The spectacular Barques au port de Collioure presents the pinnacle of Derain's Fauve style. In early July 1905, Derain joined Matisse in Collioure, a coastal town on the Spanish border, where both artists spent the next two months working side by side. Shortly after Derain's arrival, he wrote in a letter to Vlaminck, marveling at the brilliant colors of the sundrenched coastal towns: "Above all, the light, a blond light, a golden hue that suppresses the shadows." While in Collioure, Derain's preoccupation with light and color of the Mediterranean freed his palette, leading him to explore a new purified form of painting where strongly contrasting areas of colour came to achieve new prominence. When Derain arrived in Collioure, Matisse, under the influence of Signac and Cross, was painting in brilliant, intense tones in a framework of mosaic-like short brushstrokes.
Derain executed some thirty oils while staying in Collioure, and these paintings constitute a key achievement of the Fauve movement. The new environment provided a rich source of inspiration, and Derain was fascinated by the daily life of the fishermen and of the busy port, as well as of the more untamed, wild nature of the town's surroundings, as in the present landscape. Derain returned to Paris in September 1905, shortly before the opening of the famous Salon d'Automne, where the boldly colored canvases by artists including Derain, Braque, Matisse and Vlaminck provoked the art critic Louis Vauxcelles to proclaim them 'fauves' (wild beasts). It was primarily his exuberant views of Collioure that represented Derain at this exhibition, pivotal in the history of the Fauve movement and a milestone in the development of twentieth century art.
In the present work the hallmarks of the Fauve style are very much in evidence. The dazzling effect of light is captured in brushstrokes of pure, primary tones. Derain has rendered the port with broad strokes of juxtaposed complementary color contrasts. The treatment of a single object, such as a boat, in a number of contrasting colors, is a feature that characterises Derain's style of this period, taking the Impressionist rendering of the effect of light to its extreme. An important source of inspiration was the painting of Van Gogh, whose works Derain saw in 1901, at the artist's first retrospective exhibition held at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in Paris. This was an experience that was to determine the artistic direction of Derain and a number of his contemporaries. In the present oil, the debt owed to Van Gogh is evident in the palette choice of reds and golds.
Writing about Matisse's and Derain's depictions of the landscapes in the south of France, James D. Herbert commented that "This manner of painting, subsequently known as the Fauve style, reached its first fruition – and perhaps its fullest realization – in the paintings Matisse and Derain executed in Collioure in the summer of 1905" (J. D. Herbert, Fauve Painting: The Making of Cultural Politics, New Haven & London, 1992, p. 89). Painted in quick, spontaneous brushstrokes, the present work is a remarkable example of Derain's Collioure landscapes, displaying a colouristic boldness and gestural exuberance that place it among his greatest Fauve works. Using a palette dominated by bright, primary tones, this composition displays an explosion of colour that earned Derain and his colleagues the name 'wild beasts'. The fierce yellow, red, green and blue hues are applied onto the pale yellow ground in an almost violent fashion. Fuelled by an extraordinary and daring creativity and the passion of his youth, Derain's production of this period forms a ground-breaking body of work that powerfully influenced the course of modern painting.
Oil on canvas
23 5/8 by 28 3/4 in. 60 by 73 cm
Pierre Cabanne, André Derain, Paris, 1990, illustrated in color p. 22
Michel Kellermann, André Derain, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, vol. I, Paris, 1992, no. 69, illustrated p. 43
Matisse-Derain (exhibition catalogue), Musée Départemental d'Art Moderne, Céret & Musée Départemental Matisse, Cateau-Cambrésis, 2006, fig. 51, illustrated in color p. 61
Private Collection (acquired in 1951 and sold: Christie's, New York, November 2, 1993, lot 30)
Private Collection, New York
Private Collection, Europe (acquired from the above)