There is no arguing against the fact that the Fondation Pierre Gianadda in Martigny is an ugly example of 1970s architecture. But its functionalist concrete and institutional brown carpets are currently lit up by a collection of the most intensely coloured paintings of the twentieth century. The title is also misleading: ‘Van Gogh, Picasso, Kandinsky…’ – when there is only one Picasso and one Van Gogh in the whole exhibition, and they are not even the most characteristic, being among the least colourful. Why this necessity to promote only the most famous names, already profusely exhibited, when the real heart of the collection and the exhibition are the German Expressionists and Fauves? And this exceptional combination is the real attraction of the show – such a perfectly chosen juxtaposition is only matched by the uppermost rooms of the Courtauld Gallery in my (limited) opinion.
Here, Kirchner escapes the dissipated streets of Berlin, the ultra-chic women with sharp bobs and pointed shoes who, against nauseous acid colours, in their black angularity stalk like sinister crows. Here are displayed the light-hearted pleasures of modernity – the unicycle! – the zesty neon green embodying the freshness and vitality of the countryside.
It is a joy to see the Murnau paintings of KandUinsky, von Jawlensky and Gabriele Munter. The pure, saturated colours gleaned from the Bavarian countryside more than equal those of the south of France.
The colours play off against one another, catching the blaze of late afternoon sun. The flashes of board and sketchy marks of wax crayon at the contours of the tree trunks admit the spontaneity and intuition of the artist – though cannot match the skill which Derain converts the negativity of bare canvas to the positive as dazzling white light, the substance of the pigment consequently – and paradoxially – made recessive.
These illustrate the science of Chevreul developed almost dogmatically, though startling in its visual impact. In contrast, I enjoy how well the clash of pink and red and a mop of a black turban make such a good portrait.