Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958)
Born in 1876 in Paris, Maurice de Vlaminck, of Flemish origin, was first known as a cycling champion. It was in fact experiencing such immersion in nature by his bicycle that inspired him to paint his sensations. During the summer of 1900, his encounter with André Derain determined his career as a self-taught painter: they worked together in Chatou while Vlaminck, already responsible for his family, earned his living as a violinist at shows in Paris.
In March 1901, he was deeply moved by the first retrospective devoted to Vincent van Gogh. It was the revelation of a painting practice in accordance with his deepest aspirations: ‘to show nature at liberty, to free it from old theories’ and to interpret it with ‘an almost religious feeling.’ From then on, he no longer hesitated to indulge in all audacity, seizing pure and violently contrasting colours with enthusiasm, as the elongated and dense stroke van Gogh used to create forms. ‘I was a tender and violent barbarian. I translated instinctively, without method, not an artistic truth, but a human one.’ (Tournant dangereux, 1929.)
When the group of Fauves were revealed at the Salon d’automne in 1905, Vlaminck actually appeared to critics as the most radical of them. His revolutionary aspirations encompass not only his art, but also society, as well as his philosophy on life: ‘Fauvism was not an invention, an attitude, but a way of being, of acting, of thinking, of breathing’ (1943). ‘I had…a rage to recreate a new world’ (Tournant dangereux, 1929.)
Landscape was his favourite subject, just like his friends, however, penniless Vlaminck did not follow them to the Midi but searched instead for scenes in the Parisian region, then in Normandy. His compositions, which are heavily elaborated, often show a malformed perspective, employ daring framing, and comprise varying brushstrokes, ranging from flat to impasto. The brushstrokes in some cases closely approach their subject while in others, freely dissolve their form.
But soon Vlaminck was no longer satisfied with this excess of colour, and instead became wary of his ‘excessive skill’, which could cause him to lose ‘the inner character of things’. As early as 1907 he gradually moved away from his Fauve colours, probably as a result of the Cézanne retrospective organised at the Salon d’automne in 1907, which marked many minds in search of modernity. He then muted his brushstrokes and palette, producing Prussian blues and whites, and became passionately concerned with the geometrical structure of forms, such that he anticipated Cubism, which would soon be revealed by his friends Braque and Picasso.
However, though Vlaminck quickly judged Cubism as too conceptual, it is important to note that he is the first to have collected pre-colonial African art (from 1905), with a passion that would inspire first Derain and then Picasso.
It is by returning to Cézanne for a second time that he found his definitive style, fully revealed in 1919 during an exhibition at Druet gallery. He represented depth by constructing successive planes, and utilised a sober palette comprising greens, grays, browns, and beiges punctuated by whites, sometimes enhanced by warm colours. Advocating an ‘individualistic’ art that could also be a conduit for deep emotions, Vlaminck withdrew from and avoided artistic movements to devote himself to painting landscapes, often populated by small figures, nature being his only refuge after the butchery of the Great War.
Though he was generally hostile to the ‘machines’ of the modern world, Vlaminck bought cars as soon as he could afford to (from the 1920s), because their speed gave him new sensations, and of a visual nature in particular. Thus by the 1930s, the entire picture embodies movement (especially through his use of the ellipse).
Since the Great War and until the end of his life, his works frequently reflect a dramatic atmosphere that is tinged with romantic lyricism, reminiscent of Van Gogh’s subjects and brushwork, but which was necessary for a balanced composition.
Always independent and anxious to preserve within himself the unity of man, life, and art, Vlaminck took refuge in 1925 in the Beauce at La Tourillière, in the heart of nature that never ceased to balance and inspire him.
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Art works from Maurice de Vlaminck
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