André Derain’s depiction of a busy river port is among the earliest and most impressive examples of Fauve painting. Fauvism, which flourished in France from about 1904 to 1908, was a short-lived but seminal artistic movement led by Derain, Henri Matisse, and Maurice de Vlaminck. The name of the movement—"fauve," meaning “wild beast”—was coined by a critic of their first exhibition in 1905; it accurately reflects both the unbridled energy of the paintings themselves and the shock and apprehension experienced by contemporary viewers. The use of violent and unmodulated colors applied in broad, flat areas, spontaneous, even rough execution, and a bold sense of surface design characterize Fauve compositions. As the first avant-garde movement of the twentieth century, Fauvism set the stage for subsequent developments such as Expressionism and Cubism.
In the fall of 1904, Derain returned to his home in Chatou, a small town on the Seine northwest of Paris, and roamed the area in search of new subjects to paint and radical ways to paint them. "The Bridge at Le Pecq" depicts a bustling scene on the banks of the Seine at Le Pecq, where goods shipped by barge along the river were transferred to horse-drawn carts. Derain rendered the chill winter day in a kaleidoscope of intense, unexpected colors. Patches of canvas he intentionally left bare are as crucial to the composition as the varied strokes of paint that animate the surface of this remarkable work. This painting was exhibited at the 1905 exhibition that launched the Fauvist movement.