Maïthé Vallès-Bled and Godeliève de Vlaminck will include this work in their forthcoming Maurice de Vlaminck catalogue critique currently being prepared under the sponsorship of the Wildenstein Institute.
Vlaminck’s excursions into still life painting began during his fauve period, when the subject had an appeal not so much as a well-trodden domestic subject but, more importantly, as a vehicle to detonate explosions of color, as Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin had done at the close of the previous century. Whether in a landscape or arranged in a vase, flowers provided an expedient way to skirt with abstraction, before the term was yet in circulation. By a cunning deployment of complex, overlapping forms, fauve painters further blurred the relationship between fore and middle ground, flattening the picture plane and forcing the eye to shift constantly.
In the present, more restrained painting, Vlaminck has moved on to the next stage of his artistic trajectory. From 1907, the artist ardently embraced Paul Cézanne’s approach to color and form. Even before the major Cézanne retrospective in September of that year at the Salon d’Automne, where Vlaminck himself had been a recent exhibitor, his fellow fauves Henri Matisse and André Derain had turned to Cézanne, as of course had Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, but in a mode against which Vlaminck later reacted strongly. Maurice Denis captured this regard for the deceased master in his review of the retrospective: “It is understood that Cézanne is a kind of classic and that the younger generation considers him a representative of classicism” (J.D. Herbert, Fauve Painting, The Making of Cultural Politics, 1992, p. 152). For the next six years, Vlaminck explored Cézanne’s fusion of post-Renaissance convention, perspectival subversion and liberating brushwork. During that transitional period, he placed himself among those who intended to convey longstanding and hard-won pictorial structures into the emerging forms of modernity. This moment in Vlaminck’s work is a fascinating one, when he travels alongside a master of order while retaining the spontaneous painterly freedom he’d acquired as a fauve. Indeed, the still life pictures of circa 1910-1912 are among his most accomplished works.
Fleurs has a decidedly Cézannesque palette, with its rhythmic pattern of thin arcing stalks and flickering range of broad green and blue leaves punctuated by pale peony buds that are accented below by deeper red and violet shadows. One distinctive feature of the present work is the broad, Prussian blue stroke that occupies the left, right and (part of the) upper edge of the canvas—an audacious framing and balancing device that Vlaminck briefly adopts around 1910. Such a strategy may have derived from bold outlining strokes on the enameled ceramic dishes he had been producing for several years. We may be seeing a dialogue here with Georges Rouault, who enclosed his contemporary paintings with a broad line, and likewise created painted ceramics.
The first recorded owner of the present work was Viktor Heinrich Simon, editor-in-chief of the Frankfurter Zeitung until 1934, and a close friend and supporter of Max Beckmann. Heinrich and his wife Irma collected work by Beckmann in depth and were themselves portrayed by the artist in the 1920s.
(fig. 1) Paul Cézanne, Fleurs dans un pot de gingembre et fruits, circa 1890. Nationalgalerie, Berlin.