At the turn of the century, Derain’s home town of Chatou was a small suburban town on the banks
of the Seine just north of Paris. The town was popular with the Impressionists – it was here
that Renoir had painted some of his most important landscapes.
Another of the great Fauve painters, Maurice de Vlaminck, grew up in Chatou. Derain and Vlaminck
actually shared a studio there, in an abandoned restaurant, from the year 1900. They apparently first
met when their train derailed and they were forced to walk back to Chatou. Although they knew
each other by sight it was only when they were thrown together by accident that they discovered
their mutual interest in extending the boundaries of painting. This was an intense period of
experimentation and reached a peak following Derain’s release from military service. In the winter of
1904-5, both artists worked on shimmering, colour-saturated landscapes. Vlaminck describes the
beginnings of Fauvism working side by side with Derain in Chatou in 1904: Each of us set up his easel,
Derain facing Chatou, with the bridge and steeple in front of him, myself to one side, attracted by the poplars. Naturally I
finished first. I walked over to Derain holding my canvas against my legs so that he couldn’t see it. I looked at his picture. Solid,
skilful, powerful, already a Derain. ‘What about yours?’ he said. I spun my canvas around. Derain looked at it in silence for a
minute, nodded his head, and declared, ‘Very fine.’ That was the starting point of all Fauvism.
Derain and Vlaminck were constantly exchanging ideas and painted with very similar colouristic
exuberance. Derain spent the summer of 1905 in Collioure, a small Mediterranean fishing village
where he painted with Matisse. Matisse had been drawn to Collioure by the brilliance of the light and
the vibrancy of the local colours. Writing to Vlaminck from Collioure, Derain mentions the
absence of shadows as an important aspect of his work: A new conception of light consisting in this: the negation
of shadows. Light, here, is very strong, shadows very bright. Every shadow is a whole world of clarity and luminosity which
contrasts with sunlight; what are known as reflections. Derain’s stay at Collioure was to transform his painting. Within a few weeks, Derain and Matisse produced over 240 works in which they broke free of
the tenets of Neo-Impressionism and painted in free, fluid brushstrokes and strong, rich colours
using irregular strokes of pure, unmodulated pigment to create dazzling effects of vibrating light.
In spring 1905, Ambroise Vollard purchased the contents of Derain’s studio. The paintings produced
by Derain in the company of Matisse in Collioure caused a sensation at the Salon d’Automne in Paris
in October (Derain was one of the chief organisers of the first Salon d’Automne in 1903). Derain and
Matisse exhibited alongside other painters linked to Matisse such as Vlaminck and Henri Manguin.
With their arbitrary use of colour and the intense, emotional and seemingly violent style of their
work, the group came to be known as Les Fauves [wild beasts] – an epithet coined by the critic Louis
Vauxcelles for the vanguard of the first real revolution in twentieth-century art.
Dated 1904-5, Le Pont à Chatou is a fine example of Derain’s watercolours from the Fauve period. His use
of colour became increasingly non-naturalistic. The choice of a bold, expressive palette suggests the
probable influence of van Gogh – Derain was a great admirer of his work: Recollections of van Gogh are
constantly in my mind. Increasingly, I am seeing the real meanings in his work (…)
Previous owners of the watercolour include Paul Poiret, a celebrated couturier of the period, and
Raymond Nacenta, director of Galerie Charpentier in Paris.
A certificate of authenticity issued by Génèvieve Taillade of the Comité Derain dated 5 September
2012 accompanies the watercolour.