his admiration for all of van Gogh’s canvases, he immediately recognized in him a formidable adversary. Here was a man who had the same aspirations as himself, who had translated in his work the same torments and exaltations, the same visions and impressions with which he was struggling. And he had translated them with pure colors and brushstrokes, so expressive that all his emotions seemed to lay bare his canvases. Compared with the pursuit of delicate light effects characteristic of the Impressionists, whose pictures Vlaminck had seen occasionally in Paris, van Gogh suddenly burst forth with an unprecedented intensity of color and design. Back in Chatou, Vlaminck began to assimilate van Gogh’s lesson” (J. Rewald, Modern Masters, Manet to Matisse, New York, 1975, p. 116).
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