Born in Paris in 1876, Vlaminck had relatively little artistic training and, as a young man, dreamt of becoming a professional cyclist. A chance encounter in 1900, however, when he was nearing the end of his national service in the army, proved fateful.
It was with the budding artist, André Derain, whom he met when a train they were aboard derailed. The pair lived in the small town of Chatou, a few miles along the River Seine from Paris, and they chose to complete their homeward journey from the French capital that day on foot. They struck up a friendship, and before long were sharing a studio.
Derain and Vlaminck would become, alongside Henri Matisse, the driving forces behind Fauvism, the first avant-garde art movement of the 20th century. Partly inspired by the recent innovations of Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh, it was characterised by aggressive brushwork, simplified forms and intense non-naturalistic colours. Its name came from the reaction of a critic in 1905 who compared the artists to fauves (‘wild beasts’).
Vlaminck enjoyed painting in primary colours, and is particularly associated with scenes set in and around Chatou. Standout examples include Restaurant de la Machine à Bougival (1905) (today found in the Musée d'Orsay) and The Seine at Chatou (1906) (found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York). The poet Guillaume Apollinaire hailed Vlaminck as ‘the wildest of the Fauves’.
In the years immediately before the outbreak of World War I, the artist’s style shifted. His palette grew slightly more sombre, and there was a greater emphasis on solidity and a landscape's underlying structure. This revealed the influence of Paul Cezanne — the subject of a ground-breaking, posthumous retrospective in Paris in 1907.
Vlaminck worked in a munitions factory during the war. His paintings after it were much darker and more realistic than those with which he had made his name. He died in 1958, aged 82.
In 2011, his Fauvist landscape, Paysage de banlieue, sold for $22.48 million at Christie’s — setting a record for the highest price paid for a work by Vlaminck at auction.