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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Maurice Vlaminck

In the late 1800s, the English art critic, John Ruskin, rhetorically accused James McNeill Whistler of "...flinging a pot of paint in the public's face." Whistler sued him for it. In a stuffy English court of law he won his case of slander and was rewarded damages of one penny. Whistler was distressed and angered at the outcome but nonetheless felt vindicated. He'd made his point. The irony of it all is that Ruskin should have saved his venomous outrage for someone more deserving--someone like Maurice de Vlaminck. The only problem is, Vlaminck would have been delighted at such an outburst, seeing it as a different sort of vindication, in that the flinging of paint pots was precisely how he might have described his art himself.

The Chatou Bridge, 1906-07, Maurice Vlaminck
Vlaminck was born in 1876 and landed in Paris about 1901 with something of the same impact as a UFO.  All his life he was quite the bull in a china shop. It was then and there he met Andre Derain (b.1880). The two of them stumbled upon the Galerie Bernheim, which at the time was holding the first ever retrospective of the work of Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh hit them like a "ton of bricks".  Vlaminck declared, "I love him more than my mother and father!" With Derain, and later Matisse, Vlaminck retreated to the banks of the Seine at Chatou and there painted the railway bridge with such raw, violent, flaming, exploding colors as to quite likely have startled even Van Gogh had he still been alive.

The Seine at Chatou, 1906, Maurice Vlaminck
Vlaminck never had an art class in his life and was intensely proud of that fact. In spite of a continuing struggle to feed his wife and two daughters, Vlaminck had a life-long disdain for past masters, rules, and tradition artistic values. "I don't care a damn for other people's painting. In art every generation has to begin all over again." He declared. In contrast to the bourgeois Derain, or the patient artistic explorations of his cohort, Matisse, Vlaminck painted instinctively with an insatiable curiosity for the crude expression of nature. The wildest of the "wild beasts", as the Fauves were called, Vlaminck, went further in exploiting color for color's sake than anyone at the time had dared to go. If he didn't exactly bash it in, he at least drove right up to the door to modern art and pounded on it so loudly the next generation was obliged to let him in and acknowledge the debt they owed his brash disregard for the niceties Impressionism or the restraints of traditional representational art.

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