September 19, 2020

Sunday, 9/6/2020–Virtual trip to Collioure, France, Church of our Lady of Angels (Inktense pencils and watercolors on watercolor paper–in the Fauvist style)

Do you even know what Fauvism is? If you were like me, you’d have heard of it, but that would be the end of that. On September 6th of this year we took a virtual trip to a place that principal fauvist painters Henri Matisse and Andre Derain made famous—Collioure, France. Collioure is on the Mediterranean at the southern tip of France. In fact, Collioure is just 15 miles from Spain and shares a lot of the same Catalan culture. I found that out by looking up information on the internet. But one of the members of our virtual sketching group is actually from that area of Spain, and she ardently confirmed the Catalan connection to Collioure. In fact, she contributed appropriate music for our exploration of the city.

So, now I can actually answer the question: What is fauvism and what does it have to do with Collioure? The actual word comes from the French word “fauve,” which means “wild beast.” Not really sure why anyone would want to be called a wild beast, whether you were a painter, fisherman or even a lion tamer. But there you are. And it seems there never would have been such colorful wild beasts if it weren’t for Collioure. It was the perfect storm of “place” meets Matisse and Derain with their amazing, revolutionary and thoughtful style of painting that was directly related to their visit to Collioure in 1905. Derain was credited as saying he was tired of the dreary grey skies of Paris and was seeking the sun. He was dazzled by the bright orange tiled roofs of Collioure’s buildings set next to the sapphire-colored sea. (Such a striking contrast is evident to anyone who has studied color. Orange and blue are on the exact opposite sides of the color wheel and known as complementary colors. Using that same definition, red and green are complementary colors, as are yellow and violet. Cool, right? Derain Matisse had it going on…) While immersed in the life and charm of this fishing village they developed a kind of freewheeling and creative style that was all about intense colors and emotions. A key feature of the fauvist style is the use of bold non-realistic and non-naturalistic colors. Other artists such as Dufy and Picasso also got the “fauvism bug,” traveling to Collioure to take in the color while painting. After I read that Picasso had also gone there to paint I kind of wondered why. He was from Malaga, which is on the southern coast of Spain. Hadn’t he already seen such a golden beach? I guess there was just something about magical colors that only existed further north. So, it probably wouldn’t be surprising that many artists still live and paint in Collioure today.

The first place we stopped on our virtual trip to Collioure was the beach with the distant 17th century church and bell tower that was once a lighthouse. It was actually great fun to go as bold and colorful as I could just with some heavy-handed saturated watercolor colors and Inktense pencil on absorbent watercolor paper. The fauvist artists of the 20th century primarily used oil on canvas and the pigment stood proud and bold next to each stroke of paint. It was fun when we all shared our personal interpretations of this scene in such color. I noticed that many of my buddies still hung onto a watercolor strategy, using softly blended washes and definitely realistic colors.

Sunday, 9/6/2020–trip to Collioure, France, Fishing boats (Inktense pencils and watercolors on watercolor paper–in the Fauvist style)

For our second stop we went closer in and visited some colorful fishing boats that seem to be emblematic of the old and new Mediterranean coast of France. By this time, I was ready to go for much bolder color choices. When Siri chimed, telling us our time was up, we again shared our work. It was evident that many of sketching buddies had had the same idea as I—embracing the wild and colorful beast inside. Very fun to see our transformations, much like the fauvists must have felt when they attempted something new.

Note: As I was trying to do a quick study of this sketching challenge, I couldn’t help remembering that I had seen similar boat shapes and colors that had been painted by Van Gogh. Sure enough, when I later looked for just such an image I found that he had painted fishing boats on the Mediterranean coast of France (Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer) in 1888. If you Google Van Gogh’s fishing boats of 1888 and Derain’s 1905 painting of fishing boats you will definitely see the similarity. I guess as revolutionary ideas may seem, such things rarely occur in a vacuum. Wonderful colors for both artists, I think. (The light in both places must have been similar.)

If you think you might someday like to take in the light and color of Collioure, I’m sure the town would welcome you and I as it did the fauvists of the early 20th century. They even have what’s called a Fauvism Trail that leads interested painters and tourists around the village to 20 different sites that both Andre Derain and Henri Matisse painted. It looks like fun. At each of the stops there is a marker and a reproduction of the painting they had been done on that exact spot. We are encouraged to compare the actual view with the hundred plus year old painting. It is a little shameful, if you think about it, as the town wants to exploit those wild beasts. I guess they aren’t breaking any kind of law, but I do wonder what Matisse and Derain would think of the flagrant tourist attraction. From what I’ve read of Picasso, he loved to be noticed and would probably be thrilled with the idea of a kind of pilgrimage to see his work in a kind of plein air setting. In the end I guess what fascinates me most about Collioure is that it’s probably changed very little in all that time. I don’t think there is a single place in CA that has stayed exactly the same for 100 years, or even 50 years for that matter. Or 10 years…What about where you live?

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