DERAIN André
French painter born in Chatou in 1880; died in Paris in 1954. Intelligent and studious, he had a fine academic record. Then he suddenly decided to devote himself to painting. He became friendly with Vlaminck and shared a studio with him at Chatou. He painted with Matisse at Collioure, frequented the Bateau-Lavoir in the Rue Ravignan in Paris at the same time as Braque and Picasso. About the same time he made the acquaintance of Guillaume Apollinaire. Therefore none of the new ideas and new currents of sensibility that traversed the early years of the century were foreign to him. Derain was one of the first to discover Negro art, to feel the zest of popular imagery and the richness of folklore, to admire the beauty of the Sienese primitives and the painters of the École d'Avignon. But, first of all, he was an exponent of Fauvism. Like his friend Vlaminck, he employed the segmented touch, the swift curve, and garish colours. But his touch was less brutal, his curves more sustained, his colours more harmonious. The dominant tones in his palette were green, blue, and the whole range of violets from pink through purple. In his canvases there is none of that harsh, careless workmanship which indicates violence of instinct, but harmonies of proportions and tones, a sign of careful thought and reflection and, even then, of virtuosity for virtuosity's sake. He knew all the glamour of colour, and yet continued to pay careful attention to form and construction. That is why he executed some of the best Fauvist paintings: Westminster Bridge, A Corner of Hyde Park, his landscapes of Collioure and of L'Estaque, and Woman in Deck Chair. More eager than exacting, he wanted to include in a picture all the gains of modern painting, the discoveries of Impressionism, of Gauguin, of Van Gogh, and the influences of his friends Matisse and Vlaminck. It was this ambition that led him to paint The Bathers ( 1907), a work that seems to be a summary of the achievements of a quarter of a century. But, driven by an insatiable curiosity and, possibly, by lack of confidence in himself, he began to examine the masters of the past and delve into problems of technique. In fact, Derain was always concerned with problems of métier, and it began to assume a preponderant importance in his work. Setting aside the dictates of the mind in order to triumph over some technical obstacle, the artist accomplished many a tour de force without, however, calming his restlessness. He went to the Louvre to copy the great Italians. Then, having been won over to Cézanne, he participated in the elaboration of Cubism, but refused to adhere to the movement. He was a man who lived with History, although he seemed to live with his time. He proceeded to study the secrets of the Old Masters, drawing from tradition the nourishment that his proud will demanded. Towards 1911 he became interested in the French and Italian primitives, who knew how to combine intellectual tension with grace of feeling. He admired the Gothic painters, but also the Douanier Rousseau, the Ferrara painters, and the old French folk-artists. From 1920 on he applied himself to the schools of the Quattrocento, Piero della Francesca, Raphael, the Bolognese painters and, still later, the art of Pompeii. From then on he became a Realist and (to his credit, let it be said), a sincere and convinced Realist. Although he had been a Fauve, he had the originality to treat the problem of colour as secondary, and concentrate primarily on structure, in order to satisfy the demands of his own mind. At a time when form was being dissolved in the shimmering light of the Impressionists, or broken down under the analytic efforts of the Cubists, Derain wanted to grasp it by the simplest and most direct means. Nature then became his inspiration, and the Old Masters of the museums his models. His landscapes, his still lifes and his portraits were composed with clear, precise draughtsmanship and rather dull, muffled colours. It is difficult to sort out in them the numerous influences to which he voluntarily submitted -- those of Caravaggio, the Caracci, Corot, Cézanne and Renoir -- for he amalgamated them with infinite skill. Surrounded by colleagues who were all for mobility, intensity and sensory excitement, Derain advocated order, sobriety and reason. Methodical, if not dogmatic, curious but versatile, at times more concerned with surprising than persuading -- he revived in French painting the old classical spirit, and with indisputable authority. His work may look like a product of the brain, like a technical exercise. He has crammed too many recollections into it, accumulated too many thoughts. Furthermore, the emotional quality of his work runs the risk of being smothered under the weight of intellectual constraints, although moments of softness and abandon come to remedy the essentially cerebral dryness of his style. But when his hand lets itself go there is such fantasy, such easy grace! Certain critics, thinking of his early promise, of what he might have been and wanted to be, have accused him of lack of faith, of apostasy. Others have regarded him as 'the greatest living French painter'. A return to the use of a subject, to chiaroscuro, to modelling; a return to academic ideas of resemblance, imitation and finish; a return to the human, not through the quivering thickness of flesh but through the severe discipline of museums; discoveries instead of inventions; cautiousness rather than wisdom; an extreme virtuosity, yet restless and morose -- such appears to be Derain's art. All the same, Derain is not a dry, academic painter. And he is more than just a talented painter. This is what Apollinaire said of him in 1916: ' Derain has passionately studied the masters. The copies he has made show how anxious he was to get to know them. At the same time, with unparalleled courage, ignoring all the audacities of contemporary art, he found in freshness and simplicity the principles and the rules of art.' Will posterity confirm this opinion? One way or the other, the fact remains that he has no influence today on the young French painters. But even if one rejects his later paintings, it would be unjust to forget the good canvases he painted at Vers, Martigues and Albano, his still lifes of 1912 and 1913, his astonishing illustrations for Rabelais Pantagruel, as well as the décors and costumes that he designed for the Ballets Russes. No other painter has shown, at one and the same time, so much doubt and so much mastery. No other painter has so conveyed the feeling of wanting to dominate his century and, at the same time, reject it.
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