Maurice de Vlaminck
French artist Maurice de Vlaminck helped create the fauvist style
In 1860, the squeezable paint tube was invented. Artists could apply their oils directly from tube to canvas, where they could splodge, smear and swirl them about. Best of all, they could lug their easels outdoors to paint nature in the rough. It was the age of the Impressionists: Claude Monet, Edgar Degas and Vincent van Gogh.
In 1901, Maurice de Vlaminck, a musician’s son from a posh but not very trendy suburb of Paris, visited a show of Van Gogh’s work. The 25 year old was left staggered by the artist’s “revolutionary fervour” and his “almost religious feeling for…nature”, so he and his well-connected pal André Derain committed themselves to producing an art that was both racy and exuberant. Unfashionable subject matter was daubed in lurid clashing colours, and unlike Impressionism, where light brought nature to life, nature itself burned savagely from within.
In 1905, critics were affronted by the style in a show in Paris, in which Henri Matisse also took part. They dubbed these artists ‘Les Fauves’, The Wild Beasts.
Unfortunately for Vlaminck, Fauvism lasted just two years before it ran out of steam, outclassed by the honed skills of Post-Impressionist painters Paul Cézanne and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, with whom Vlaminck could not compete.
The show at CaixaForum is an appropriately unsatisfying glimpse into what Vlaminck was good at. The first room is spectacular: Vlaminck drowns us in a deluge of autumnal leaves and snowdrifts, sweeps us under a lemon-yellow Chatou bridge, sends us reeling about the Seine. “When I have colour in my hands,” he enthused, “I don’t give a damn about other people’s paintings: it’s me and Life, Life and me.” But as rapidly as his art ignites, it cools into messy ceramics, listless trees and colliding rooftops, as if optimism had suddenly gone out of fashion.
Alex gave this show three stars out of five
Maurice de Vlaminck, un instinto fauve
Until October 18th