Colors of happiness
''. . . A brief time when we thought it was necessary to exalt all colors together, sacrificing none of them'' was Matisse's assessment, in 1951, of the kind of painting he and a number of fellow French artists produced, with a great burst of liberty and enthusiasm, around the years 1905 and 6. One of those fellow artists was Andre Derain. He and Matisse worked closely together at Collioure on the Mediterranean coast in the summer of 1905, and at the end of that year, encouraged by the Paris art dealer, Vollard, Derain made his first trip to London, following it by a second the next spring. The paintings he made there almost literally re-create the bridges, barges, docks, cranes and buildings along the River Thames in such a flurry of brilliant colors that he seems to have brought the south of France to England.
But it was not only the southern light which still dazzled the painter's eyes , it was also the influence of the older Matisse. ''Our object,'' Derain has been quoted as saying, ''is to present happiness, a kind of happiness which must come from within us,'' and whether he was painting on the spot in the pool of London or in Collioure harbor, he was still prompted by the same inner daring.
These French colorists were nicknamed at the time by a critic, ''Les Fauves'' or ''wild beasts.'' And although they didn't take the tag seriously, they did to some extent admit, later, to a sort of wild delight in what they were doing. There was an element of challenge and extremism in their determination to abolish shadows by working in bright, pure colors applied in large, strongly differentiated patches or brushstrokes, the whole effect being one of fierce light and plenty of air.
It was as if the spaces round the colors were left unfilled so that the colors could breathe and expand.
The ''Fauves,'' seen with the benefit (or disadvantage) of hindsight, were in many ways not so much innovators as artists taking certain tendencies of previous French art to their logical conclusion. As far back as 1888, a painter called Paul Serusier made a painting on a box lid under the guidance of a certain Paul Gauguin, then working in Pont-Aven, Brittany, (before leaving for Tahiti). This picture had an influence out of proportion to its size, and can perhaps be seen as a direct antecedent of the ''Fauves.'' Gauguin's advice to Serusier has often been quoted: ''How do you see these trees? They are yellow. Well then, put down yellow. And that shadow is rather blue. So render it with pure ultramarine. Those red leaves. Use vermilion.'' The same year Gauguin wrote to his friend Van Gogh: ''Forms and colors, harmoniously established, produce poetry by themselves.''
The ''Fauves'' were struck, above all, by the power and purity of colors, and how they were placed in a painting was dependent not on what was precisely observed in the subject but on the urgings of the artist's inner joie de vivre. The pinks, blues, greens, reds, and, most of all, the yellows in Derain's ''Blackfriar's Bridge'' are the colors of intuititon and feeling. Derain took to an exuberant extreme - to a kind of further flowering - Gauguin's bold approach to color. The result is not an impression of light and atmosphere at a particular time of day, as it was in Monet's earlier paintings of the river. In some ways he comes closer to another painter of the Thames, the Englishman, Turner, though in another era, was a painter whose vision radically transformed his subject matter. Neither of them could be accused, as Monet was, of being ''just an eye.''
Of course, Derain displays the influence of Van Gogh's energetic and expressive use of the loaded brush as well as his repetitive, long strokes. He also made use of the dots and dashes, the broken color, of ''divisionism.'' But he claimed for himself, as did Matisse, a considerable freedom from any restriction these stylistic influences might have imposed. ''Divisionism'' appears in some parts of his picture, ''The Water and Its Reflections'' in particular, but not at all in others.
It is interesting that, reproduced in monochrome, this picture still displays its strong structure, and its contrasting tones. Its effect is not, therefore, entirely a matter of color. Its boldness results from simple construction.
Derain once said: ''Think that a simple luminous combination creates the same sensation as that created by a landscape.'' The paintings of his ''Fauve'' period are not so much reproductions of seen landscapes, as equivalents, in paint on canvas, of them.