Friday, April 30, 2010

Maurice de Vlaminck: views from a bicycle

To make up for my recent silence, I hope over the next month to complete a series of short posts on Fauve artists as printmakers. For no particular reason, I'll start today with Maurice de Vlaminck. Vlaminck was born in Paris in 1876. His father was Belgian (the name Vlaminck or Wlaminck means “Flemish”); his mother was from Lorraine. Both were musicians.

Maurice de Vlaminck, Beaumont, Oise
Etching, 1927

Despite this artistic background, Vlaminck originally intended to be a professional cyclist, and it has often been noted that his landscapes are like the glimpses of a passing cyclist, crouched low over the handlebars of his bike watching the world rush by.

Maurice de Vlaminck, Nesles la Vallée
Etching, 1927

In 1896 a bout of typhoid fever put paid to Maurice de Vlaminck’s athletic ambition.

Maurice de Vlaminck, Environs de Marines, Oise
Etching, 1927

It was while on leave from his military service, on 18 June 1900, that Vlaminck had a chance encounter with André Derain on a train. The two became firm friends, and when he was demobilized Vlaminck shared Derain’s studio in an abandoned hotel-restaurant on the Île-de-Chatou.

Maurice de Vlaminck, Une église dans le Vexin
Etching, 1927

Derain provided illustrations for Vlaminck’s early semi-autobiographical erotic novels such as D’un lit dans l’autre (From One Bed to Another), and Vlaminck became one of the original Fauve group, alongside Henri Matisse, André Derain, Raoul Dufy, Othon Friesz, Albert Marquet, Henri Manguin, and Charles Camoin. The etchings above were contributed by Vlaminck to one of the earliest monographs on his work, by Georges Duhamel.

Maurice de Vlaminck, Church across a cornfield
Lithograph, 1957

Maurice de Vlaminck continued to write as well as paint, and is one of the few to achieve real distinction in both literature and art. Besides his fellow-Fauves, Vlaminck was deeply influenced by Cézanne and Van Gogh. He went to the 1901 Van Gogh exhibition with Derain, and was overwhelmed by what he saw.

Maurice de Vlaminck, Flowers in a vase III
Lithograph, 1957

Maurice de Vlaminck, Farmhouse in the snow
Lithograph, 1957

While Maurice de Vlaminck’s early prints tend to be monochrome, his later work is filled with colour, as shown in the monochrome etchings in this post, dating from 1927, and the boldly-coloured lithographs from thirty years later.

Maurice de Vlaminck, Flooded water meadow
Lithograph, 1957

The colour lithographs were made for an edition of Images pour un jardin sans murs by Maurice Genevoix; my copy is warmly inscribed by Genevoix to the publisher Henri Flammarion.


Thomas said...

Interesting, I had no idea he was a cyclist!

Faux Naif said...

this is marvelous.

i just found your blog, and it's a sheer delight. i'm studying art history and have a particular interest in print culture, so i'm getting a real kick out of your blog.

thank you for introducing me to so much great new material!

Neil said...

Curator - The romance of cycling really appealed to the artistic temperament in the era before the motor car - Toulouse-Lautrec was also mad keen, though as a spectator, naturally. With Vlaminck, you can really feel that cyclist's-eye view, especially in the earlier work.

Faux Naif - Thanks so much for the kind words.

Jane Librizzi said...

I hadn't thought of Vlaminck as a working artist in the 1950s. He makes one feel the wind blowing through the flooded trees. Perhaps Vlaminck had an affinity with energy on the move that made him take up cycling? It's a heretical notion but, when I was little, I wanted to play the piano for the same reason I wanted to play with my parents' typewriter. But I can't quite define what that reason was. There are physical and mental cross-pollinations that we don't yet understand. Welcome back.

Neil said...

Thanks, Jane. When we were at college, Emma (my wife) did a photographic project that was a calendar of musical instruments. December was a typewriter - tenuously justified by reference to Satie's use of typewriters in the score for Parade. I think there's a great affinity between typewriters and pianos. Both are percussive instruments. Blaise Cendrars in Claire de lune writes of "my beautiful typewriter which rings at the end of each line and syncopates like jazz".

r8r said...

I've been a student of Fauvism and early Modernism for a year or so now, so I've been aware of Vlaminck's work. But until now I hadn't been aware of any etchings by him, and only one or two lithos. This group is quite an education!
I've never been keen on Vlaminck's work - saw it as all emotion, and not nearly enough thought or draftsmanship - but on taking in these, I can see I'll need to rethink that!

Neil said...

r8r - I think Jane's right in her comment above when she remarks on Vlaminck as a painter of "energy on the move". So his work can feel vital and exciting, or it can seem overblown and slapdash. He's certainly a more hit-and-miss artist than some of his fellow-Fauves. But then he didn't have the solid art school training they had.

Roxana said...

it's exactly that vibrant emotion which has always drawn me to Vlaminck!
(i adore those trees)