French painter Andre Derain was one of the founders of Fauvism who, from Fauvism to Cubism, played a key role in modern art history.
Andre Derain was born on June 10th 1880, the son of a pastry cook and town councilor of Chatou, a suburb of Paris. He received a middle-class education but abandoned his early engineering studies to pursue an artistic career that led him to the Académie Julian.
In 1898, Derain studied in the Camillo studio in Paris, and developed a kinship with fellow students, Henri Matisse and Maurice de Vlaminck. In June 1900, he was called in for military service; consequently, he was left with very little time for artwork.
In 1905, Fauvism was “born” at the Salon d'Automne when a group of paintings by Derain, Matisse, and Vlaminck were hung side by side, and were referred to as the 'Cage aux Fauves' (Cage of Wild Beasts) by a facetious critic. The artists’ untamed painting techniques and bold use of unrealistic colors was the onset of the fauvist art movement. Exhibitions of Fauvist works that same year at the Paris Salon d’Automne featured some of Derain’s landscapes and cityscapes, including the popular ‘London Bridge’ (1906). Choppy brushstrokes and the lack of concern for perspective confronted the traditions of the Impressionists.
In 1907, Andre Derain moved to Montmartre aligning himself with Picasso and Georges Braque. He spent several months with Picasso in Avignon in 1908 creating works of art. Also influenced by Cézanne, his use of more subtle colors and controlled compositions emphasized form and structure revealing a cubist and impressionist influence.
A passion for French and Italian primitives, as well as African sculpture, inspired the artist to use muted colors as can be observed in his more traditional pieces. ‘The Old Bridge at Cagnes’ (1910) was one of the many popular works displayed at major exhibitions in Munich, New York and Berlin.
With the outbreak of war in 1914, Derain was forced to serve with the French occupation forces in Mainz until 1919. With great effort, art dealer Paul Guillaume managed to provide the artist with his first one-man show in 1916.
Andre Derain got right back into the swing of things after his service to his country by accepting a commission to design set decorations for the ballet ‘La Boutique fantasque’ for Diaghilev, leader of the Ballets Russes. This would be the first of many ballet design commissions for the artist. He continued to create costumes and stage sets for the Paris opera during the 1930’s. Like many other artists after the end of the war, he felt the renewed appeal of Classicism. He went to Italy in 1921, and was inspired by High Renaissance painting.
During the German occupation of France in World War II, Derain’s art (a part of the French culture the Germans wanted to be associated with) gained him an invitation for an official visit to Germany. Hitler's Foreign Minister Ribbentrop wanted Derain to paint his family; however, the artist declined and made a brief visit in 1941. After the Liberation, his reputation suffered because of a presumed association with the Germans that regarded him as a German sympathizer or collaborator of sorts.
During the 1940’s, Derain continued to do book illustrations which included a splendid series for an edition of Rabelais's ‘Pantagruel’ (1944). He also pursued his work for the ballet, but gradually became more and more a reclusive.
In 1953, Andre Derain suffered from an illness that affected his sight. When he was well enough, his wife of many years left him. Affairs of the past with other women had produced illegitimate children, and had caused serious damage to the relationship. A year later, he was hit by a truck in Chambourcy and suffered severe shock. This tragedy incurred sympathy from his wife and she returned to take care of him. However, the artist never recovered and died on September 8, 1954.