Vlaminck painted this dazzling floral still-life at the height of the Fauve period–most likely, during the time between the Salon d’Automne of 1905 and the Salon des Indépendants the next spring, which together established Fauvism as the first real revolution in twentieth-century art and the passionate, self-taught Vlaminck as one of its leaders. During the first of these two exhibitions, the critic Louis Vauxcelles expressed his dismay at this new manner of painting, with its impetuous application of pure, unmodulated color, by bestowing upon Vlaminck, André Derain, Henri Matisse, and their cohorts the derisive sobriquet Les Fauves (“The Wild Beasts”), thereby lending the movement its name. By the close of the 1906 Indépendants, Roger Benjamin has written, “The Fauves’ baptism by fire was largely completed. From that time on, their presence was an acknowledged drawing card at the two advanced Salons” (The Fauve Landscape, exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1990, p. 257).
The Derain in previous years, seems to represent nothing but a joy in painting—immediate and palpable—that unites the violence of his emotion with deliberate distortion, the radical nature of a rebel temperament with the flamboyant freedom of the transposition of reality” (op. cit.). “What I was unable to do in society unless by throwing a bomb—which would have led me to the scaffold—I attempted to realize in art, in painting” Vlaminck later explained (quoted in ibid., p. 34).
Vlaminck’s metaphor is particularly apt in the case of the present Bouquet de fleurs, in which the flowers burst forth from the vase like fireworks, filling nearly the entire surface of the canvas with a blazing explosion of color that stands out against the blue ground, the pigments taken directly from the tube. Bright light enters the scene from the front left, leaving an orange reflection on the vase before striking the wall behind. The bouquet is realized exclusively with thick, vertical touches, which Vlaminck has used to express both the roundness of the blossoms and the energetic tangle of the leaves. “The flowers are a pretext for a complete freedom of touch and color that verges on abstraction,” Vallès-Bled has written. “In addition to the power of the palette, the emphasis placed on lighting effects around the bouquet does not allow the eye respite in any section of the canvas” (ibid., pp. 246 and 248).
Although the uniformly vertical brushstrokes of the bouquet point to the lingering influence of Neo-Impressionist divisionism, the late floral still-lifes of Vincent van Gogh provided Vlaminck with a much more potent source of inspiration for the present painting. As in the work of the singular Dutch master, who was honored with a major retrospective at the 1905 Salon des Indépendants, Vlaminck’s heavily loaded, tactile strokes of saturated color do not describe the actual appearance of the motif, but instead issue from an inward, expressionist impulse. “In Van Gogh I found some of my own aspirations,” Vlaminck explained. “Probably from similar Nordic affinities? And, as well as a revolutionary fervor an almost religious feeling for the interpretation of nature. I came out of this retrospective exhibition shaken to the core” (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., p. 21).