The Wildenstein Institute has confirmed the authenticity of this painting.
Reminiscing about the radical aesthetic and political position that he had espoused in his youth, Vlaminck remarked to the critic Florent Fels in 1928, "I wanted to burn down the Ecole des Beaux-Arts with my cobalts and vermillions and I wanted to express my feelings with my brushes without troubling what painting was like before me... Life and me, me and life." (quoted in F. Fels, Vlaminck, Paris, 1928, p. 39; quoted in J. Freeman, "Surveying the Terrain: The Fauves and the Landscape," in exh. cat. The Fauve Landscape, New York, 1990, p. 21). A self-taught painter from a humble family, Vlaminck was to become one of the acknowledged masters of the French School of painting in the 1920s and 1930s. His later fame, however, belies the critical reception of his early work and his public reputation as a naïve and uncultivated artist.
Vlaminck achieved professional notoriety in 1905 when he exhibited five works in Salle VII of that year's Salon d'Automne, alongside paintings by Charles Camoin, André Derain, Henri Manguin, Albert Marquet, and Henri Matisse. Responding to the general penchant for formal distortion and intense, pure color in the works on view, the critic Louis Vauxcelles singled out Matisse's entries as the manifestation of a new and alarming tendency in modern painting:
Matisse...is a brave man, for his submission (and, what's more, he knows it) will have the fate of a Christian virgin cast before the wild beasts (les fauves) of the Circus... M. Matisse is one of the most robustly gifted of today's painters--he could easily have won praises. Instead he prefers to plunge headlong into passionate research... (Quoted in R. Benjamin, "Fauves in the Landscape of Criticism: Metaphor and Scandal at the Salon," in ibid., p. 252)
Accusing Matisse and his colleagues of bad faith in their willful transgression of established visual conventions and in their theoretical research into the nature of form and color, Vauxcelles inadvertently, and somewhat prematurely, baptized Fauvism as a movement characterized by unified conceptual and stylistic aims.
The epithet "Fauvism," of course, was meant to be derogatory. As Roger Benjamin observes:
There were many alternatives to describing these artists as wild beasts, some of which utilized long-standing conventions for the discussion of new art. Symptomatic examples appeared in Vauxcelles's comments on Derain and Vlaminck at the Salon d'Automne: "M. Derain is going to frighten people, just as he frightens them at the Indépendants. I think he is more a poster designer than a painter. The petulant character of his virulent imagery, the facile juxtapositions of his complementaries will seem willfully puerile to some... M. Devlaminck [sic] makes naïveté, decorativeness--all ways of describing inadequacy to the task of representation in conventional terms, ways of positioning the artist outside both the professional fraternity of painters (Derain is a poster designer) and correct society (he and Vlaminck would entertain children but frighten adults). (Ibid., p. 253)
There were good reasons for Vauxcelles to associate the names of Derain and Vlaminck. The two painters had shared a studio in the Parisian suburb of Chatou since a chance meeting in 1900. Derain portrayed his friend on at least two occasions in 1905 (fig. 1, and Kellermann, no. 367; Private Collection), applying thick paint to the canvas and defining the planar structure of the face through broad fields of pure color accented by heavy, broken contours--just as Vlaminck represented Derain that same year (fig. 2). Recalling a visit with Derain and Vlaminck in February 1905, Matisse described the latter's aesthetic: "Vlaminck insisted on absolutely pure colors, on a vermillion that was absolutely vermillion, which obliged him to intensify the other parts of the painting accordingly" (quoted in G. Duthuit, The Fauvist Painters, New York, 1950, p. 42).
Derain had first introduced Matisse to Vlaminck in March 1901, on the occasion of a van Gogh retrospective at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune. It was not, however, until 1905 that Matisse and Vlaminck entered into an artistic dialogue. Derain, in turn, kept Vlaminck abreast of the latest developments in Matisse's painting and aesthetic theory. In a letter dated July 28, 1905, he reported to Vlaminck about his aesthetic differences with Matisse in Collioure that summer:
1. A new conception of light consisting in this: the negation of shadows. Light, here, is very strong, shadows very bright. Every shadow is a whole world of clarity and luminosity which contrasts with sunlight: what are known as reflections.
Both of us, so far, had overlooked this, and in the future where composition is concerned, it will make for a renewal of expression.
2. Noted, when working with Matisse, that I must eradicate everything involved with the division of tones. He goes on, but I had my fill of it completely and hardly ever use it now. It's logical enough in a luminous, harmonious picture. But it injures things that owe their expression to deliberate disharmonies. (Quoted in J. Freeman, op. cit., pp. 15-16)
Responding to Matisse's pursuit of a unified, divisionist approach to color and light (which the artist was, in fact, to abandon that very summer), one that was informed by Georges Seurat and especially by Matisse's mentor, Paul Signac, Derain sought a more direct form of expression through glaring contrasts of brilliant color applied in large, flat planes and a consciously heterogeneous range of painterly techniques.
In Vlaminck's work of 1905-1906, the method that Ellen Oppler refers to as "broken-touch" Fauvism is characterized by the careful balancing of different stylistic and formal idioms (E. Oppler, Fauvism Reexamined, New York, 1976). On the most immediate level, Le vase bleu aux fleurs reveals Vlaminck's considerable debt to the work of van Gogh, especially to the Dutch artist's heavy application of paint and his proto-expressionist treatment of form. Speaking of the Bernheim-Jeune exhibition in 1901, Vlaminck later confessed, "In [van Gogh] I found some of my own aspirations... And, as well as a revolutionary fervor an almost religious feeling for the interpretation of nature. I came out of this retrospective exhibition shaken to the core" (M. Vlaminck, Portrait avant décès, 1943, p. 31; quoted in J. Freeman, op. cit., p. 21). But if van Gogh's influence is readily apparent here, it has been mediated through the work of Seurat. Indeed, in 1905 Vlaminck had ample opportunity to meditate on the accomplishments of both artists, who were honored with retrospective exhibitions at that year's Salon des Indépendants. It is, in fact, the incommensurability of van Gogh's expressionism with the divisionism of Seurat and Signac that appears to charge Vlaminck's still-life with its peculiar, explosive force. To this list of sources, one may in turn add the late flower paintings of Odilon Redon (see lot 114), who regularly sent works to the Salon d'Automne and who celebrated one-man exhibitions at Galerie Durand-Ruel in 1903 and 1906.
In the present work and in related flower paintings of the period (e.g. fig. 3), Vlaminck's paint is applied by means of loose, agitated brushstrokes. Pigment is swept across the surface of the canvas, accumulating in heavy deposits of color that seem to define, as if by some sense of touch, the texture of individual petals or bits of foliage. Compared with Matisse, who carefully balances drawing with painting in his Nature morte au pélargonium (Le géranium) from the summer of 1906 (fig. 4) and who applies thin washes of pigment that seem to bleed into the very fibers of the canvas, Vlaminck insists on the physicality and tactility of paint itself. There is little rest for the eyes in this violent orgy of matter and hue, as the artist establishes the most glaring oppositions of color--a brilliant orange highlight set against the deep blue vase, arcs of red exploding amidst the lush green fauna--to convey his almost carnal experience before the spectacle of light in nature.
(fig. 1) André Derain, Portrait de Vlaminck, circa 1905
(fig. 2) Maurice de Vlaminck, Portrait de Derain, 1905
(fig. 3) Maurice de Vlaminck, Le vase aux bourgeons, 1907
(fig. 4) Henri Matisse, Nature morte au pélargonium (Le géranium), 1906
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