Fauves in Collioure

06/01/2024 10:28

At the beginning of the 20th century, Collioure had begun to attract the attention of artists who went to the coastal town as the preferred centre for their work stays. Since 1905, Henri Matisse and André Derain took it as their headquarters. Matisse resided periodically until 1914. Other painters were invited to Collioure: Albert Marquet, Juan Gris, Henri Manguin and Charles Camoin. Here, Matisse painted numerous landscapes. If Céret was the mecca of Cubism, Collioure became that of Fauvism, the pictorial movement with expressionist roots that emerged in Paris. Their derogatory name arose from the criticism made of them at the Salon d'Automne of 1905, calling them fauves, beasts.

The fauve Henri Matisse (1869-1954), pioneer and promoter of the style, advocated the intense use of colour in the capture of images in which their perception mattered less than the emotion used. He himself said that, in one of his paintings, entitled La Musique, “était fait avec un beau bleu pour le ciel, le plus bleu des bleus. La surface était colorée à saturation, c'est-à-dire jusqu'au point où le bleu, l'idée du bleu absolu, apparaissait entièrement, le vert des arbres et le vermillon vibrant des corps. J'avais avec ces trois couleurs mon accord lumineux, et aussi la pureté dans la teinte. (“It was made with a beautiful blue for the sky, the bluest of blues. The surface was coloured until saturation, that is, to the point where the blue appeared completely, the idea of absolute blue, the green of the trees and the vibrant vermilion of the bodies. With these three colours I had my luminous accord, and also purity in the tonality.") On another occasion he added: “La couleur est une libération, peut-être même plus que le dessin”. (“Colour is a liberation, perhaps even more than drawing”.)

Between 1908 and 1911, Matisse directed a painting school in Paris, the Académie Matisse, which attended more than one hundred students, some of whom would visit him or follow his footsteps in Collioure. The painter arrived, for the first time in the town of the Côte Vermeille in the summer of 1905, accompanied by his wife Amélie and his student and model Olga Merson. Shortly before, his friend Hans Purrmann and the Fauvist André Derain (1880-1954) had done so, who initially settled in the hotel at the railway station. On that occasion they stayed until the beginning of October, but they returned every year until 1914, the last one in which Matisse visited Collioure. Matisse stays in a house on the outskirts, from there he paints the Fenêtre ouverte, in which the absence of shadows, the thick brushstrokes and the smooth backgrounds of intense tones stand out. Sketches in ink on paper, such as Barques et poulets, or Porte-fenêtre à Collioure, practically monochrome is a black canvas framed by blue and green strips that evoke a glass door. He paints Amélie on the rocks in a kimono, a work that one of his students, Walter Bodman, will replicate, as a tribute, in Femme au kimono.

Although Matisse stopped going to Collioure that year, there were many artists who followed his footsteps in the coastal town, starting with his own students. The Russian Léopold Survage frequented Collioure between 1925 and 1932, where he painted, among others, Les Porteuses à Collioure, an oil on canvas from 1925, a watercolour titled Vue de Collioure and another oil painting with a brief Collioure, both in 1929. That year arrived the Swedes Isaac Grünewald and Sigrid Hjartén, eight years before the Polonaise Mela Muter, who will be followed by the German Oswald Petersen and the Swiss Otto Abt, Walter Bodmer, Walter Kurt Wiemken and Max Birrer.

The Collioure city council decided to recover the memory of those years with the opening of the Musée d'Art Modern. For this purpose, Villa Pams was acquired in the 1980s, located at the southern end of the town, on the route that leads to neighbouring town Port-Vendres. There are no paintings by Matisse or Derain, but there are many by the first Fauves who came to Collioure, as well as by the latest artists who, already in this century, are still in the town. Here you can see Les Mulets à Collioure, from 1912, by Charles Camoin (1879-1965), who met Matisse at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris; Four pieces by Rolande Déchorain (1898-1977), painted between 1930 and 1937, are Port d’Avall, Collioure le fauburg, Collioure le chemin du mirador and Une rue à Collioure. And even from those years Bord de Mer by Gaspard Maillol, Nature morte aux poissons by Mela Muter, Les Hâleurs by Sébastienne Marre, Après la pêche by Jean Martin Ferrières or Nature morte aux citrons by Max Birrer, who married in Collioure Matisse friend daughter, Renée Soulier. There is also a small sample of two exiles from the Spanish civil war: Juan Navarro Ramón, who settled in the town until 1941, and Virgili Batlle Vallmajó (1915-1947). The latter, born in Olot, was a trade unionist and anarchist militant, he fought on the Aragon front and was exiled to Montauban in 1939, but between 1940 and 1942 he visited Collioure, staying in the workshop of his friend the painter Sébastienne Marre. In the oil on canvas simply titled Collioure, from 1942, the bell tower, the neighbouring houses and, in the background, Fort Saint Elme can be seen in a simplicity of form that, although cubist, still has figurative roots. More recent works continue in the museum, already framed in the present century, such as Les deux clochers by Julien Descossy, from 2014, or other more avant-garde works by Jean Luc Jehan, Michel Fourquet, Jaume Rocamora, Roger Cosme-Esteve and Frédéric Khodja.

If Collioure was, at the beginning of the 20th century, a fishing town, where boats were seen stranded on the beaches, one hundred years later the scene has changed significantly, today they live off tourism although they continue to sell anchovies. As for artists, the town is now home to numerous small art galleries and workshops of painters who, unlike the seasonal Fauvist visitors, have established themselves here.

© J.L.Nicolas

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