This vivid depiction of the bridge at Poissy is one of the first major Fauve landscapes, painted by Vlaminck the year he and his colleagues Matisse, Braque and Derain debuted their radical techniques of painting at the Salon d'Automne in 1905. Vlaminck's frenetic application of paint, his unabashed use of exuberant colour and his wildly expressive brushwork characterised the style that defined the first important avant-garde movement of the 20th century. At the time of the exhibition, critics' reactions to the paintings of Vlaminck and his contemporaries was severe. The most famous comment was made by Louis Vauxcelles, who classified the exhibition as 'an orgy of pure tones' perpetrated by a group of 'wild beasts' or fauves, as these painters have come to be known. But perhaps the critic Etienne Charles's reaction to Vlaminck's painting in particular provides the best insight to the unprecedented scenario at the salon that fall in Paris: 'M. de Vlaminck has surpassed all his predecessors by the organic debauchery that he made with colour' (quoted in J. Freeman, Fauves (exhibition catalogue), The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1995, p. 217).
The scene in the present landscape depicts a bridge, which has since been destroyed, across the river Seine in the town of Poissy in the western suburbs of Paris (fig. 1). The foreground is occupied by a large river barge, set against the background of the glistening yellow and blue-speckled water. Vlaminck took great liberties with his palette in his rendering of nature, but with his innovative colour choices he was able to capture aspects of the weather and time of day that may otherwise go unnoticed in more faithful renderings of the natural world. For example, we can imagine that it was either late afternoon or early morning when Vlaminck painted this work, since the intense yellow reflection of the sunlight is striking the water at an angle. The dark blue stripes that outline the cloud formations in the sky indicate that stormy weather might be on the way, as does the streak of vermilion cloth that blows in the wind from the flagpole. Overall, Vlaminck's use of colour energises the composition, leaving the viewer with a powerful visual impression. Upon seeing several of Vlaminck's paintings (fig. 2) from around the time he completed the present work, Matisse remarked: 'Vlaminck insisted on absolutely pure colours, on a vermilion that was absolutely vermilion, which obliged him to intensify the other parts of the paintings accordingly.' Evidently, Vlaminck's choice of colours had such a profound impact on Matisse that he admitted: 'I was not able to sleep that night' (quoted in ibid., p. 230).
Vlaminck's inspiration came not only from his contemporaries. Like many of the Fauves, Vlaminck was a great admirer of the paintings of Van Gogh (fig. 3), whose work had made a profound impact on him at the 1901 exhibition at Bernheim-Jeune. Vlaminck, who was of Flemish origin, also felt a kinship with the Dutch artist, whose paintings Vlaminck believed revealed a particularly Northern European spirit. As Judi Freeman explains, 'Vlaminck's fascination with colour and his predilection for thick impasto were indebted to the work of Van Gogh, whom he worshipped "always more than my own father." He was enthralled with Van Gogh's 1901 retrospective: "In him I found some of my own aspirations. Undoubtedly from the same Nordic affinities. And, as well as a revolutionary fervor, an almost religious feeling for the interpretation of nature. I came out of this retrospective exhibition shaken to the core"' (ibid., p. 228).
One of the first owners of this work was Marie Cuttoli (1879-1973), who was the proprietor of the textile boutique Myrbor in Paris and a major premotor of the arts of textiles during the first half of the twentieth century. Between the 1920s and 1950s, Cuttoli promoted the cross-cultural exchange of artistic ideas among textile artisans in Algeria and France and modern painters in Europe, including Natalia Goncharova, Picasso, Léger and Le Corbusier. Along with her contributions in this field, Cuttoli was also a major collector of important twentieth century avant-garde art.
Fig. 1, The bridge at Poissy
Fig. 2, Maurice de Vlaminck, Canot, 1905-06, oil on canvas, Bridgestone Museum of Art, Ishibashi Foundation, Tokyo
Fig. 3, Vincent van Gogh, Les Ponts d'Asnières, 1887, oil on canvas, Fondation Collection E. G. Bührle, Zürich
Oil on canvas
Maurice de Vlaminck
Geneva, Musée de l'Athénée, Vlaminck, 1958, no. 6
Bern, Kunstmuseum, Vlaminck, 1961, no. 140 (titled Le Ponst sur la Seine à Chatou and as dating from 1907-08)
68.3 by 95.5cm. 26 7/8 by 37 5/8 in.
The Financial Times, London, 3rd July 1969
Daily Telegraph, London, 3rd July 1969
Connoisseur, Paris, December 1969, no. 27, illustrated in colour p. 281 (titled Le Pont sur la Seine à Chatou)
Maïthé Vallès-Bled, Vlaminck. Catalogue critique des peintures et céramiques de la période fauve, Paris, 2008, no. 72, illustrated in colour p. 187
Galerie Druet, Paris
Marie Cuttoli, Paris
Mrs. Stephen Higgons, Paris (sale: Sotheby & Co., London, 2nd July 1969, lot 56)
Victor M. Carter, Los Angeles (purchased at the above sale)
Sale: Sotheby's, New York, 18th November 1986, lot 32
Private Collection, New York