For more than half a century Maurice de Vlaminck had a profound influence on modern art. Abounding in vitality, he was opposed to any form of discipline or regimentation. Rebellious, unruly, and obsessed with the need for independence, it is not surprising that he was, along with Matisse and Derain, a leader of the revolutionary Fauve movement.
Born in Paris in 1876, both his parents were musicians who led a somewhat bohemian, unconventional life. Three years later his family moved to Chatou, a small town on the River Seine. As a child Vlaminck learned to play the violin, but otherwise his formal education was neglected. He earned a living as a bicycle racer, giving music lessons and playing the violin in a restaurant orchestra. A staunch individualist, he taught himself to paint, boasting that he had never visited to Louvre.
In 1899, after serving three years in the army, he returned to Chatou, where he met André Derain. The two young men became friends, and shared a studio together in a vacant hotel, not far from the place which the Impressionists had already made famous. It was here that Vlaminck and Derain founded and were the only members of “The School of Chatou”, one of the sources of Fauvism. Intoxicated with the idea of color, they spent endless hours experimenting, painting, and discussing their theories.
An important event occurred in Vlaminck’s life in Paris in 1901. This was the exhibition of Van Gogh’s paintings at the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery, an event that had a decisive influence on his work. He was exhilarated by Van Gogh’s luminous color, especially in his landscapes. The violence with which Van Gogh expressed his emotion in color created a spontaneous feeling of kinship in Maurice de Vlaminck. Upon leaving the exhibition he exclaimed; “…Van Gogh means more to me than my father!” It was at this exhibition that Detrain first introduced his friend to Henri Matisse.
In 1905 at the insistence of Matisse and Derain, Maurice De Vlaminck exhibited his work for the first time at the Salon des Indépendants and in “La Cage aux Fauves” at the Salon d’Automne. This was the famous exhibition in which twelve Fauve painters grouped around Matisse, created the first art revolution of the twentieth century. Vlaminck painted his last Fauvist canvas in 1908, drifted away from Van Gogh and turned to Cézanne. His Cézanne period was very much in evidence in 1908 (the year following Cézanne’s retrospective exhibition at the Salon d’Autumne) and remained a dominating factor until 1914. At the same time, until 1914, he also occasionally painted in what is called his “Blue Period” style. The Cezannian geometrization of forms was to lead many painters who had adopted its principles toward its ever greater accentuation, a path which logically ended in Cubism.
Maurice De Vlaminck remained aloof from Cubism, denouncing its narrow intellectualism. Now and then, however, between 1910 and 1915, cubistic forms are found in the compositions of his landscapes as well as in his still lifes. But they are there almost in spite of himself, because he worked hard not to succumb to the new theories. These theories, the Cubists claimed, were only further developments in Cézanne principles. Vlaminck could not deny the right of these claims, and therefore felt compelled once more to look into himself for inspiration.
Thus it was about 1915 that a new and important period began for Vlaminck, one in which his true personality began to shine through his work, free of all influence. This stage was to become increasingly expressionistic and lasted approximately until 1927. Then followed his late period, which in spite of occasional fluctuations, was to preserve its lyrical character, and its inveterate realism, unchanged until he died at the age of eighty-two in 1958.
The life-long subject matter of Maurice De Vlaminck’s painting is best summed up in his own words at the age of eighty; “…Life is visible to our eyes, can be perceived with our senses…I bequeath to young painters all the flowers of the fields, the banks of the brooks, the white and black clouds floating over the plains, the rivers, the woods and the great trees, the shorelines, the roads, the little villages covered in winter with white snow, all the prairies with their magnificent carpeting of flowers, and all the birds and butterflies.”