Sunday, 26 April 2015

Vlaminck at the Atelier Grognard, Paris

Maurice de Vlaminck is an artist I know very little about but I've seen some of his marvellous fauvist paintings at the Courtauld Gallery in London and at Musee D'Orsay in Paris. There was an exhibition of his later works at the Atelier Grognard out in the suburbs of Rueil-Malmaison while I was in Paris recently so out came the map to try and find the gallery. Find it I did, and the nearest rail station which looked miles away… Still, where's there's a way there's a will!

So there we are, trudging down a quiet residential road, posh houses in walled grounds either side and the hot sun of an unseasonably warm and sunny Paris spring beating down. And no signposts or posters in sight. Luckily, my phone includes a map so I know I'm heading in roughy the right direction. And then finally there's a poster! At the end of the residential road, there are a few shops and then turning right, yet more walled in private houses and private roads. Posh indeed. And then there it is, the gallery, looking for all the world like a community art centre anywhere in the world.

The exhibition is in a large room with sections panelled off to make it more interesting and to separate out the works on display. We have a few early works including a couple of self-portraits with a pipe (I'm assuming Maurice liked a pipe) and a section with some of his vibrant fauvist-inspired works such as 'Restaurant' which normally hangs in Musee D'Orsay. I admit to loving 'Restaurant' and I want to eat there. I'd like a table outside please, beside the orange wall, so I can look at the pink-orange trees and the red grass. I'd sip a nice red while I waited for the surly waiter to serve me my food and drink in the colour along with the wine. Why isn't the world always like this?

These are the paintings I really wanted to see but most of the exhibition was made up of paintings of landscapes, of fields of corn and villages, of woods and trees being blown around. And all with a big sky. I didn't really notice at first but then that's all I saw - lots of skies. I should have got the hint from the exhibition poster, with half the painting being of the sky.

The skies were quite entrancing in their own way. None were the same and none done by rote. All were worked and moulded into being the right sky for that particular picture, occasionally blue but, more often, dangerous shades of grey, a sky that could change from benign to terror in the blink of an eye.

Some skies were violent and turbulent, some seascapes made little difference between the storming waves and the storming clouds but it was always there. The sky is a character in it's own right, not just the bit at the top of the painting that's normally blue.

Some of my favourite paintings were the snow scenes with the lowering grey skies contrasting with the often dirty, trodden snow on the ground. The people in these paintings were always negligible and roughly drawn, a few slashes of the brush and that's it, always bent as they trudged through the snow, almost cowering from the sky. They were all terribly atmospheric, a world Vlaminck has created in which we live in terror of the sky. Having so many of them on the walls together was almost oppressive. He might not have put much effort into painting people but he was a master of depicting the terror of clouds and atmospherics.

After a short sit down to rest, off we started on the trek back to the railway station. By now the afternoon heat was oppressive and a bottle of water wouldn't go amiss but where can you buy a simple thing like a bottle of water? Not in this neighbourhood certainly! It wasn't until we found the station again that we also found the station shop that sold water! What a funny area that was. I wasn't sad to be leaving at all and it was a delight to get a double-decker train back into Paris proper.

But there you go - at least I've seen some Vlaminck paintings I'd probably never have the opportunity to see without that odd trek into the middle of suburban nowhere. And I've learned about skies.

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