BARCELONA.- CaixaForum Barcelona
, la Caixa Community Projects opened Maurice de Vlaminck, a Fauve Instinct: Paintings from 1900 to 1915. This is the first Spanish exhibition of works by this artist, who is key in terms of the renewal of European avant-garde painting at the beginning of the 20th century, and arrives to Barcelona after being shown at CaixaForum Madrid.
With this exhibition, la Caixa Community Projects aims to make the general public aware of the pioneers of art at the beginning of the 20th century, in the same way as it has done recently with exhibitions of works by Alphonse Mucha and Gustav Klimt. These artists created art that was free from the shackles of realist painting conventions, seeking essential colours and volumes.
Maurice de Vlaminck, a Fauve Instinct. Paintings from 1900 to 1915 is coproduced by la Caixa Community Projects and sVo Art the company responsible for managing the Musée du Luxembourg, where, in 2008, the first version of the exhibition was held, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Vlamincks death. The exhibition, curated by Maïthé Vallès-Bled, includes more than 80 artworks paintings and ceramics from the artists most creative, innovative period, corresponding to the first two decades of the 20th century. On show in the exhibition too are a number of African and Australasian sculptures from Vlamincks collection, suggestive of the influence that primitive cultures had on avant-garde art.
The artworks on show at CaixaForum Barcelona come from several museums and significant private collections from all over the world. The result is a unique exhibition that conveys the creative energy that existed at an extraordinary moment in the history of modern art.
Landscapes, Still Lifes and Portraits
Among the artworks that visitors can see at CaixaForum Barcelona are the artists first paintings, which confirm the boldness and seemingly chaotic nature of his compositions, as well as some vivid works exalting the use of colour, which positioned Vlaminck as one of the most potent Fauves of his generation. Finally, there are several canvases from his Cézannesque period, marked by his concern for the construction and restitution of space.
Most of Vlamincks production is dominated by landscapes, his favourite subject matter. He discovered many of them when out cycling. In the same way as other Fauves, he focused on nature, distancing himself from built-up areas, and he inherited his interest in outdoor painting from the Impressionists. However, unlike his contemporaries, he did not travel to the south of France until 1913, and it was only the Seine valley that provided him with the subject matter for an aesthetic renewal that included elements from the previous generation: from Van Goghs bold palette to Gauguins more muted colours and Cézannes experimentation with volumes.
In reality, the things he painted were only a pretext, since the only subject of his painting is expression through the use of colour and the act of painting itself. It is for that reason that many of the landscapes on show in the exhibition, despite being places near where he used to live, do not include any identifying features. In his pre-1907 works, visitors can appreciate a vibrant rhythm combined with an intense transposition of colour.
In 1907, Vlaminck distanced himself from Fauvism. He had managed to achieve the greatest possible intensity with the use of colour. Despite that, however, in subsequent works, it is still possible to find traces of the previous intensity combined with tones that are more subdued. In his Cézannesque period, landscapes had simplified forms and he reduced volumes to geometric shapes, along lines similar to those that led Picasso and Braque towards Cubism.
The exhibition also shows a collection of artworks that are lesser known yet highly significant in terms of his production: a series of still lifes and portraits of friends and neighbours. The portraits, with thick, dark profiles and exaggerated makeup, draw onlookers attention because of their power of expression. Like other Fauvists, the characters he portrayed have very little psychological depth because the interest lied in the colour potential of the artwork. Vlaminck found it more difficult to decompose portraits than landscapes, and that explains why he produced very few.
Regarding his still lifes, also very few in number, the changes in perspective and the selective deformation that the artist applies to his subjects are crucial when it comes to understanding his interpretation of space. In the still life paintings he produced between 1905 and 1910, Vlaminck explored the intense expressions of everyday, ordinary, humble objects, following Van Goghs example. In them, colours explode and flower petals become veritable symphonies of colour. Reds and yellows predominated initially, and then blues and whites those of Cézannes palette became the colours of choice. The original turbulence gave way to a profound approach to expression and composition.
The Fauvist Years
An instinctive relationship with colour and matter, combined with an impetuosity of gesture, led Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958) to succumb to all the excesses of one of the most radical Fauves. He played a decisive role in establishing this pictorial trend based on the use of intensely vivid colours.
