La Seine à Chatou was painted in 1906, effectively the year that Maurice de Vlaminck truly acquired mastery of his fauve style. The scene itself, the Parisian suburb of Chatou that had been the artist's home for most of his childhood, had everything the aspiring landscape painter could need in terms of views - river, bridge, boats and not too many people. By the time he was painting there, time had taken its toll on the place, as had the fickle tastes of the public. The vibrant river life that Renoir had formerly celebrated had to some extent passed, with the diminishing number of tourists causing a diminishing number of boaters and restaurants. Although still popular as a suburb, it was no longer the thriving tourist centre it had once been. The more pleasurable river activities had passed, as had the canotiers, in favour of passing commercial river traffic.
In the years just before he painted La Seine à Chatou, Vlaminck had developed a formative friendship with fellow Chatou artist André Derain. The pair, who had been accustomed to seeing each other wandering around Chatou with their paints, eventually met on a train around 1900. The train derailed, and so the pair walked to Chatou, talking and discoursing all the way. Within a short time they had rented out a large space together, a former restaurant, that they used as a studio. Each had a great influence on the other. Vlaminck's raw, unharnessed treatment of his subject matter, the legacy of his lack of any artistic schooling except experience, released in Derain the courage to truly explore the potentials of colour. Derain introduced structure and technique to Vlaminck, and taught him to keep his paintings. Indeed, until they met, Vlaminck almost invariably scraped the paint of his canvases at the end of each session, often re-using it the next time.
Vlaminck's confidence truly came when he began painting full-time. Ambroise Vollard, the ever-perceptive dealer, bought Vlaminck's entire output one day, purchasing 300 paintings for Ff.6,000. However, more important had been the kudos afforded by Henri Matisse's reaction to his works. The pair had met briefly before, but in 1905 Derain reintroduced them. Matisse saw Vlaminck's paintings and was amazed by the power of his works and his striking colours, later recalling the occasion as an epiphany. Matisse encouraged Vlaminck in his art and also arranged for him to exhibit alongside himself and his colleagues. All this brought not only relative prosperity, but more importantly great confidence in his art, vindicating him in his chosen method of self-expression.
Vlaminck's painting had originated as a source of catharsis and this remained of great relevance in the development of his distinct fauvism. Where Derain had always kept an eye turned towards the Old Masters, for Vlaminck the true source of inspiration came in the form of an exhibition of the works of Vincent van Gogh. Although he misunderstood some of van Gogh's aims in his painting, he took away invaluable lessons regarding both the separation of various colours and the funneling of pure emotion into his work, hence the similarities between La Seine à Chatou and van Gogh's Le Pont de Trinquetaille (fig. 2), executed in the South of France in 1888. Vlaminck's exposure to van Gogh's work encouraged him to apply colour in a manner that was violent in its execution and in its effect. More than even van Gogh, Vlaminck applied globules of ardent colour to build up a truly expressive image of his scenery. He recalled the immediate impact Van Gogh had on his paintings, writing that he 'heightened all tones. I transposed into an orchestration of pure colours all the feelings of which I was conscious. I was a barbarian, tender and full of violence. I translated by instinct, without any method, not merely an artistic truth but above all a human one. I crushed and botched the ultramarines and vermilions though they were very expensive and I had to buy them on credit' (quoted in J. Rewald, Vlaminck: His Fauve Period, exh. cat., New York, 1968, p. 3).
Indeed, in La Seine à Chatou, the reds and blues that by his own testimony marked so much of his work of this period are complemented by a golden yellows that themselves pay tribute to van Gogh. However, in spite of the influence of van Gogh's coloration, Vlaminck remained very true to his own instinctive way of painting. 'When I have colour in my hands, I don't give a damn for other people's paintings: it's me and Life, Life and me' (quoted in J.-P. Crespelle, The Fauves, London, 1962, p. 112).
La Seine à Chatou
Oil on canvas
Signed 'Vlaminck' (lower left)
Maurice de Vlaminck
29 x 36 in. (74 x 91.5 cm.)
M. Sauvage, Vlaminck, sa vie et son message, Geneva, 1961, p. 11, no. 40 (illustrated pl. 40 with incorrect dimensions).
Galerie Druet, Paris.
John A. MacAuley, Canada.
Fine Arts Associates (Otto M. Gerson), New York.
Anon. sale, Christie's New York, 14 November 1989, lot 57 (sold for $7,150,000).
Alain Delon, Paris, purchased at the above sale.