French Painter, Writer, Set Designer, Illustrator, and Sculptor
Summary of André Derain
André Derain had a major role in the development of two of the most significant artistic movements of the early-20th century. He, Henri Matisse, and Maurice de Vlaminck were responsible for generating works with a totally new style which would become Fauvism and his association with Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque was integral to early Cubism. Nevertheless, his contribution as the generator of the ideas behind these movements is constantly debated, and some consider his work derivative. This is due in part to the fact that, continually in search of artistic meaning and attempting to create a timeless art removed from the specificity of the modern age, he experimented with different stylistic idioms. Whichever side of the Derain debate you end up on, we can all appreciate his use of expressive vibrant color, his simplification of form, and his fascination with primitive art were constants throughout his work and played a major role in the creation and propagation of early Modern Art.
- Derain was one of the founders of the Fauve artistic movement along with Matisse. Although fascinated by the world around him, a popular subject among contemporary artists, he wanted to give a much greater appreciation to the expressionistic qualities of paint. His works are characterized by dense, vibrant brushworks that attract the viewer's attention as much as the subject itself.
- Derain's interest in primitive masks began after viewing those exhibited at the Negro Museum in London, and he was one of the first to collect tribal art from Africa. It is likely that he was responsible for the interest in primitive elements espoused by Cubist artists such as Picasso and Braque. Derain was briefly interested in Cubist stylistic elements himself but his stylistic exploration of it was very brief.
- Derain's search for an art that didn't need context to be of value, that would have a meaning for any generation, aligned him with the school of Symbolism. His decorative paintings describing the beauty of nature and individuals enjoying that nature differ significantly from those by the Impressionists before him who tried to depict modern life more realistically. His focus is more the beauty of what is described on the canvas, regardless of specifics. This generality denoted an inclination toward the idealism of Classical Art.
- The Nazi Regime was especially attracted to Derain's later embrace of a Classical style, the embrace of Greek grandeur suiting their own claim to superior roots. Yet his alignment with the Nazi party during their occupation of France earned him a questionable place in the history of modern painting, forever compromising his revolutionary contributions.
Progression of Art
The Houses of Parliament
Houses of Parliament represents a Neo-Impressionist panoramic view of the Thames River in London. Derain was sent to London by his art dealer Vollard to paint a series of London landscapes meant to rival Monet's. Derain wrote that he had difficulty with the subject, "it was absurd to paint the blazing sun in the world capital of fog," yet he took advantage of this opportunity to "explore the notion of color as an independent entity and paint a landscape which no longer represents anything."
In this work Derain experimented with Divisionism, applying thick, similarly-shaped dabs of paint to the canvas in a methodical, even fashion. The canvas is neatly divided into an upper and lower section. The upper section, devoted to the buildings and sky, is painted with vertically-oriented brushstrokes, while the bottom section, describing the water and the boat, is painted with horizontal ones. The artist uses a very bold color palette reminiscent of Impressionist works throughout. The mosaic of strokes noted in the sky are reflected beneath in the water, creating an overall harmonious balance across the entire surface of the canvas.
This painting represents a turning point in Derain's early art as he began to adopt a colorful palette that would enable him to capture his experience of the landscape. While not as bold as his later Fauvist efforts, Houses of Parliament represents the early revolution of color in his work.
Oil on canvas - Pierre Levy Collection, France
Turning Road, (L'Estaque)
This painting, depicting a popular location painted by many other contemporary artists, including Cézanne and Braque, illustrates the way he was influenced by his immediate artistic forebears and in which ways he began to develop a new direction. Although the interest in the L'Estaque coastline of Southern France was shared by many, Derain's version diverges. It is not a pure landscape and instead, includes the depiction of figures. Imagery of figures within nature recalls the pastoral and Arcadian themes noted in Symbolist paintings. This 'paysage decoratif,' as best described by Roger Benjamin, was "a modernist addition to the traditional academic division between the historic landscape (with figures in heroic action) and the rural landscape (with its more intimate country setting)." It evoked the idea of "decorative deformation" for which the Symbolists were known, evoking "essential truths" in the search for a "timeless art."
