My favourite painting: Peter May

'Vividly coloured sailing boats in a harbour, which I gazed at for hours'

peter mayCollioure: Le Port de Pêche, (1905), by André Derain (1880–1954), 32in by 39in, Private Collection

Peter May says:
In the 1990s, I produced a Gaelic-language TV drama filmed on the Isle of Lewis. A painting from the prop store hung in my office. Vividly coloured sailing boats in a harbour, which I gazed at for hours. In 1996, I quit television and went to the French Mediterranean port of Collioure. It seemed oddly familiar, although I’d never been. Then, in a local art gallery, I spotted the painting from my office wall – a painting, it turned out, of Collioure by André Derain. I immediately bought a print and it has been hanging in my house ever since .

Peter May is a crime writer best known for his award-winning ‘Lewis Trilogy’. His latest book, Cast Iron, is out in paperback this summer

John McEwen comments on Collioure: Le Port de Pêche:

Derain was born in Chatou, near Paris, a favourite Impressionist haunt, where his father had a dairy. As a teenager, he went on outdoor painting trips with a local landscape painter. His parents encouraged these outings, but considered art a hobby and sent him to engineering college.

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The college was near the l’École des Beaux-Arts and the Louvre. Derain was art struck. He was introduced to Matisse, 11 years his senior, and met Maurice de Vlaminck, a young Chatou artist, on a train. De Vlaminck lived by his wits; Derain was cushioned by a paternal allowance, but they proved complementary by nature and soon shared a studio. Matisse persuaded Derain’s father to continue the allowance to support his son’s art career.

It was becoming fashionable for young artists to spend the summer painting in the South of France, previously a winter location for visitors. In July, Derain followed Matisse to Collioure, a Mediterranean fishing port on the railway near Spain. The bright colours and blazing sun delighted him. ‘Everything I’ve done until now seems stupid,’ he wrote to Vlaminck.

In September, the artists returned to Paris to prepare for the newly introduced Salon d’Automne. Matisse sent his dealer, Ambroise Vollard, to see Derain’s pictures and Vollard bought the lot. The heightened, even un-naturalistic, colours of Matisse, Derain and the other southern-influenced painters dominated the Salon. The critic Vauxcelles gave the group a name, Les Fauves (the wild beasts). ‘M. Derain is going to alarm people… let us recognize nevertheless that his Boats would happily decorate the wall of a child’s room,’ he wrote.

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