- In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse and the Birth of Modernist ArtOur Pickby Sue Roe
- Les Fauves: A sourcebookby Russell T. Clement
- Dangerous Cornerby Maurice de Vlaminck
Progression of Art
At the Bar
Vlaminck paints a satirical caricature of a woman sitting at a bar as a means of exposing the problem of prostitution and alcoholism in capitalist society. He may have been influenced by Toulouse-Lautrec's portrayal of prostitutes and solitary drinkers, however, he claimed that it was not his goal to convey the sitter's psychology. Although the woman is staring out at the viewer, her gaze is blank, detached. Rather than avoiding creating a psychological portrait, Vlaminck has succeeded in lending the woman, with her vapid stare, a stark and tragic demeanor. The figure dominates the canvas; she is thrust to the foreground in which her massive drink rests, forcing the viewer to candidly engage with her as might well be the case with a heavily inebriated person.
The woman's messy hair and worn clothes suggest that she is part of the working class. Her reddish nose is visual shorthand for alcoholism, which is emphasized by the oversized red glass on the bar. The rough brushwork and rudimentary modeling are just as suggestive of the artist's perception of his subject as they are descriptive of her actual appearance. The artist offsets the depressing mood of the painting by somewhat salaciously mocking the sitter's oversized breasts to represent the last two zeros in the year that it was completed, 1900. The lurid colors of the figure contrast sharply with the dark background in which a street lamp seems to offer little protection from the hazards of the night.
Oil on canvas - Musée Calvet, Avignon France
Another of Vlaminck's works that explore the world of prostitution and dancehall entertainers, Reclining Nude represents a modern take on a classical subject: the female nude. He paints his subject using vibrant, unnatural colors and accentuates her features by way of colorful, overdone cosmetics creating a mask-like visage. The body is heavily outlined and simplified to the point where it is basically an amalgam of abstract shapes. The curving outline of the figure mimics the swirls of colored drapery in the background, lending the composition a decorative effect. The artist creates depth and volume by building the surface of the canvas up with his use of flat passages of thickly applied paint.
Like Manet's Olympia (1863), also a prostitute, Vlaminck represents the sexual encounter she offers as a commodity. Like her counterpart in the Manet painting, Vlaminck's reclining nude confronts the viewer with her powerful, unwavering gaze. Unlike a traditional, idealized nude female, this unknown woman is meant to represent a boldly naked, unquestionably modern woman. One hand grasps an article of clothing that she has recently removed, further emphasizing the process of seduction. Like Manet and Derain, Vlaminck attempts to represent the "splendor and misery" of capitalism in modern life - specifically, the reality of modern life for working class women. While Vlaminck's nude is grotesque; quite likely, he intended for the viewer to understand that the woman has contracted and is suffering from syphilis, thus the "misery" component of the piece, he makes the work less overtly bleak by using bright, almost celebratory colors - the consummate Fauve palette.
Oil on canvas - Museum of Fine Arts Houston
Houses at Chatou
Vlaminck lived and worked for over a decade in the small town, Chatou. This painting captures a view from the Île de Chatou in the Seine river, which also runs through Paris. The view is framed by two trees, a conventional device of landscape painting. Despite the bright colors that dominate the picture, the bands of darker tones mixed with white in the sky suggest that a storm is moving in. The absence of people in the painting conveys the sense of isolation and loneliness regular inhabitants of the popular tourist site may have experienced after the vacation season ended. Unlike his Impressionist predecessors, Vlaminck does not celebrate the culture of leisure.
Characteristic of the Fauve style, Vlaminck refrains from producing realistically rendered shadows and instead uses complementary colors to suggest an essentially deserted town on a quiet autumn afternoon. His lively, linear brushwork creates a sort of rhythmic pattern across the canvas. The minimal visual descriptions of objects, whether houses, trees, river, or clouds, provides this landscape with a kind of abstract simplicity made less serene by the swirls of color and twisting trees, which are indicative of the strong influence of van Gogh. Indeed, after seeing van Gogh's retrospective in 1901, Vlaminck was deeply inspired by the artist and declared, "I loved van Gogh that day better than my own father!"
Oil on canvas - The Art Institute of Chicago
Under the Bridge at Bezons (Under the Bridge at Chatou)
This landscape painting represents a view from the riverbank looking toward a bridge at Bezons between Chatou and Argenteuil. Vlaminck combines natural elements with the man-made monument, which seems to merge with the houses on the opposite side of the river. The artist's viewpoint is from the river's edge looking toward the underside of the bridge as though all he sees is off limits to him. Rather than a point of access to the city across the river, the bridge reads as an obstacle - or, alternatively, a protective barrier. Whereas the manmade elements of the composition are described in long brushstrokes or solid areas of color, the natural elements, the water, riverbank, and sky come together in a collection of short, staccato dashes of pigment reminiscent of Pointillism. Vlaminck uses vibrant colors contrasted with black to create the dramatic contrast one sees with the intense light of a bright summer afternoon.