There is no question that early Fauve works, such as this one by Derain, were influenced by Gauguin. In fact, the same kind of decorative treatment of the landscape details is noted in Gauguin's earlier work in Pont Aven from 1889. In his image at L'Estaque Derain used flat areas of color, typical of the Fauvist style, abstaining from any traditional manner of denoting shadow. The group considered the juxtaposition of complementary colors an adequate method by which to capture the difference between light and shade. The artist no longer uses the style of Divisionism noted in his London landscapes and instead, allows the painted sections to bleed, one into the other, thereby creating a sensation of volume and depth right on the flat canvas. The simplified description of both landscape elements and the figures themselves, gives them an abstract appearance that emphasizes the overall decorative nature of the work.
This painting, with its bold, vibrant colors and simplification of form, is one of the first examples of Fauvism and served as a precursor to works by Kandinsky and other Expressionists.
Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Dance, representing an Arcadian landscape with dancing figures, is rooted in the classical primitive tradition. It evokes an amalgamation of traditions including Folk, African, and Romanesque art. Derain began work on this painting after seeing a Gauguin retrospective. The influence of Gauguin's primitive oeuvre is seen plainly in the use of bold, flat colors, stylized elements (like the snake and the leaves), the choice to focus on an exotic landscape and the specific inclusion of a seated figure in the background almost identical to the one painted by Gauguin. Despite this, art historian John Elderfield discounts Gauguin's influence and believes that "in spite of these exotic sources, Derain was still looking to the Louvre for inspiration." He believes, instead, that "The right hand figure is modeled after the black servant in Delacroix's Women of Algiers (1834)." There is no question that Derain's emphasis on the wild nature of the nude female figure also suggests his interest in earlier Romantic artists.
The artist purposefully removes his image from the recognizable world. The figures arms and legs are distorted and elongated. The artist emphasizes the rhythmic and sinuous lines of the overall anatomy in order to create a decorative pattern across the canvas. He uses unnatural colors to express primal emotions. Matisse's iconic Bonheur de Vivre (Joy of Life) (1905-06) exhibits interest in similar settings and took the stylistic idiom one step further, presenting an even more stripped down, and purer, version.
The facial features, no doubt influenced by that African fang mask he owned, are equally unnatural and exaggerated. The figures dance before us in an uninhibited manner, in perfect ease to their surroundings. It's possible that Derain here develops the theme of fertility germane to Arcadia themes. The interest in non-Western sources of inspiration shown here was seen even earlier in the work of Gauguin, who famously traveled to the South Seas to find a purer expression of life in nature. And a bit later Henri Rousseau would also seek to find an alternative, non-Western basis for his depictions of man in nature.
Oil on canvas - Fridart Foundation London
Derain's The Dancer shares a great deal with the Post-Impressionist interest in capturing a slice of modern life in Paris. Her pose, with crossed legs and upper body leaning forward, with that alluring and powerful gaze, raises the question of whether the figure was a dancer or actually something else entirely. It's well known that dancers frequently supplemented their meager salaries by securing wealthy and influential "protectors." Becoming a model offered an additional option, but was probably not as lucrative. The subject of prostitution was a popular one among Impressionist artists and was noted in works by many including Degas, Seurat, and Toulouse-Lautrec. The significance of this subject is well summarized in the catalogue for the exhibition at the Musee d'Orsay: Splendour and Misery: Pictures of Prostitution: "The metamorphosis of the body of the prostitute- 'an object of public pleasure'-into a work of art to be viewed by all was effected through the artifices of seduction. Studied poses revitalized the repertoire of traditionally accepted forms in the academic register, and make-up (also described as 'face paint') and colored stockings were an excuse for a riot of colors in the paintings." The idea suggested here is that the body of the prostitute could be depicted in a way (through pose, clothing, make-up) to enhance the figure's power to provoke and seduce.
Derain's portrait is painted with extremely vibrant, unnatural colors. There is no traditional modulation of light and shadow; instead he uses heavy outlines to suggest volumetric passages. Anatomical elements (such as the figure's facial features, arms, and legs) are elongated and there is an obvious simplification of delineation overall. The surface of the canvas is built up with thickly-applied patches of paint juxtaposed one beside the other, creating a vibrant, decorative effect.
