Maïthe Vallès-Bled and Godelieve de Vlaminck will include this painting in their forthcoming Vlaminck catalogue raisonné being prepared under the sponsorship of the Wildenstein Institute.
'I knew neither jealousy nor hate but was possessed by a rage to recreate a new world, the world which my eyes perceived, a world all to myself. I was poor but I knew that life is beautiful. And I had no other ambition than to discover with the help of new means those deep inner ties that linked me to the very soil' (Maurice de Vlaminck, quoted in John Rewald, Vlaminck: His Fauve Period, exh. cat., New York, 1968, pp. 2-3).
Painted circa 1906-07, Maisons au bord de la Seine à Chatou dates from the highpoint of Fauvism, a movement that largely relied on the exertions of a handful of artists, one of the most vociferous of whom was Maurice de Vlaminck.
This painting, with its bold and darting brushstrokes, is filled with life and colour. In looking at the bold reds of the roofs, which sits fire-like atop the blazing yellows of the shore and walls, and the intense blues of the water, one can see that Maisons au bord de la Seine à Chatou perfectly encapsulates the methods that Vlaminck discussed when referring to his paintings:
'I 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' (Maurice de Vlaminck, quoted in ibid., p. 3).
Art, for Vlaminck, was a need and a crusade. His struggle to remain a painter despite his poverty was reflected not only by his concern at the expense of the paints, but also in Derain's claim that initially Vlaminck could not afford canvases, and therefore scraped off each work before starting on a new one on the same support. But by the time Maisons au bord de la Seine à Chatou was painted, he was an established artist. His entire studio contents had been purchased, through Matisse's encouragement and intercession, by the veteran dealer Ambroise Vollard, resulting in relative financial security and in his being able to paint with colours that were purer and purer. He was also painting with increasing assurance, as is evident even in the composition of this painting. For, with over half the picture taken up by the parallel strokes of white and blue that comprise the water and the vague, shimmering reflections of the houses and shore, there is a striking boldness to Maisons au bord de la Seine à Chatou that verges on the brink of open abstraction. The strokes of the artist, his vigorous movements, his passion-- these are all condensed into the canvas, reflecting his declaration that, 'What I could have done in real life only by throwing a bomb which would have led to the scaffold I tried to achieve in painting by using colour of maximum purity. In this way I satisfied my urge to destroy old conventions, to 'disobey' in order to re-create a tangible, living, and liberated world' (Maurice de Vlaminck, quoted in S. Whitfield, Fauvism, London, 1996, p. 33).
Vlaminck had been particularly impressed by the paintings of his Dutch predecessor, Vincent van Gogh, and it was indeed at a posthumous exhibition of the latter's works that Matisse had first met him. There, Vlaminck's interests were clear, as Matisse recounted:
'One day I went to the van Gogh exhibition at Bernheim's in the rue Lafitte. I saw Derain in the company of an enormous young fellow who proclaimed his enthusiasm in a voice of authority. He said, 'You see, you've got to paint with pure cobalts, pure vermilions, pure veronese.' I think Derain was a bit afraid of him. But he admired him for his enthusiasm and his passion. He came up to me and introduced Vlaminck' (Henri Matisse, quoted in J. Elderfield, The 'Wild Beasts': Fauvism and Its Affinities, Oxford, New York & Toronto, 1976, p. 30).
It is only fitting that the movement in which the larger-than-life Vlaminck was so instrumental itself had its beginnings in a larger-than-life event-- a train crash. It was in walking back to Chatou from their derailed train that Derain and Vlaminck, two young painters who had hitherto noticed each other painting in their hometown, finally began to realise how similar were their interests and decided to paint together. The shores of Chatou were therefore the cradle of Fauvism, and while Derain would soon spread his wings and paint in other locations such as Collioure and London, Vlaminck remained linked to the landscape of his youth, to his home. It was the spirit of Chatou that he sought to capture, as he explained:
'I had no wish for a change of scene. All these places that I knew so well, the Seine with its strings of barges, the tugs with their plumes of smoke, the taverns in the suburbs, the colours of the atmosphere, the sky with its great clouds and its patches of sun, these were what I wanted to paint' (Maurice de Vlaminck, quoted in J. Freeman, Fauves, exh.cat., Sydney, 1995, p. 220).