One summer, early in the twentieth century, Henri Matisse, on the advice of Picasso, took his family to the seashore at Collioure in the south of France. There, in the light of the Mediterranean, a new way of painting came forth.
…The summer of 1905 was different. In André Derain, Matisse had a friend and colleague ten years younger than himself who was in many ways his exact opposite. Where Matisse was anxious, concentrated, prudent, slow to move, quietly dressed, and in outward things the very model of middle-class morality, Derain was an outgoing giant who didn’t care what he did or what he looked like or what was thought of him. The son of a prosperous dairyman, Derain behaved as if the word “inhibition” was not in the dictionary. In the winter he was as likely to camp out in an abandoned restaurant , burning furniture to keep warm, as to come home in the evening. In the summer he roamed the countryside in piratical style, bicycling as much as one hundred miles a day , rowing in regattas if he felt like it, playing practical jokes, and making love to every girl he could get his hands on.
Yet, surprisingly, this same André Derain was a devoted student of the old masters and had made perfectly good copies of paintings in the Louvre while he was still in his teens. He had read widely and discerningly in physics at a time when the existing notion of the universe was being sent to the junkyard and a completely new one was being born. He had ideas of his own about philosophy, about the theatre, about the rights and wrongs of colonial government, and-most of all, perhaps- about the future of painting.
Derain was a champion verbalizer, a nonstop ruminator, arguer, commentator and prophet, and in this too, he was the opposite of Matisse. Where matisse wanted to get one thought exactly right before starting on another, Derain would grasshopper this way and that, mingling sense with nonsense, sober truth with provocation, outrage and divination. Thinking of them that summer, one could well imagine that, like Don Quixote and Sancha Panza, Don Juan and Leporello, Hamlet and Horatio, they complemented one another to perfection.
Derain had committed himself on the future of art as early as 1901, two years after he had first met Matisse. To Derain, realism, as the literal imitation of nature, was over. In his view painting should offer not an imitation of nature but an equivalent of it. Derain had already dismissed the impressionists for trying to copy nature rather than understanding the fugitive effects of nature and what made them so arresting as a study separate from what makes a good painting.
Imitation of the kind Derain and matisse decried gives us at best a low-keyed satisfaction. It confirms us in our own everyday vision , but it cannot give us that sense of heightened vitality, or life quickened and intensified, that great painting has to offer. André Derain was anything but low-keyed, and he knew enough about art history to realize that the next step would involve color. As Vincent van Gogh had written, “The future of art lies with a colorist such as there had never been before.” And what had Paul Gauguin said? That a “pound of green is more green than an ounce of green.” “Color for color’s sake!” was Derain’s succinct way of putting it.
“The third and final painting that I found to be of significance was Still Life by André Derain. At first glance this appears to be like any other boring picture of fruit and wine glasses on a table, but after further inspection I realized that it was painted onto a French newspaper. Since André Derain painted this scene onto newspaper it was separated from the thousands of other still lives with fruit on a table. Although the painting is not incredibly detailed I know from experience that a drawing a still life is no easy task. Most people would say. “Oh that’s easy, I can do that. All they did was paint on newspaper and their art was purchased and put on display at a museum!” This may be true that most artists could draw this scene and anybody can paint on newspaper, but André Derain was the first one to do it and therefore their art is set apart.
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