This work offers an interesting comparison with ones with a similar subject by later Expressionistic artists such as Munch's Puberty. For example, although its ostensible subject, a young woman provocatively posed for the viewer, whose face is accentuated by colorful make-up and whose figure is described in simplified abstract units in an unrealistic fashion, seems quite similar, its overall effect is quite different. Whereas in works by later Expressionist artists there is an emphasis on the freedom from contemporary social constraints experienced by young women, Derain's specifically emphasizes his figure's imprisonment by societal restrictions.
J. Rump Collection Statens Museum, Copenhagen
Woman with Shawl
Woman with Shawl perfectly captures the influence of Japanese art on Fauvism. First, there is the obvious citation of fashion as the figure is dressed in a kimono. There was an influx of Japanese goods at the time and Japanese fashion was all the rage. Second, the image shows stylistic parallels with Japanese woodcut prints which had arrived to Paris in the middle of the 19th century and were of great interest to artists seeking new ways to depict forms. Here their influence is noted in the placement of large areas of unmodulated color side by side, achieving an illusion of depth.
This image is additionally significant because the woman depicted was Madame Matisse. Derain's intimate relationship with the artist at this time is indicated by the gentle manner in which he depicts her facial features as well as her modest, introspective pose. There is no direct engagement with the viewer, illustrating the artist's respect for his subject.
Private Collection, Paris
Derain destroyed almost all of his figural paintings, making The Bathers one of the few surviving examples. It focuses on a popular subject, the nude female figure bathing in nature, earlier depicted by Cézanne (his late Bathers) and Picasso (Demoiselles). In this work Derain merges the instinctive quality of Primitivism with Cézanne's Constructivism in order to create a timeless art, removed from any identifiable, everyday, reality.
Specifically, his interest in African sculpture, shared by these other artists, can be seen in the expressive and primitive facial features of the women. The delineation of their bodies, deconstructed and reduced to geometric shapes, illustrates his experimentation with Cubism. The landscape itself receives similar attention by the artist. Instead of using a traditional, three-dimensional perspective, Derain depicts multiple viewpoints and vanishing points meant to reflect the way viewers perceive the subject of the work. The illusion of volume is achieved through the juxtaposition of monochromatic warm (ochre, beige, brown) and cold (blue) colors.
Derain's Bather puts the artist in the forefront of artistic innovation at the beginning of the 20th century, demonstrating the degree to which he embraced the stylistic revolution that was Cubism.
Oil on canvas - Present whereabouts unknown
The Girl Cutting Apple
This work exemplifies Derain's much later oeuvre is executed in a far more traditional style. The subject itself, a figure with a still life, is completely classical in nature, its art historical legacy stretching back generations. Stylistically it shares much with Neoclassicism. Derain's later works all exhibit more traditional methods of painting including using traditional chiaroscuro to describe volume and figural delineation that returns to the canons of Renaissance painting. Gone are the explosion of wild vibrant color and the break-up of the human body known from his Fauve and Cubist periods.
The discrepancy between Derain's late works and his earlier ones can perhaps be explained by his continued effort to find a timeless art, one distinctly removed from any one period, and to emphasize the decorative nature of the canvas. It's questionable whether this attempt best served his eventual reputation. Nevertheless, this derivative Neoclassical style attracted the attention of Nazi Germany during World War II who saw in it a reflection of a superior Age that would well express their own Regime.
Biography of André Derain
André Derain was born in the Parisian suburb of Chatou. He grew up in a middle-class family. His father worked as a pastry chef and served as a municipal councilor.
Derain received a traditional education at Saint-Croix in Le Vesinet, and then attended the Lycee Chaptal in Paris. He began studies in engineering at the École des Mines in Paris but left the program in 1898. Derain recalled his formative education as being a miserable experience: "The teachers, ushers and pupils were a far more bitter memory for me than the darkest hours of my military career." Despite his disinterest in school, he excelled at drawing and won an award for it in 1895.
