Work of the Week this week is André Derain’s The Pool of London from 1906. Derain is best known for his association with the “Fauves“ (along with Henri Matisse). Painted with free brush strokes, this painting is characteristic of Fauvism, creating a vivid effect through bold non-naturalistic colour. In 1905 Derain had travelled with Matisse to Collioure in southern France where they had experimented with this brilliantly-coloured style - Matisse painted a portrait of Derain, and Derain one of Matisse. They tried to create dynamic compositions using complementary colours, such as red and green, which appear most intense when placed together. Rather than using Impressionist techniques of attempting to render light effects naturalistically, Matisse and Derain adjusted their colours to obtain the maximum intensity. When they showed their works in the 1905 Salon d’Automne in Paris, critic Louis Vauxcelles used the phrase “Donatello au milieu des fauves!” (“Donatello among the wild beasts!”) to contrast the startling paintings with a sculpture that shared the room with them. The name Fauve (wild beast) stuck. After this show, Derain’s dealer Ambroise Vollard sent him to London to update, in Fauve style, the popular Thames views painted by Claude Monet a few years earlier. Derain said:
“This picture is of 1906. It was one of a group of pictures which I made for M. Vollard who had sent me to London at that time so that I could make some paintings for him. After a stay in London he was very enthusiastic and wanted paintings inspired by the London atmosphere. He sent me in the hope of renewing completely at that date the expression which Claude Monet had so strikingly achieved which had made a very strong impression in Paris in the preceding years.”
Monet had painted series of canvases of the same three motifs - Waterloo Bridge, Charing Cross Bridge and the Houses of Parliament but Derain worked at a number of points along the Thames from the Houses of Parliament to as far east as Greenwich. The Pool of London however, with its bustle of shipping, evidently held special appeal, as he painted at least four other works, showing this part of the river Thames, with Tower Bridge in the background.