Painted in 1906-1907, Nature morte au compotier is a powerful illustration of the continued importance of the traditional still life within Vlaminck’s oeuvre, during the most radical stages of his career. Acting as a vehicle for experimentation and research through which he could explore new directions in his painterly aesthetic, the still life took on particular importance for the artist towards the end of 1906, as Vlaminck began to feel that he had reached the limits of his use of pure, explosive color as the primary means of expression in his work. As the artist explained: “I regretfully realised that my composition was reduced to no more than a series of coloured rhythms, harmonious, discordant, monotonous and that, from simplification to simplification, I was falling into the trap of decoration. I no longer got to the bottom of things: I no longer cut through to their heart. The decorative spirit was leading me to forget painting” (quoted in Dangerous Corner, transl. by M. Ross, London, 1961, p. 15). The still lifes which emerged over the course of 1907 reveal the earliest signs of this decisive shift within Vlaminck’s oeuvre, as he adopted a more nuanced play of colors and started to focus increasingly on the construction of space and form in his painting.
An important influence at this time was the art of Paul Cézanne, whose recent death in October 1906 had instigated a wave of renewed interest in his work among members of the Parisian avant-garde. A mini-retrospective of ten important compositions was shown at the Salon d’Automne that year, followed swiftly by a large memorial exhibition in 1907, which together raised Cézanne to new heights of renown and critical acclaim. A self-taught painter, Vlaminck had largely shunned the tradition of studying and learning from the example of his artistic predecessors, preferring to allow his imagination free-reign within his paintings. In the art of Cézanne, Vlaminck found solutions to the pictorial musings with which he had been wrestling. Cézanne’s rigorous still lifes proposed a new approach to visualizing and painting the world, allowing him to push his art in bold new directions.
Indeed, in its treatment of space and approach to construction, Nature morte au compotier clearly points to Cézanne’s guiding influence. Rendered in Cézanne’s constructive brushstrokes, the fruit reveal Vlaminck’s desire to translate a sense of the weight and solidity of the objects before him onto his canvases, while the folds of the tablecloth appear to directly parallel Cézanne’s unconventional approach to perspective. Vlaminck’s still lifes of 1906-1907 exhibit a vigorous approach to painting and energetic, multi-directional brushwork of the artist’s Fauve period, fully asserting the physicality of the material and capturing a sense of the sheer vitality with which he worked.