Maurice de Vlaminck and Henri Matisse are often credited with Derain's decision to leave school and pursue a career in the arts yet this is not the case. Derain showed a precocious talent for drawing and painting from age fifteen, at which time he and his friend Le Noe began artistic studies with Father Jacomin and his sons. He remained in his studio until 1898, at which point he entered the Paris studio of the Symbolist painter Eugene Carriere. Derain met Matisse when the elder painter arrived at the same studio a few months later. Although Matisse is considered to have been Derain's teacher because he was eleven years his senior, their relationship was more of a collaboration.
Derain also met Vlaminck soon after entering Carriere's studio and the two became fast friends. Apparently Derain's parents discouraged the relationship between their son and this "bohemian anarchist" and he was banned from their household. When Derain sought Vlaminck's critique he would hang his painting outside of the window of his house for his friend to see.
Derain and Vlaminck reportedly shared models as well as mistresses. "They shocked the inhabitants of Chatou by their behavior-when they returned from Montmartre after an evening out ostentatiously mounted in a fiacre in the company of two prostitutes decked with distinctive boas."
Derain was known for his rebellious attitude. Once, at the Louvre, he painted a version of Ghirlandaio's Bearing the Cross, which offended the attendants who, after a scuffle, threw him out of the museum.
His early artistic career was put on hold when he was called up for military service in 1902. While unable to produce many works during this period, he remained in touch with Vlaminck, writing him often on the subject of art. The comments he makes regarding his new stylistic interests, key points in the development of Fauvism, significantly indicates his part in developing the movement, independent of that of Matisse.
After completing his military service, Derain spent the summer of 1905 working with Matisse in Collioure. That same year he joined him and a group of other friends in exhibiting at the Salon d'Automne in Paris. There, work was collected in a space that art critic Louis Vauxcelles famously called the 'Gage aux Fauves' (Cage of Wild Beasts). While the term was meant to mock the artists' work as childlike, and to degrade their value, Derain still managed to sell four of his exhibited paintings. Soon afterward, Matisse introduced Derain to Ambrose Vollard, who bought the contents of his studio, giving him the means to continue his career.
Derain's Fauvist paintings are his best-known and include landscapes and portraits characterized by intense colors and simplified, decorative forms. At this point in his career, he believed Fauvism was the answer to his search for a permanent artistic form.
In 1907 he moved to Montmartre and spent time at Le Bateau-Lavoir, where many well-known 20th-century artists, including Picasso, resided. Once there, he married Alice Prense, who was described as a laid back, beautiful woman and was nicknamed "La Vierge" (the Holy Virgin). Apparently her personality was quite different from that of Derain. Picasso's mistress described him as: "Slim, elegant, with a lively color and enameled black hair. With an English chic, somewhat striking. Fancy waistcoats, ties in crude colors, red and green. Always a pipe in his mouth, phlegmatic, mocking, cold, an arguer."
Later that year Derain went to Avignon with Picasso. Again, as with Matisse and Vlaminck earlier, it is thought that Picasso influenced Derain's change in style. But in fact, Derain showed an interest in Cubism's geometric aspect while in London earlier that year, before the trip to Avignon, and his fascination with African masks, which he described as "amazing, wildly expressive," began with those he saw there in the Negro Museum. Although the artist's exploration of Cubism was short-lived and is sometimes overlooked, Derain continued to work alongside Braque and Picasso until 1910. At that time his views on Cubism changed and he rejected their vision and what he'd at first admired, writing: "Cézanne disturbs me. His efforts to achieve perfection are incompatible with the liberty of human thought. He has been searching for the absolute, which inhibits the natural flowering of life. Over-indulgence in reality spells death."
By 1913 Derain had returned to his search for esoteric knowledge, and began to work in what might be called a "gothic style," characterized by an ascetic use of color and a mixture of Romanesque, Byzantine, and Cubist formal elements. His exploration of this particular style would later influence the Italian group known as the Valori Plastici.
