Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Derain - From Fauvism to New Classicism

After my first encounter with Derain’s work in my introductory art history class, I immediately fell in love. The confluence of vivid colors and emotive brush strokes renders a unique aesthetic experience, which I believe only other Fauves and some Post-Impressionists can replicate. After further investigation, however, it became apparent that Fauvism, a short-lived artistic movement, could not begin to define his entire corpus of work. Apparent in his sketches and later work, Derain had an eye for classical style and often employed late Medieval and Renaissance techniques.

Born in 1880, Andre Derain grew up in the small town of Chatou. Located just outside of Paris on the Seine, Chatou was frequented by painters of the Impressionist movement and was in fact the site of Renoir’s Lunching of the Boating Party. As a young boy he took drawing lessons under a local painter and while his talent was recognized, his parents sought a more prestigious career for their son and sent him to school for engineering. Coincidentally, the college of engineering sat relatively close to the Ecole des Beaux Arts and he soon found himself neglecting his engineering studies for painting and perusing the Louvre. Through a series of old connections, Derain was introduced to the likes of Vlaminck and Matisse, two of his greatest influences. He took a short hiatus from painting when we was conscripted in the French Army from 1901-1904, but upon his return took up painting full-time.

Mountains at Collioure, 1905, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Together, Derain and Matisse led the avante garde charge into the first decade of the 20th century, with 1905 being a notable year for the paintings created in Collioure, a French town situated on the Mediterranean. After 1906, Derain befriended both Gauguin and Picasso through this combination of influences began experimenting with woodcutting and sculpture. He was critical of his neglect of the line and even said to his good friend Vlaminck, “…there are many things which we lack in the general conception of our art” (Lee 27). Derain’s work began to shift toward a more Cubist perspective – emphasis on line, sharper angles – with the human figure as his main subject.

Les baigneuses, 1908, British Museum, London

There was a diversion, however, of both ideology and technique that caused Derain to set out again on his own course and veer away from the Cubists and abstract movements. Sutton speaks of Derain’s staunch adherence to his own beliefs, saying, “he absolutely refused to trim his sails in favour of fashion” (Sutton 6). His later drawings and paintings alike show recognition of angles and lines, but still retain the flowing, liquid strokes of his early fauvist work. While he worked predominantly with oil in his early years, he began to use lithograph, charcoal and pencil in his later works. Lithography, a printing technique developed in the 18th century, was revived by artists such as Matisse, Picasso and Chagall in the early 20th century. This technique allowed artists to work directly on a lithograph stone or metal sheet to then create original works of art that could be duplicated.

Nude, 1928, lithograph

Portrait of a Woman, 1939, lithograph

Woman with Hat, circa 1925, lithograph


Sutton, Denys. Derain. Phaidon Publishers Inc. (London), 1959.

Lee, Jane. Derain. Phaidon Press Limited (London), 1990.

Labrusse, Remi and Jacqueline Munck, John House, Nancy Ireson. Andre Derain: The London Paintings. Courtauld Instistitue of Art Gallery in association with Paul Holberton Publishing (London), 2005.

Spaightwood Galleries.

Michelle Champetier Gallery.

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