It had long been assumed that the bridge stretched across the background of Pêcheur à Chatou was one of the three bridges at the town of Argenteuil, where years before Claude Monet had dedicated much time and many canvases to capturing the effects of light on the river and its environs. After careful comparison with photographic postcards from early in the twentieth century, the three arches that straddle the Seine were identified as those of the bridge at Chatou. In discussing the importance of these postcards that grew in popularity from the 1890s to the first decade of the twentieth century, John Klein points to the similarities between these vistas and Vlaminck’s compositions of the same subjects: “[the artist] has brought the same elements found in the photographic views into a more compact and unified arrangement. But his painting shares with the postcards the ease of comprehension and identification essential to the souvenir. What might be called the scenic values of the suburban site have been carefully preserved by Vlaminck…” (The Fauve Landscape (exhibition catalogue), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, 1990, p. 126).
In Pêcheur à Chatou the verticality in the treatment of the brushstrokes fully articulates the density of the reflection of the bridge atop the water. The solid swaths of color which make up the center of the composition owe much to the legacy of post-Impressionist painters Paul Gauguin and Paul Sérusier; the flat areas of highly-saturated planes of color are especially reminiscent of the stylistic experiments undertaken by Sérusier under Gauguin’s influence in the late 1880s. These early experiments resulted in Sérusier executing the celebrated panel, Le Talisman, now in the collection of the Musée d’Orsay. In explaining this work, Sérusier “conveyed his friend Gauguin’s message that instead of copying nature as one perceived it, one should represent it, transmute it into a play of vivid colors, emphasizing simple, expressive, original arabesques for the pleasure of the eye” (J. Rewald, Post-Impressionism from Van Gogh to Gauguin, New York, 1956, p. 275). The desire felt by Gauguin and Sérusier to intensify color and simplify form led to a predilection for brushstrokes which were lengthened and continued as broad patches of vibrant color. Drawing from the visual lexicon of these post-Impressionist artists, as well as the expressive brushwork of Vincent van Gogh, Vlaminck has utilized non-naturalistic colors to great effect. Through Vlaminck’s passionate use of what are largely primary colors to portray the shoreline, bridge and river in the present work, the young artist achieves a composition that is as animated and harmonious as the town it portrays.
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