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​Maurice de Vlaminck: 60 years on…

[20 Feb 2018]

The year 2018 marks the 60th anniversary of the death of Maurice Vlaminck. In Normandy, the town of Verneuil-sur-Avre is currently preparing a museum dedicated to his work. Meanwhile, in Mexico City, the futuristic Soumaya museum is mounting a major exhibition of the French painter’s oeuvre.

Born in Paris in 1896 to musician parents, Maurice DE VLAMINCK, was a self-taught painter who finally gave up the violin and cycling – his first two sources of income – after meeting André Derain around 1900. Heavily inspired by Van Gogh, Vlaminck painted intensively during the early years of the 20th century and gained his first important exposure at the Salon d’Automne in 1905 alongside works by Henri Matisse and Derain. According to Matisse, “Vlaminck was noisily enthusiastic about painting with pure cobalts, pure vermilions, pure Veronese”. The 1905 exhibition was the cradle of a new trend who’s pure colour and incisive traits later prompted the art critic Louis Vauxcelles to call the artists who adopted the style “Fauves” (literally, wild animals). The etiquette stuck.

Energy and chromatic brilliance were the trademarks of his Fauvist paintings, which are nowadays increasingly sought-after (although the price index for Vlaminck’s Fauvist works has remained relatively stable). The market seems to appreciate his Fauvist landscapes above all, and his all-time auction record was indeed hammered for a canvas painted in 1905, the year historically recognised as the first year of Fauvism. Titled Paysage de banlieue (Suburban Landscapes), the work fetched $22.4 million at Christie’s New York in 2011. When not sold in London, Vlaminck’s best works sell in New York. This probably makes a significant contribution to his ‘collectability’ among major foreign collectors, but it is not good news for France to see his best works leave the country definitively. Over the last ten years, there hasn’t been a single Vlaminck result above the million-dollar line in French auction houses, compared with dozens in London and New York.

Over the years, his paintings from the heart of the Fauvist period have become increasingly rare. None came to auction in 2017 anywhere in the world! However this is not the case for his later works, including works from the 1920-1940 period. His landscapes and still-lifes from this periçod are still strong and still convey the energy that characterised his earlier works, but with more earthy colours permeating the overall result with a certain melancholy. In 2017, over a hundred paintings were auctioned around the world, including in Japan where the artist is particularly appreciated. And the majority of these works are relatively affordable with access to a wide range of outstanding post-Fauvist paintings within a range of $25,000 to 35,000.

Unlike most other Modern artists, Vlaminck’s work on paper – particularly the well-dated works – can fetch similar prices to his oil paintings (i.e. in excess of $30,000), especially his excellent gouache compositions. Aside from his much-appreciated landscapes, Vlaminck also produced lots of flower paintings that are substantially cheaper on the secondary market; sometimes only half the price of a landscape of the same size and from the same period. Generally speaking, collectors of Vlaminck’s will not find much under $5,000. Below this threshold, the market occasionally offers a rare work in India ink, because the bulk of his works on paper were worked in gouache. Nevertheless, those who closely follow the auction news can still find a gouache or watercolor for less than $10,000, like the Village au bord de rivière that sold in the summer of 2017 by Thierry-Lannon & Associés in Brest.

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