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.
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.
Important Art by André Derain
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.
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.
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.