Fauvism, pioneered in the early years of the new century by,
among others, Matisse, Andre Derain, and Maurice
Vlaminck, built on Impressionist and neo-Impressionist
pictorial innovations. While retaining a love of light, colour, and domesticated landscape, the Fauves employed the pictorial elements in an increasingly arbitrary fashion, more for abstract purposes than for descriptive or representational functions. As a result, colour and brushwork became dazzlingly independent, while a specific sense of locale was sacrificed in favour of generalized depictions. Braque was entranced by the Fauve style when he visited the 1905 Salon d'Automne in Paris, later proclaiming that "Matisse and Derain
opened the road for me." He became the youngest member of the
group, and first came to prominence in 1906 as a Fauve painter. Braque exhibited at the March 1906 Salon des Independants, the only event at which the entire Fauve group was seen together in that period; however, he was unhappy with his first canvases in the new style and subsequently destroyed them. A change of scene was needed. With Othon Friesz, another Fauve painter and an old friend from Le Havre, Braque went to Antwerp and began to lighten his palette. After returning to Paris for the rest of September and part of October, he travelled, once more with Friesz, to the southern port
of L'Estaque, where he remained until February 1907. The small
village with a rounded harbour and low rents, west of Marseille and up against the foothills of the Alps, had been a font of inspiration for Derain and, preceding him, Cezanne. There Braques color brightened dramatically and became almost completely arbitrary in its application, and he produced his first truly Fauve works, including Boats on the Beach at L'Estaque. It was an intoxicating breakthrough,
as he later described: "For me Fauvism was a momentary adventure in which I became involved because I was young.... I was freed from the studios, only twenty-four, and full of enthusiasm. I moved toward what for me represented novelty and joy, toward Fauvism. It was in the south of France that I first felt truly elated. Just think, I had only recently left the dark, dismal Paris studios where they still painted
Boats on the Beach at L'Estaque ought to be considered a companion to L'Estaque and L'Estaque, Wharf, the latter dated
by Braque to November 1906. In these harbour scenes of similar
colour harmonies, Braque utilized a conventional composition of horizontal registers such as is seen in The Port of Antwerp of 1906; anchoring the foreground space in each is a solidly described form, either a rock, a wharf, or boats. Also evident are the violets and crimsons that appear in the Antwerp canvas. Braque does expand on his earlier formulas with Fauve-style brushstrokes to define the water, with the use of white, and with the generally more exuberant
and arbitrary colour harmony. Whereas the other Fauves tended
toward primary colours, Braque departed from these, favouring pink, ochre, orange, and purple tonalities; he added, too, to the Fauve vocabulary with his characteristically long, serpentine lines that define the boats. It was as though Braque's first task in the southern sun were to further liberate his colour, and so he maintained his usual
approach to subject matter and composition. Boats on the Beach at L'Estaque can be counted among his first fully realized Fauve canvases.
Only upon forsaking his observations of the sea in favour of the landscape did he advance within the Fauve agenda,
gradually eliminating the foreground while compressing space, and formulating more agitated compositions. The serpentine line became an increasingly dominant motif in these synthetic and more generalized treatments of nature; whether defining a road, a hillside, or a tree, it helps flatten the space by its abstract quality.
At the March 1907 Salon des Independants, Braque finally met
Matisse, Vlaminck, and Derain. The occasion was auspicious not
only because of this meeting but also because Braque showed and sold six L'Estaque paintings, and that year signed a contract with Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Picasso's dealer. The following summer, 1908, coincidentally at L'Estaque once again, Braque produced his first Cubist canvases, in which the lessons of Fauvism contributed toward compositions with trees on the most forward-leaning planes and with the familiar path through a landscape.