camion dans sa lumière, musée granet, aix-en-provence, 2016



Titled in French, I’m not sure the English translation of ‘Camoin in his light’ really works. Camoin was a local boy, from Marseille, and the exhibition is just up the road in Aix so I suppose technically here he is, on display in this fabled Provencal light that fills many of his works, but not all. There are paintings of Paris, paintings of Morocco, paintings of Corsica.

The exhibition includes works by Matisse, Manguin and Marquet – the artists were together at art school under Gustave Moreau – and clearly shows his developement as a painter alongside his fellow students, the later influence of Cezanne and his progression towards fauvism.

A few paintings stood out for me:


Les Pins au bord de l’eau au Trayas, 1905, Charles Camoin

Cleverly placed at the beginning of the exhibition so we can see it from a distance, sunlight blasts through the pines so brightly that we’re almost blinded – the trees become dark silhouettes, the sea is a shimmering white. The shadows of the trees are blue and lilac – they fall on ground as white as the sea. There’s no reason for the ground to be white, it could be dry grass or rock, but there is the suggestion of green grass. What he seems to have done is show how we really see this; when our eyes adjust to this kind of intense light the brightness is too much to see detail. We just see light. The whole seems so carelessly slung together and yet is so evocative of the South of France.


Jardin du Luxembourg, 1902, Albert Marquet

Marquet has captured the moment when the sun is lost. The park is in shadow, though we know that the other side of the bordering hedge is still bathed in the warm glow of the late sun. In the park the chill has set in. The loss of sun makes it hard for our eyes to pick out detail. Figures are silhouetted as the light dims. The two figures that aren’t seated have a sense of movement – especially that on the right, there is almost a blur as the brush strokes mix in with those of the water.

The painting is half sky and a quarter the gravelly sand of the park,  with all the ‘action’ going on in the remaining quarter, drawing the eye in.

Even though the light has dimmed, the figures look almost too dark against the huge expanse of pinkish sand. They may be more than silhouetted – they may actually be dressed head to toe in inky black. This gives the whole a rather spooky feel, and I’m left wondering who this strange party is.


Portrait de ma mere dans son salon, 1897, Charles Camoin

Though there are things about this that don’t work for me – I couldn’t have it on my wall without getting irritated – I love the whole of it for the way it evokes a sumptiously comfortable interior and that moment of finding the sun has moved to the sofa.

While I love the skirt – the big bold shape of black, it seems to dissolve in to the rug, which itself seems to float. I find this disconcerting and distracting. Also the shadow on her forearm, from a distance it just seems way too strong.


Liseuse en robe violette, 1898, Henri Matisse


This seems vastly superior to Camoin’s red interior. Matisse has used an extraordinary amount of colour. The wall behind the chair is incomprehensibly deep red, blue, green, yellow, pink and orange. As soon as I saw this I thought of the current exercise I’m doing in Part Two – using colour to create tone – though we only get to use three colours… There are no outlines in this work, it’s colour in to colour in to colour and yet we know exactly what is going on: mantlepiece, alcove, table. The reader has her head turned away from us, possibly from the bright light, which has caught her paper.

This painting seems to mark a real change in the way Matisse was working. Several things began to come together for Matisse at this time: His tutor Moreau’s emphasis on ‘personal expression’, his fascination with pointillism and its application of dots of colour, and the move away from Impressionism by fellow artists Gaugin, Bonnard and Vuillard.  Around this time he is known to have begun working with paint direct from the tube and to have spent time in the South of France. The move to creating structure through bright colours can be seen in this painting of 1989, and by the time of the Salon d’Atone in 1905, Matisee along with Derain and de Vlaminck were producing what became known as fauvist.


Tempete a Nice, 1919-1920, Henri Matisse

I find this painting extraordinary. It’s almost childlike in its depcition of trees and waves but with his choice of colour Matisse has created rain-slicked pavements, trees buffeted by winds, a lone pedestrian struggling with an umbrella. The whole scene is infused with wetness, I can almost see raindrops running down the window. There is a relentless rhythm to the waves and line of trees. This is umistakebly Nice in a late summer storm, when the sky goes suddenly dark and it feels like the end of the world. Again this is just colour against colour, with the only ‘outline’ on the balaustrade.

His marks are almost lazy – a quick criss cross for the fence, repeated trees, repeated waves. But the whole is so real. I can hear that rain slap down on the road and feel the spray in the air.

Detail from Matisse’s Tempete a Nice showing the almost slapdash way of applying the paint but the incredible palette of stormy pinks, greys, beiges.


Lola sur la Terrasse, 1920, Charles Camoin

This has to be one of Camoin’s best in show – and the one that relates best to the exhibition title – for this is all about the light. Here, a winter light, as his new wife sits on the balcony in Cannes to capture its warmth. What I find fascinating here is how much of the canvas has been left bare. Though we think at first glance that he has found the perfect shade to depict this cooling winter light, it is bare canvas, as is the fabric of Lola’s coat and the sun through the green shutters.

Detail from Camion’s Lola sur la Terrasse showing how he used simple bare canvas to convey the light on the ground, through the shutters, and also for the fabric of the coat.

It’s beautifully intimate. She is absorbed, taking some time for herself. Though it looks suspiciously like she’s playing Candy Crush on her mobile phone.

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