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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 13 JUNE 2008- The French painter, Maurice de Vlaminck, who died at the age of 82 in 1958, has surprisingly never enjoyed the same notoriety as Cezanne or Vincent van Gogh, the two giants of the Impressionist movement whose works most profoundly marked him. And yet, together with Henri Matisse, he was one of the acknowledged leaders of the Fauvist movement which had such a profound impact on 20th century art in Europe. French Fauvism, at its height between 1905 and 1907, used pure, brilliant colours which were applied aggressively and often violently onto the canvas straight from the tubes of paint and Vlaminck's work with its strident colours, and turbulent emotionalism together with his 'instinctive', albeit extremely exciting approach to art, caused an enormous scandal at the Paris Salon d'Automneof 1905. His claims to be an anarchist who could neither read nor write, together with his declaration that he never set foot in a museum did not endear him to the critics. He simplified forms and distorted volumes, attacking his canvas with a force not seen before. Upon seeing his works displayed alongside those of Matisse, André Derain and Henri Manguin, the shock of the sheer explosion of colour led the famous art specialist, Louis Vauxcelles*, to write in his review that wild beasts, 'fauves' , must have been at work there! The epithet stuck.

Maurice de Vlaminck: Les Ramasseurs de pommes de terre
Oil on canvas
© Droits réservés
© Adagp, Paris, 2007
Photo courtesy of Musée du Luxembourg

As a tribute to the fiftieth anniversary of Vlaminck's death, the French Senate and the Musée de Luxembourg in Paris are hosting a very fine exhibition of seventy of his paintings completed between 1900 and 1915 together with a series of his ceramics as well as his private collection of Oceanic and African sculptures. The idea behind this concentration of works is to emphasise the important role he played in avant-garde art, his use of pure colour paving the way for Braque and….Picasso. There can be little doubt that he was the inspiration behind Picasso's early primitive work, Vlaminck going as far as to accuse the Spaniard of plagiarism in 1903!

The paintings chosen demonstrate how he pushed everything to extremes, painting rapidly what he saw the instant before the image escaped him.

Nothing destined Maurice de Vlaminck to become a painter. Although he had enjoyed drawing lessons as a child from a Monsieur Robichon, a friend of his parents, both his parents were musicians, and up until 1905, the young Maurice had earned a living as a violinist, giving lessons and playing at night in cabarets. Painting to him was just a hobby. As a teenager, he had also been a professional cyclist, and it was not really until the 'shock Van Gogh', after he had visited the Flemish painter's exhibition in Paris in 1901, that he felt the need to take his painting more seriously, and to portray what he himself saw and the emotion he felt rather than representing landscapes as they really were. In other words, he did not want to imitate nature, but to create his own vision of it.

Maurice de Vlaminck: Les Péniches à Chatou, 1905
Oil on canvas, 50 x 65 cm
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston - Gift of Oveta Culp Hobby
© The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
© ADAGP, Paris, 2007

Photo courtesy of Musée du Luxembourg

A chance meeting with Derain in 1900 led them to rent a small studio in Chatou, a countrified suburb to the West of Paris, for a couple of years, and then from 1905 he began to sell his work and make a living from it for himself, his wife and his three small children. And at a time when many of his contemporaries were or had been scurrying off to the sunny South of France, Vlamink felt no such urge and was happy to remain in the west of Paris, in Chatou, Le Vesinet, and Rueil; hence his earliest works were dominated by landscapes of the Seine valley, by the routes and scenes he knew well from his bike rides. "I'm the suburban genius, the working-class painter", he would proclaim. "I like to paint everything around me". Which he did.

The paintings on display have been hung chronologically and the first room is a positive eruption of colour dominated by such magnificent works as Les Ramasseurs de pommes de terre, Le pont de Chatou, and the Péniches de Chatou as well as several portraits. The influence of van Gogh is instantly discernible, when one sees that the tubes of paint have been thickly squeezed onto the canvas in rapid, spontaneous gestures which come from his heart. "Artistic creation is instinctive", he used to say.

His portraits, less likenesses of his subjects than character studies, illustrate his desire to make a series of people's pictures, "showing their character; real portraits like real landscapes, human landscapes, happy or sad with all their flaws, grace and filth." Such is his La fille du Rat Mort, a vibrant study, if not a caricature of a prostitute from the infamous nightclub full of compassion and tenderness.

Maurice de Vlaminck: La Fille du Rat Mort, 1905,
Oil on canvas
Kunststiftung Merzbacher
© Droits réservés
© Adagp, Paris, 2007
Photo courtesy of Musée du Luxembourg

Beginning to suffer from not being able to express his feelings more strongly and aware of the limitations of the primary colours he was using, the year 1907 saw him shaking free of van Gogh. After visiting the exhibition of Cezanne that same year, he began to follow the Master's example with a deeper exploration of volumes, form and structure, and by 1915 his more realistic works including Village sur la rivière show him beginning to flirt with cubism. Unfortunately for the visitor, the exhibition ended before showing whether or not he actually took the plunge.

Maurice de Vlaminck: Vins, Liqueurs, 1910
Oil on canvas, 73 x 92 cm
Private Collection - Courtesy Duhamel Fine Art
© Droits réservés - © ADAGP, Paris, 2007

Throughout his life Maurice de Vlaminck expressed himself by painting what words could not say, using colours to trap time and to fix the instant on canvas. His work was intensely physical. But strangely enough, despite his lifelong search to change the world and discover new ways of expression, it is his earliest works during the height of the fauvist movement which are the most moving and which leave the greatest impact.

*Vauxcelles also coined the word, 'cubism' three years later.

Photo above: Maurice de Vlaminck: Self-portrait, 1911
Centre Georges Pompidou
Musée National d'Art Moderne
Donation Louise et Michel Leiris, 1984

Vlaminck: un instinct fauve
Until 20 July 2008
Musée du Luxembourg
Le Sénat (The Senate)
19, rue de Vaugirard
75006 Paris
Tel: (33) 1 45 44 12 57 33

Patricia Boccadoro is a senior editor at

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