The Church of Chatou
In the first years of the 20th century, André Derain and his friend Maurice de Vlaminck turned Chatou into the chosen cradle of the fauvist trend. Chatou, Derain's native town, and its surroundings were already one of this artist's predominant subjects in his early works. Even in his paintings from the months between the autumn of 1904 and the spring of 1905-a crucial period in shaping his artistic maturity-the painter takes Chatou and other nearby localities and landscapes as the main subject. However, the motifs that contributed decisively to the full development of Derain's fauvist language were the landscapes from the French Midi. His sojourn in Collioure with Matisse during the summer of 1905 and his later periods spent in L'Estaque, Cassis and other localities of the Provençal coast explicitly link the bright, dazzling and shadowless paintings he produced until 1907 to those southern landscapes. The Church in Chatou from the Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, like other paintings of 1909, represents his first return to his native landscape after his long wanderings, particularly in the south, but also in Normandy and London, during which he displayed his ability as a colourist, but also underwent a gradual shift in his fauvist style towards representational formulas more directly inspired on Cézanne, and embodying a new primitivism. The Church in Chatou shows Derain's reencounter with the physiognomy of the place of his first colourist attempts following the radical transformation of his pictorial interests.
The artist's concern with the architectural organisation of masses in the painting, towards the solid and crystalline aspect of the composition and the austerity of the colouring clearly shows in the landscapes painted by Derain in Martigues in 1908. Such a transformation is similar to the one Braque's painting underwent that same year with the landscapes of L'Estaque, and also foreshadows works as important as those executed later by Picasso in Horta de Ebro. Cézanne's influence on Derain increased in 1907, when he admired, for example, the retrospective exhibition dedicated to the painter from Aix in the Salon d'Automne and visited locations that appeared in the works of this artist. This influence was shared, no doubt, by other painters. Kahnweiler, who organised an exhibition of works by Braque, Van Dongen and Derain in his gallery in 1909, affirmed, however, that "above all Derain was the artist who transmitted to the others Cézanne's practical and theoretical lessons". That is the reason why, although the artist from Chatou did not become involved in the development of the Cubist language, he did play a crucial role in its formation, with paintings like the one analysed here.
There are two other paintings of the same subject and from the same period, also entitled The Church in Chatou; the most important one belongs to the E. G. Bührle Foundation in Zurich and the other one to a private collection. There are strong similarities between them from a compositional point of view, as well as with other paintings from the same period, such as Landscape of Carrières-sur-Seine from the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen. The wood panel from the Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, perhaps made as a study for the composition belonging to the E. G. Bührle Foundation, is a very fortunate interpretation of a subject which clearly attracted him greatly. The use of simple geometrical elements, the overall simplification of the volumes, a restrained palette and a compressed composition completely invert the representation of Chatou Derain had made four years previously during his Fauvist period: The Seine in Chatou (Fort Worth, TX, Kimbell Art Museum). In that earlier painting, the church is also present, but it is seen from a hill, with the river in the background, a wide horizon and a bright use of colour. In The Church in Chatou the painter chose a low point of view on the opposite side, framing the buildings severely, with a dark transition towards them, and endowed the powerful relationships between volumes with the full formal potential of the painting.