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Fauvism

Meet the “wild beasts” of the early-20th-century art world.


London Bridge

André Derain
(French, 1880–1954)

1906. Oil on canvas, 26 x 39" (66 x 99.1 cm)

In 1905, French painter André Derain was commissioned by his art dealer Ambroise Vollard to paint views of London. Derain set up his easel outdoors and went to work. The subject of this landscape, London Bridge, was one of several bridges built across the River Thames as part of a larger movement at the turn of the 19th century to modernize the city center with grand new architectural projects and public works. London Bridge is one of about 30 paintings Derain produced over his two-month stay, all depicting activity on or around the Thames.

London Bridge. ca. 1870-ca. 1890. Albumen print. A. D. White Architectural Photographs, Cornell University Library. Accession Number: 15/5/3090.01026

London Bridge
ca. 1870-ca. 1890
Albumen print.
A. D. White Architectural Photographs, Cornell University Library
Accession Number: 15/5/3090.01026

It’s not surprising that Derain’s art dealer was interested in views of London. Nineteenth-century London saw a huge growth in population (from 1 million in 1800 to over 6 million a century later) as mechanical industry, especially the building of railways, took hold. Derain saw the changes and created a portrait of London that was radically different from anything done by previous painters of the city. The artist later recalled: “Fauvism was our ordeal by fire. . . It was the era of photography. This may have influenced us and played a part in our reaction against anything resembling a snapshot of life. No matter how far we moved away from things, it was never far enough. Colors became charges of dynamite.”1

Duthuit, George. The Fauvist Painters. (New York, NY : Wittenborn, Schultz, 1950), 29.
André Derain, January 1906, quoted in Judi Freeman, The Fauve Landscape (Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1990), 85.

The natural landforms of a region; also, an image that has natural scenery as its primary focus.

A River Runs Through It
At the time Derain painted this image, the wide River Thames played an essential role in London’s industrial activity. The waterway served as an artery uniting the city along its length, as a connector to the British canal system, and as a linkage to the Port of London, where goods could be transported for international trade. Today, the river remains a major tourist attraction.

Say What?
Despite London’s intense activity, Derain sought to create images of calm and tranquility. The year he made this painting, he wrote a letter to fellow painter Henri Matisse, saying: “I sincerely believe that we ought to aim for calm. . . . This calm is something of which we can be certain. Beauty, then, ought to be an aspiration towards this calm.”2