In 1914, the artist was mobilized yet again and served in the military until 1919. During this period he continued to work when he could, and even managed to illustrate André Breton's book, Mont de Piete. Upon leaving the army, he began work as a set designer in the theater and was responsible for designing at least eleven ballets. During this next period he abandoned many of his former artistic friends and instead, became active in aristocratic circles. His career flourished and in 1928 he was awarded the Carnegie Prize.
Late Years and Death
By the 1930s Derain had publicly condemned modern art and returned to the classical tradition. The 1931 publication of a book of essays titled Pour et Contre Derain (For and Against Derain) featured an essay by artist Jacque-Emile Blanche denouncing the artist's newly adopted style: "Youth has departed; what remains is a highly cerebral and rather mechanical art." In 1935, despite being ostracized from the avant-garde community, he was given a retrospective at the Kunsthalle in Bern and was included in the Exposition des Artistes Independants in 1937.
Derain had a home in Chambourcy with his wife but continued to paint in his apartment in Paris where he would meet with mistresses, with one of whom he had an illegitimate son. When his Chambourcy home was occupied by Germans at the beginning of the Second World War he moved to Paris and resided either at the apartment he shared with his wife or at his mistress's home.
The Germans were interested in Derain's Classicistic works, as they believed them representatives of prestigious French culture. Although he rejected the official commission to paint the family of Hitler's Foreign Minister Ribbentrop, he accepted an invitation to tour Germany in 1941 and eventually became quite involved in Germany's "propaganda machine." Following the liberation, the French considered him a traitor. When questioned regarding his support of the Reich, Derain denied helping the Germans and said "he had gone because he felt that art had nothing to do with politics, was, in fact, above it."
While his reputation never recovered, he continued to work in Chambourcy, where he resided with his wife and son, who he'd officially adopted. Following the birth of a second illegitimate child, Derain and Alice separated and she attempted to seize control of their finances. In 1953 Derain fell ill, dramatically affecting his vision. Although he recovered, he was hit by a truck and died shortly thereafter on September 8, 1954.
The Legacy of André Derain
Derain received a great deal of recognition during his lifetime. The range of styles he adopted over the course of his artistic career influenced a great many artists and many of the most significant artistic movements of the early-20th century. His part in the development of Fauvism is usually ignored, his influence on that of Cubism overlooked, yet he profoundly affected both movements.
Derain's reference to an aesthetic basic to Cubism, even before he purchased the African mask that would became one of the talismans of inspiration for the movement, early in 1906, indicates his important role in the style's development. "It is absolutely essential for us to break off the circle the Realists have locked us into. I've been rather moved by my visits around London and to the National Museum (National Gallery), as well as to the Negro Museum (the anthropological collection of the British Museum.) It's amazing, disquieting in expression. But there is a double reason behind this surfeit of expression: the forms issue from full outdoor light and are meant to be seen in full light... It is thus understood that the relations between volumes can express light or the coincidence of light with this or that form."
Affirmation of his pivotal role is given in Guillaume Apollinaire's attribution of the "almost immediate birth of Cubism to the closeness of Picasso and Derain in 1906" and contemporary critic John Golding's confirmation that "what gives Derain a place as a true forerunner of Cubism is that he was the first painter to combine in a single work the influence of Cézanne and Negro Art."
Derain's need for independence eventually led him to reject many of the more innovative styles he'd espoused early on yet his continual attempt to update his work led to changes that would have a lasting effect on future movements like Expressionism, Neo-Fauvism, and Surrealism. According to André Salmon "he was the figure to whom young artists looked to for instruction" and Clive Bell identified him as "the greatest power amongst young French painters." Giorgio de Chirico described him as "the only painter today who has made some contributions" and Giacometti wrote, "Derain excites me more, has given me more and taught me more than any painter since Cézanne; to me he is the most audacious of them all." In an unpublished note, Alfred H. Barr, Jr. commented: "Ironically, about the time of his death, his early paintings, the brilliant, spontaneous, semi-abstract fireworks of his fauve period, 1905-1906, were rocketing to heights of esteem, partly because they seemed related to the abstract expressionist art of the 1950s, partly because they were gay and charming in color."