Maïthé Vallès-Bled and Godelieve de Vlaminck will include this painting in their forthcoming Maurice de Vlaminck catalogue critique currently being prepared under the sponsorship of the Wildenstein Institute.
By 1907, following on from the coloristic exuberances of the previous two years, Vlaminck found himself becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the Fauve experiment. His natural predilection for a sense of spatial structure and legibility led him to seek a more structured approach to his compositions. A way forward was offered by the work of Paul Cézanne exhibited at the Salon d’Automne in 1907. It devoted two rooms to a retrospective of Cézanne’s work and while Vlaminck, through his association with Ambroise Vollard, can hardly have been ignorant of Cézanne up to that point, the impact of such a large-scale exhibition was to be profound. Vlaminck primarily absorbed Cézanne’s lessons on building form through careful planar construction; the bold recession and sustained tension of Pont de Londres owes an obvious debt to the ‘ordered sensations’ of Cézanne and offered Vlaminck a convincing alternative to the perceived formlessness of Fauve landscapes. Furthermore, the dynamic brushwork and increasingly naturalistic use of blues, greens and ochres, that were to characterise his work for the following years, also recall Cézanne’s palette.
Vlaminck’s fondness for painting the pont de Chatou prompted Vollard, with whom the artist held his first exhibition in 1910, to suggest that he visit London to paint the banks of the Thames. ‘Although Vlaminck had always been curiously reluctant to travel, he set off for London and spent a fortnight there. In his English pictures such as London Bridge and Southampton, his new style is confirmed. Working within the framework of this conception of landscape, which combined an undeniable force of expression and a fairly mature interpretation of Nature, Vlaminck revealed himself immediately as a master. These pictures, which are painted in wide sweeps of mostly rather dark colour, catch our eye as much by virtue of their rare quality of being able to freeze a moment of time as by their sober passion. For the painter, who was in his full maturity, they certainly represented a perfect compromise between his fiery temperament and his desire to keep it within bounds’ (J.
Selz, Vlaminck, Paris, 1963, pp. 69-72).
Vlaminck was extraordinarily faithful to certain motifs and viewpoints, a particular favourite being the majestic bridge. More usually of course we are viewing the bridge at Chatou (see lot 238) which he painted from all angles and in all seasons and from which familiarity never bread contemp. In Vlaminck’s Pont de Londres we are treated to a familiar perspective, placing himself close to the embankment and the now Bankside Pier, looking north-east over the Thames; the bow of a working boat entering the scene at the left. The bridge itself is the London Bridge that was rebuilt in 1823-31, a graceful five-arched design from John Rennie, which would stand until 1967, when it was sold to an American developer and shipped stone by stone to Arizona. Unlike his tranquil Pont de Chatou, Vlaminck emphasises the fast-paced modernity of the city; the carriages and omnibuses passing in and out the city of Westminster under a smog filled sky. On the north bank, west side, we catch a glimpse of the Greek-revival pediment of the Fishmonger’s Hall. Further to the east we can make out the arches of the old Billingsgate fish market. But perhaps the most recognisable landmarks appear directly behind, rising to exaggerated heights: the Wren designed ‘Monument’ to the Great Fire of London and the church tower of the Wren church of St Magnus the Martyr, lying just to its south.