Art historian John Klein suggests that Vlaminck based many of his paintings of Chatou and other nearby towns on views derived from souvenir postcards. Klein suggests that this composition, among others, is quite similar to a popular postcard of the riverbank at Le Pecq, which was on the other side of the bend in the Seine River from Chatou. The artist preserves the scenic elements of this leisure destination but refrains from depicting human activity. It is possible that, argues Klein, Vlaminck "may have felt estranged from many of the temporary middle-class inhabitants and the supporting labor that served them." Perhaps in keeping with Matisse's idyllic scenes that are more evocative of an ancient past than of the present, the artist refrained from referencing modern life; instead, he created a timeless image, which is at once stylistically modern and thematically nostalgic.
Oil on canvas - The Evelyn Sharp Collection
The Dancer from the Rat Mort
This work, a representation of a dancer at a bohemian Parisian nightclub called Le Rat Mort (The Dead Rat), seems to elude categorization as a portrait. So generic and simplified are the features of the sitter that it would be something of a leap to assert that Vlaminck was depicting a specific woman. The large eyes exaggerate the effect of the gaze with which this anonymous cabaret performer boldly confronts the viewer. The heavy cosmetics suggest garish excess rather than beauty or vanity.
The figure sits among a dappled surface of wild color as the patterning of her dress seems to merge with the background and this mixing of foreground and background has the effect of flattening the composition. According to art historian Tamar Garb, Vlaminck's painting (and others like it) constitutes "the end of painted portraiture," while also laying "the ground for its resurgence." Garb contends that the Fauves transformed the traditional genre of portraiture and created a more artificial, generalized representation of the human figure.
According to art historian Carol Duncan, the Fauves' unconventional style and themes were reflective of their anarchist sentiments. Their aim was to subvert the established political and economic order and liberate the working class. However, argues Duncan, in their attempt to romanticize the working class they represented their models - many of them actual prostitutes - as "possessions of the artist" and "objects of his particular gratification." While their anarchist rhetoric promoted liberation for the marginalized, rather ironically, the gender and class differences that are often represented in their works, whether deliberately or not, are in keeping with the hierarchy of sex and class in early-20th-century French capitalist, patriarchal society.
Oil on canvas - Private Collection
Although Vlaminck later railed against Cubism, this painting suggests that he was interested enough in the style to experiment with it. He represents a seated woman clutching an elongated opium pipe in her left hand. The artists breaks apart the composition, converting the various elements of the picture into discrete geometric forms and nearly merging the figure with the background. The multiple, fragmented planes have a distinctly vertical orientation and appear almost to slide up and down in the composition. Also in keeping with Cubism, individual forms are constructed so that they appear to be visible from angles other than the primary vantage point. This composition is much more monochromatic, a radical departure from the bright Fauvist palette.
The figure's expressive facial features are reminiscent of the primitive tribal sculptures and African masks Vlaminck purchased in 1902, influencing the Cubist movement and the artists associated with it. Like Picasso, the artist used the masks to communicate a kind of debased sexuality of the other - in this case, prostitutes and drug addicts. Vlaminck, like many of his fellow avant-garde artists, once again engages with the theme of prostitution and brothel life. The exotic masks and sexualized sculptures representing are stand-ins for the women the artists objectified in their work.
Oil on canvas - Dublin City Gallery, Dublin Ireland
Vlaminck's late painting, Marine, features a violent seascape in which equal prominence is given to the sea and sky. The artist eschewed the bright, simplified abstraction of the Fauve style in his later career, adopting a more conservative and limited palette and naturalistic style. The brushwork is quite masterful and expressionistic, communicating directly the intensity of the windswept sea and sky. The dramatic contrast of light and dark tones and the theme itself calls to mind the Romantic seascapes of J.M.W. Turner. While Vlaminck claimed to have avoided museums, he may have seen Turner's work in London during his brief stay in 1911.
Vlaminck's later work is possibly even more reflective of the influence of Cézanne in terms of the more naturalistic palette and the use of Cézanne's distinctive technique known as "passage" that links individual forms to one another via leaks of color from one area to the next. It is as though, as he matured, Vlaminck's artistic tastes became more regressive, linking him not only with Cézanne but with his predecessors, modernist innovators like Manet and Courbet.
Oil on canvas - Private Collection