the Little Art Seeker saw a very poetic exhibition dedicated to the great « Fauve »painter of the 20th century; André Derain in Beaubourg. Derain was for the great art collector Gertrude Stein « An artistic adventurer,the Christophe Columbus of modern art,but it is others who profit from the new continent. »
With this statement with a little touch of irony, Gertrude Stein reveals the man’s complexity. Derain played a very active role in the Parisian avant-garde of the years before the great war, being involved into Fauvism and Cubism and then returned to tradition in the 1920’s. Derain during all his lifetime was torn between a desire for modernity and the very heavy desire to return to clacissism.
The exhibition reveals the first period of Derain’s work: 1901-1914 and shows us the crucial role he played in the history pf Modern art.
Photography was a source of inspiration for the painter whose many of his paintings were produced from photographs.Pictures taken from his friends served as a starting point for the large painting entitled « Bal à Suresnes »and the little composition »three characters seated on the gras »which shows three soldiers seated on the grass into a mythic pastoral scene.
In his photographs , Derain will show the same interest for depth and the shade and light that will illuminate his work during his quest for a new abstraction and his search for a representation of a world beyond the real.
A Libertarian Realism
Derain was very much influenced by the realist movement in his early days of creation.
He had read Emile Zola’s novels and loved Toulouse Lautrec’ caricatural style.The practice of caricature inspired by the world of the night,the cafés ,the cabarets and the brothels gave to his, drawings a very incisive line and he realized during these years many drawings inspired by the great caricaturists of his time.
The little Art Seeker loved the portrait of Lucien Gilbert ,with its numerous touches of color announcing the painter’s Fauvist painting.
Chatou ,or jungle
Derain met the painter Vlaminck, on a train taking them back from Paris to Chatou in 1900.Together they rented a studio next door to the Maison Fournaise favourite restaurant and subject of the Impressionists.As their predecessors, they practiced out-door painting and painted views of the pre-industrial landcsape.Derain was very much inspired by Van Gogh’s colours.He had discovered the great painter at Berneihm-jeune galllery in March 1901.
Collioure:trial by fire
Around July 1905,Derain joined Matisse who was ten years his senior,at Collioure, in the southern part of France, nearby the Spanish border,and spent a month there painting.
He wrote to Vlaminck of his amazement at the Mediterranean light and of admiration for Matisse as a thinker and a painter.When he returned to Paris, Derain had brought back 20 drawings and 50 sketches.Some of these works free of all stylistic frame were shown at the salon d’automne with the paintings of his friends Matisse,Vlaminck; Marquet ,Manguin and Camoin,they provoked the scandal of the « Fauves ».
Derain arrived at l’Estaque in August 1906,with the desire to follow in the footsteps of Paul Cézanne. On 2 August 1906,he wrote to Matisse: « The landscapes here are very pretty.
The light is brighter than at Collioure ,but equally soft…There are chalky mountains covered with pines,which are superb in their wildness and luminosity. »Derain realized 15 paintings at l’Estaque,for the most part landcsapes whose contours he mapped,simplifying natural forms to produce complex compositions.
He wrote to his friend Vlaminck »I believe the problem is to group forms in light and at the same time to harmonize them with the available material ».The result is a real explosion of colors and of light that splashes everywhere.
Alongside his landscape paintings,Derain produced a large composition in 1906 « La danse ».This masterpiece was preceded by many watercolours inspired by the Maori and Indian sculptures Derain had discovered at the British museum and also ny the dance of the Royal Cambodian ballet witnessed at the Marseille colonial exhibition in the summer of 1906.The subject was inspired by a scene from Apollinaire’s Arthurian novella »l’enchanteur pourrissant »,the three figures represent fairies dancing in « the forest deep and dark « .
Derain painted a series of views of London ,a city he visited twice , in the spring of 1906 and the winter of 1907.
Responding to a commission from his dealer Ambroise Vollard,he sought to rival Monet,whose 37 views of the Thames had met with enormous success when shown at Durand -Ruel in 1904.
The paintings were mostly done in Paris from the very precise observations that Derain recorded in two sketchbooks.Compared to Monet, Derain seeks to provide a more stable take on the city in strongly constructed coloured compositions.
Derain was a very high cultivated painter interested in Antiquity but also in the arts of Africa and Oceania.His real aesthetic shock came when he explored the ethnographic museum at Trocadéro with Vlaminck around 1905 and visited the British museum in March 1906.
There he discovered Oceanian sculpture ,his passion for which he communicated to his friends Matisse and Picasso.He started to collect wood carving and the exhibition displays beautiful artworks he owned and also pictures that gives us a glimpse of his universe peopled with paintings he loved from the great masters of the past.
In 1911,seeking to confer a timeless,spiritual character to his paintings,Derain moved towards a neo archaic stylisation .He painted a series of portraits whose faces display the same hieartic posture.At this time he even cut himself off from the Paris art scene.
But his portraits full of a melancholic realism still attracted young poets ,like André Breton and Louis Aragon who also loved the similar style of Giorgio de Chirico.
Derain, also experimented a cubist period and the exhibition displays beautiful pictures of landcapes realized during his trips in the southern part of France.The little Art Seeker really loved some of them because they remind us of his collaboration with Picasso and their quest for a new way of expression: Cubism.
The great war would brutally disrupt Derain’s career.He was mobilised as a simple gunner between 1914 and 1919;During those five years his production was interrupted as he took part in the fighting at the front.
Though he came back very depressed from this terrible ordeal, he was still searching for a magical realism he had found in Apollinaire ‘s works.The last painting of the exhibition gives us his vision of a lost paradise when man and animals were living in harmony ,before the fall, probably a direct allusion to a world he had known and loved before it was totally engulfed by war.
The little Art Seeker really loved this beautiful exhibition and warmly recommends it to you if you pass a few days in our beautiful city of Paris!
See you soon with the Little Art Seeker!!!