An­dré Derain and the found­ing of mod­ern art

ArabAd - - CONTENTS - By Mona Iskdan­dar

An­dré Derain played a lead­ing role in the cre­ation of Mod­ern Art. He was be­hind two ma­jor art move­ments of the be­gin­ning of the 20th Cen­tury, namely Fau­vism and Cu­bism. He had an in­tel­lec­tual cu­rios­ity that com­pelled him for­ward, al­ways re­search­ing and ob­serv­ing the works of his friends, whether Matisse, Pi­casso, Gau­guin or Cezanne, all like him, cu­ri­ous and cre­ative young artists. He in­flu­enced many artists, and the Amer­i­can writer Gertrude Stein, de­scribed him as “The Christo­pher Colum­bus of Mod­ern Art.” THE “FAUVES” OR “WILD BEASTS’

For An­dré Sal­mon, the French poet and writer, Derain was “the fig­ure to whom young artists looked to for in­struc­tion,” and Gior­gio de Chirico de­scribed him as “the only painter to­day who has made some con­tri­bu­tions.” Other in­tel­lec­tu­als and crit­ics of his time viewed him as “the great­est power amongst young French painters” and Al­berto Gi­a­cometti wrote: “Derain ex­cites me more, has given me more and taught me more than any painter since Cezanne; to me he is the most au­da­cious of them all.”

An­dré Derain (1880 – 1954) was born in Cha­tou, a sub­urb of Paris, to a mid­dle class fam­ily. The artist’s father was a pas­try chef who wanted his son to be­come an en­gi­neer. In Paris, Derain fre­quented the young painters who were strug­gling to get recog­ni­tion, and in 1900 he met an­other French painter Mau­rice de Vlam­inck with whom he had an im­me­di­ate sym­pa­thy, and shared a stu­dio. To­gether, they would leave their stu­dio to paint out­doors.

Derain was study­ing en­gi­neer­ing, but af­ter fin­ish­ing his mil­i­tary ser­vice in 1904, his friend Matisse per­suaded Derain’s father to al­low him to give up en­gi­neer­ing for paint­ing.

In 1905, Derain and Matisse spent the sum­mer to­gether in Col­lioure, a fish­ing town on the Mediter­ranean coast of South­ern France. Derain was 26 and Matisse eleven years his se­nior. When they came back to Paris, they ex­posed their paint­ings at the Salon D’au­tomne. Their un­usual and orig­i­nal work, their strong blue and green moun­tains, their pink clouds and vi­brant un­nat­u­ral tones were stu­pe­fy­ing, so that a critic nick­named them ‘ Fauves’ or ‘Wild Beasts’ and the name stuck to the move­ment that de­vel­oped.

Their crude com­po­si­tions and vi­brant colours, their strong bro­ken brush­strokes and sim­pli­fied forms of­fended the view­ers, so that a critic wrote, “a pot of paint has been flung in the face of the pub­lic.” They had gone be­yond the Im­pres­sion­ists’ representa­tional

and re­al­is­tic style. Colour was very im­por­tant to them; it was part of the sub­ject of the paint­ing. Derain said of Fau­vists: “We were al­ways in­tox­i­cated with colour, with words that speak of colour, and with the sun that makes colours live.”


In 1906, Derain went to Lon­don to paint the city. He pro­duced 30 pieces that were com­pletely dif­fer­ent from any­thing seen be­fore. His River Thames and Tower Bridge paint­ings are now con­sid­ered of his best work. He had ex­pected to see the no­to­ri­ous Lon­don fog, but when found, he said, “dis­may­ingly, Lon­don has been drenched in sun­light for a fort­night, turn­ing it into an­other Mar­seille.” Then, he ob­served, “It was ab­surd to paint the blaz­ing sun in the world cap­i­tal of fog.” So he de­cided to “ex­plore the no­tion of colour as an in­de­pen­dent en­tity and paint a land­scape which no longer rep­re­sents any­thing.” An art critic ex­plained: “Not since Monet has any­one made Lon­don seem so fresh and yet re­main quintessen­tially English. Some of his views of the Thames use the Pointil­list tech­nique of mul­ti­ple dots, al­though by this time, be­cause the dots have be­come much larger, it is rather more sim­ply the sep­a­ra­tion of colours called Divi­sion­ism and it is pe­cu­liarly ef­fec­tive in con­vey­ing the frag­men­ta­tion of colour in mov­ing wa­ter in sun­light.”


In 1907, Derain moved to Mont­martre to be near his friend Pi­casso. He in­tro­duced African art to Pi­casso and played a ma­jor role in the de­vel­op­ment of Cu­bism along with Pi­casso and Braque, some­thing not of­ten recog­nised. The poet Guil­laume Apol­li­naire con­firmed Derain’s role by re­fer­ring to the “al­most im­me­di­ate birth of Cu­bism to the close­ness of Pi­casso and Derain in 1906”.

Derain par­tic­i­pated in both world wars, and com­ing back af­ter the First World War ended, the Fauve years were defini­tively be­hind him and his work started show­ing the in­flu­ence of the old masters that he had stud­ied at the Lou­vre. He used sober and sub­dued colours, aus­tere forms and tra­di­tional paint­ing tech­niques that in­cluded light and dark­ness for vol­ume. He came close to Neo­clas­si­cism and the spon­tane­ity and ex­plo­sion of colours of his ear­lier work dis­ap­peared. Around this time he be­came a celebrity and won the Carnegie Prize and was in de­mand in­ter­na­tion­ally.

By 1930, he pub­licly crit­i­cised mod­ern art and re­verted com­pletely to the clas­si­cal tra­di­tion and stuck to it till the end of his life. His new style was crit­i­cised as “Youth has de­parted; what re­mains is a highly cere­bral and rather mechanical art”.

In 1941, Derain ac­cepted an in­vi­ta­tion by Nazi Ger­many to go to Ber­lin to see an ex­hi­bi­tion. Af­ter the Lib­er­a­tion, some con­sid­ered him a col­lab­o­ra­tor and os­tracised him, but he de­nied help­ing the Ger­mans, say­ing, “art had noth­ing to do with pol­i­tics, was, in fact above it”.

In 1953, a year be­fore his death, he fell ill, which af­fected his eye­sight, and though he later re­cov­ered, in 1954 he was hit by a truck and passed away.

We were al­ways in­tox­i­cated with colour, with words that speak of colour, and with the sun that makes colours live.

View of Col­lioure - 1905

The Ball of Suresnes (1903)

Lon­don Bridge win­ter – 1906

The fish­er­men of Col­lioure – 1905

Henri Matisse – 1905

Madam Derain in green – 1907

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