Charles Camoin
French Fauvist Painter: Biography and Paintings.
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View of Capri (1904)
Private Collection.

Charles Camoin (1879-1965)

Contents

Biography
Early Life and Works
Les Fauves at the Salon d'Automne 1905
Evolution of His Style of Painting
Impressionist/Expressionist/Fauvist
Collections


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Biography

One of the most sensitive expressionist painters belonging to the Ecole de Paris, Charles Camoin was closely associated with the Fauvism movement, led by Henri Matisse (1869-1954), that flourished in Paris during the years 1905-6 and championed the use of vivid colour in painting. Camoin himself preferred a slightly less garish palette in both his landscape painting and portrait art, leading some art critics to characterize his style as closer to Impressionism than Expressionism. At any rate, he retained a lifelong interest in capturing the interplay of light and colour, and remains one of the great modern artists of the early 20th century.

Early Life and Works

Born in Marseilles, the son of a paint manufacturer, Camoin attended commercial school in the city, and later - after moving to Paris in 1896 - took night classes at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, under the symbolist painter and influential art teacher Gustave Moreau (1826-98), in the process winning first prize in drawing and composition. It was here that he made friends with fellow modernists in the French expressionist movement like Matisse, Albert Marquet (1875-1947), Henri-Charles Manguin (1874-1949), Georges Rouault (1871-1958) and Jean Puy (1876-1960).

In 1900 Camoin did his military service at Arles and painted there under the inspiration of Van Gogh (1853-90). In 1902 he continued his service in Aix-en-Provence, where he developed a close relationship with the reclusive Paul Cezanne (1839-1906), with whom he corresponded until Cezanne's death. In these early works he followed the Provence tradition so closely - bold colours thickly applied with bold brush strokes - that some of his works were wrongly attributed to Paul Gauguin (1848-1903). He also produced a number of watercolours and pastel drawings. In 1903 he visited Claude Monet at his house at Giverny, and had his first solo show at the Berthe Weil Gallery in Paris. Later in the same year he exhibited at the Salon des Independants. In 1904-5 he painted with Marquet at Chassis and St Tropez.

Les Fauves at the Salon d'Automne 1905

In 1905, along with Matisse, Marquet, Puy and others, he took part in the famous exhibition in Room VII of the Salon d'Automne from which Fauvism took its name, thanks to an article by the art critic Louis Vauxcelles (1870-1943). Other important fauvist painters who exhibited included: Andre Derain (1880-1954), Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958), Othon Friesz (1879-1949), the Dutch colourist Kees van Dongen (1877-1968), and Louis Valtat (1869-1952).

Evolution of His Style of Painting

In 1907 he went to London with Marquet and Friesz; in 1906, he had a solo exhibition in the gallery of Picasso's dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1884-1979). In 1912, he travelled with Matisse and Marquet to Tangiers in Morocco, and, in 1913, a selection of his canvases were exhibited at the now legendary Armory Show in New York City. Sadly, Camoin's success at both exhibitions, in Paris and New York, triggered a serious episode of depression, causing him to destroy more than 80 of his paintings. Around 1915, he started to change his technique, and began to focus more on light than colour - a change also apparent in the canvases of Marquet from this period. This shift in style and palette was given further impetus in 1918, when he and Matisse went to visit the aging Renoir (1841-1919) at his home in Cagnes, in the south of France. In fact, the visit proved decisive on the evolution of Camoin's style, as it led to a complete break from Cezanne's influence. In consequence, Camoin became increasingly obsessed with the interplay of light and colours, and - as his notebooks attest - took to plein-air painting directly from nature.

In 1920, Camoin married Charlotte Prost. From 1933, when his first daughter Anne-Marie was born, he divided his time between Montmartre in Paris and Saint Tropez on the Riviera. In 1944 he was made an officer of the Legion d'Honneur; in 1955, he was awarded the Prix du President de la Republique at the Biennale of Menton; and in 1959 he was made Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters. He passed away in Paris on 20 May 1965, the last survivor of Gustave Moreau's studio.

Impressionist/Expressionist/Fauvist

Camoin never really thought of himself as a "Fauve". Although a spontaneous painter who enjoyed using pure, bright colour pigments in his work - see, for instance, his delightful "View of Capri" (1904, Private Collection) - his style remained more Impressionistic than Fauvist. Even so, he also produced a number of expressionist portraits, a quantity of still life painting, as well as female nudes and interiors.

For more about how Fauvism fits into expressionism in general, see: History of Expressionist Painting (1880-1930).

Collections

Charles Camoin's works have been widely shown in France and about one third of his total surviving output - some 700 paintings - are in many of the best art museums in France, including the Musee d'Art Moderne de la ville de Paris, the Centre Georges Pompidou and many French regional museums (eg. in Aix-en-Provence, Albi, Boulogne-sur-Mer, Cannes, Grasse, Grenboble, Le Havre, Montpellier, Quimper, Strasbourg, and Toulon). His pictures can also be seen abroad at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and elsewhere.

 

• For biographies of other painters of the Paris School, see: Famous Painters.
• For more about Fauvism, see: Homepage.


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