Bougival situates the viewer high on one of the hills bordering the Seine River, allowing for a view across the bending river to the opposite hillside, buildings, and distant landscape. In keeping with landscape painting traditions, the work is organized into three zones: foreground, middle ground, and background. However, Maurice de Vlaminck’s use of a vibrant, saturated palette and emotive brushwork distinguish him from earlier landscape painting traditions.
Vlaminck (1876-1958) completed this painting in the town of Bougival, which is located west of Paris along the valley of the Seine River. Vlaminck is associated with Fauve artists. The term “Fauvism” was coined in 1905 by a critic who referred to a group of artists including Henri Matisse, André Derain, and Vlaminck as “les fauves,” meaning “wild beasts,” due to their aggressive brushwork and use of saturated, nonrealistic color.
Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958)
Maurice de Vlaminck began as an amateur painter after short-lived careers as a mechanic, musician, and journalist. He had no professional art instruction, but was close to the painter André Derain with whom he shared a studio. Together, Vlaminck and Derain created a new style of painting in which color was freed from the task of realistic description. This approach became known as Fauvism, which derives from the French term “les fauves,” meaning “wild beasts,” and references the aggressive brushwork and use of saturated, nonrealistic color by the artists.
Vlaminck is best known for works he created during the first decade of the twentieth century as he worked feverishly during this time, producing a large body of works. He said of his work, “My ardor led me to risk everything and hold back nothing, in defiance of all the conventions of the painter’s craft….” Vlaminck used raw, expressive colors and aggressive brushwork in provocative juxtapositions. Referring to his use of color, Vlaminck said, “Only the colors on my canvas, orchestrated to the limit of their power and resonance, could render the color emotions of the landscape.”
Fauvism is an early twentieth-century avant-garde movement that emphasized a subjective response to nature. Fauves rejected traditional methods of landscape painting that came before them, including the Impressionists. Their work is characterized by bold, saturated colors often taken directly from the tube and expressive, painterly brushstrokes.
Henri Matisse and André Derain are considered the founders of Fauvism because of their work together in the Mediterranean port-town of Collioure during the summer of 1905. The two presented a joint exhibition of the work they completed that summer at the Salon d’Automne in Paris. It was at the Salon that critic Louis Vauxcelles referred to them as “fauves” or “wild beasts” due to their radically non-traditional style. The artists later embraced the term fully. Other artists in addition to Maurice de Vlaminck associated with Fauvism include Charles Camoin,Kees van Dongen, Henri-Charles Manjuin, Jean Puy, and Georges Rouault.
French Landscape Painting
Landscape painting changed dramatically in France during the nineteenth-century. It was one of the lower genres in the hierarchy of painting and sculpture endorsed by the French Academy because it lacked historical and religious subject matter. This low status may have been a contributing factor to artists’ willingness to experiment with landscape painting early in the twentieth century. Experimentations included painting landscapes with an emphasis on contemporary locations and subject matter, rejecting illusionistic painting, and exploring various ways of paint application.
Artist colonies appeared in Barbizon, outside of Paris near the Chateau Fountainebleau, and in Normandy that emphasized working en plein air or outside directly from nature. The Barbizon artists of the 1830s rejected the idealized Italianate scenes exhibited at the Salons for naturalistic, in-person observations of their surroundings. This plein-air approach would also be used by the Impressionists in the 1870s as they worked outdoors to capture the modern life of the cafes, boulevards, and suburban landscape. These artists abandoned the traditional tools of formal composition, perspective, and chiaroscuro for loosely worked landscapes with strokes of unadulterated color that recorded their experiences as directly as possible. This would eventually transition into the pointillist techniques based on contemporary color theory of the Neo-Impressionists, who used tiny dots of saturated color placed side-by-side which were then believed to be mixed by the viewer’s eye. From these pure sections of pigment, it is not a far stretch to the Fauves, who were working with vibrant colors and emotive brushwork. Fauves such as Vlaminck, Matisse, and Derain continually worked outside of Paris in the Mediterranean coastal town of Collioure and the small town of Chatou.
1. Why would an artist choose to paint a landscape in colors different from real life? What does it mean to be expressive? How can color be expressive? What colors would you use to show excitement, calm, etc.?
2. Maurice de Vlaminck described his process of painting in plein-air as, “I used to go to work right out in the sunshine; the sky was blue, the wheat fields seemed to be stirring and trembling in the torrid heat, with hues of yellow covering the whole scale of chromes; they quivered as if they were about to go up in flames. Vermillion alone could render the brilliant red of the roof tiles on the hillside across the river. The orange of the soil, the raw, harsh colors of walls and grass, the ultramarine and cobalt of the sky, harmonized to extravagance at a sensual, musical pitch.” Think about Vlaminck’s description of colors as you look at the painting. How would you describe the colors you see in the landscape? Be creative and adventurous with your descriptions. Give each color a nickname (i.e. sidewalk gray or jalapeno green).
3. How does this work of art make you feel? Imagine if the artist had used muted colors instead. Would this change your reaction to the work?
1. Imagine you could step inside this painting. Think about the colors around you. Write a few notes about what you see, hear, smell, taste, or feel in this place? Create a copy of this work or print out a 4x6 image to use as a postcard. Then, on the back write a short poem or paragraph inspired by your sensory descriptions that captures your experience inside the painting. Send your postcard to a friend or family member.
2. Consider the idea of abstraction. Many French landscape paintings prior to the 1870s appeared very realistic or even idealized. View Jean Joseph Claude Vernet’s painting Approaching Storm to see an earlier example of French landscape painting. Artists such as Vlaminck used extremely saturated colors and abstract shapes when painting a landscape. Take a photograph of a landscape and create an abstract painting of the same place. (Hint: instead of painting, use colored paper and glue sticks to create a multi-layered artwork.)
3. Compare Bougival to Vincent Van Gogh’s Sheaves of Wheat. How does each artist use color and line? How has each artist moved away from a realistic or ideal image of a landscape? Share your thoughts about similarities and differences with the class.
4. Compare and contrast a landscape painting that uses realistic color (i.e. Vernet’s Landscape with Approaching Storm) to one that uses nonrepresentational colors (i.e. Delauney’s Eiffel Tower, Bernard’s The Women at Pont-Aven, Vlaminck’s Bougival). Keep in mind how artists use representational and nonrepresentational colors. Give each student a black and white printout of a landscape painting they have not seen before that they can color however they like (hint: search DMA collections online for images). Afterwards, show them a color reproduction of the work of art and discuss how their color choices are similar to or different from the artist’s.
|Listen to a brief biography of the artist Maurice de Vlaminck.|
|Listen to a description of Bougival.|
Brodskaia, Nathalia. The Fauves. Parkstone Press, 2011.
Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection. Dallas, 1997.
Duthuit, Georges. The Fauvist Painters. New York: Wittenborn, Schultz, 1950.
Elderfield, John. The “Wild Beasts”: Fauvism and its Affinities. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1976.
Freeman, Judi. The Fauve Landscape. Los Angeles, CA: Los Angeles County Museum of Art; New York: Abbeville Press, 1990.
Impressionist Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture of the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection. Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 1995.
The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection. Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 1985.
Books for Students:
Fissinger, William. Dance at Bougival. Xlibris, Corp., 2008.
Welton, Jude. Artists in Their Time: Henri Matisse. Children’s press, 2002.
This website provides an overview of Fauvism.
Learn more about landscape painting in the French Barbizon School.
This website provides an art historical overview of changes in French landscape painting.
The Museum of Modern Art collection includes several works of art from Vlaminck, and discusses his life and work.