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took advantage of this opportunity to "explore the notion of color as an independent entity and paint a landscape which no longer represents anything."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.