A free spirit, Vlaminck was self-taught in the fields of literature, music and painting. He was a passionate man of action and creation, not only in the field of painting: he was a renowned cyclist, an excellent writer and a prolific engraver, and he even made his own furniture. Ideologically, Vlaminck was a rebel, a free spirit and a non-conformist, and he sympathised with anarchist ideas circulating at that time.
In 1900, a chance meeting occurred, which led him to develop his artistic skills: he met André Derain, who would undeniably become one of his greatest influences and with whom he struck up a life-long friendship. They began to share a studio together next to the Pont de Chatou in the Seine valley, near Paris. A year later, he discovered Van Goghs work, which had an enormous impact on him and, more or less at the same time, he struck up friendships with Matisse and Picasso.
So that was how his artistic career began, a career that over the following years would lead him to produce paintings in practically pure colours (hence the adjective fauve, meaning wild or literally wild animal). Vlaminck painted quickly; he took colours to their maximum intensity and painted his landscapes using powerful brushstrokes, since his relentless concern was to capture the picture exactly as he perceived it, before it disappeared.
From 1904, Vlamincks production was extraordinarily prolific. The artists palette went from strength to strength in terms of the use of colour and the quest for light, and his boldness knew no bounds. His broad-mindedness led him to question all conformity with the Post Impressionist legacy, and he freed himself from it in an intense, provocative way by using pure colours, applied directly from the tube, and by selectively deforming the subject represented.
Vlaminck undertook his work without any Mediterranean light, since the landscapes he painted were those of the Seine valley, in Chatou, Rueil and the surrounding areas. Unlike the other Fauves who regularly travelled to the south of France in search of light, Vlaminck could not leave the area around Paris because of his precarious financial circumstances. Nevertheless, he managed to achieve the same explosions of colour as his friends Matisse and Derain. One of the most important dealers of the time, Ambroise Vollard, bought most of his works in 1906, and from that time onwards, he was able to make a living from his painting.
1907: The Cézannesque Transformation
From 1907, Vlaminck felt the urge to go beyond using pure colour because it no longer satisfied him, and his palette moved away from the intensity of colour. Strongly influenced by Cézanne, he became concerned with the construction and interpretation of space and experimentation with volumes. He ditched reference to perspective and approached depth by superimposing a series of planes. The tones of his palette became more subdued, his volumes became denser and his shapes became more synthetic. Despite that, however, Vlaminck never severed the link with realistic spatial composition or allowed himself to be drawn towards Cubism, which distanced him from Picasso, Gris and Braque.
Vlaminck achieved considerable success with both critics and the general public, but after the War, he remained on the sidelines of the avant-gardes of his time and gravitated towards trends that were more naturalistic while preserving expressive strokes and an immediate, spontaneous and emotional connection with his painting.
The Experience with Ceramics
In 1906, encouraged by his dealer Ambroise Vollard, Vlaminck began working with the ceramic artist André Metthey, an experience that so enthralled him that he would never give it up, unlike many of his contemporaries who also took part in the initiative, like Derain, Matisse, Maillol, Roussel and Laprade.
From more than 150 catalogued ceramic pieces, it is clear to see how the painter was enthralled by the physical confrontation with clay and by the spatial limitations of their shapes. The decorations on them are varied, and go from depictions of humans, animals and flowers to geometric motifs inspired by primitive art, on which Vlaminck was particularly keen. The aim of both Vlaminck and Metthey was to renew ceramic art and make it profound in nature.
Vlaminck and Primitive Sculpture
The exhibition also includes a number of pieces demonstrating the influence that African and Australasian sculpture had on Vlaminck, particularly during the period when he progressed towards a Cézannesque interpretation of the construction of pictorial works. Vlaminck began to collect what is termed as Black Art in 1905, which allowed his contemporaries to discover the plastic potential that it offered.
Through Vlaminck and artists akin to him, primitive sculpture ended up being seen as true artwork, doing away with the derogatory colonialist treatment it had experienced until then. Although the influence of such art on Vlamincks works had often been denied, it unquestionably captivated him, not only the sculptures shapes, but also their colours.
Vlaminck carried on collecting African and Australasian sculptures over the following decades and he often lent them out so that they could be exhibited. Even though it is hard to calculate how many pieces he eventually owned, since he did not maintain a record of them, it is estimated that he bought approximately 400 objects.