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Exhibition at Centre Pompidou takes a fresh look at the work of André Derain
Bateaux dans le port de Collioure, 1905. Huile sur toile, 72 x 91 cm. Collection Fondation Merzbacher © Adagp, Paris 2017.

PARIS.- The Centre Pompidou is presenting « André derain 1904 - 1914. La décennie radicale » (The Radical decade), which takes a fresh look at the work of this major 20th century artist, tracing the various stages of his career before the First world war, when he was involved in the most radical avant-garde movements. Some remarkable groups of work have been brought together for the exhibition: his 1905 summer pieces painted in Collioure; a series of London scenes, and his very large dance and bather compositions.

The art of André Derain has not been the focus of any major monographic exhibitions since the 1994 retrospective at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris – in other words, for over twenty years.

This French painter played a crucial intellectual role in the emergence of two major avant-garde movements in the early 20th century: Fauvism and Cubism. Early on, he made a solitary return to realism, foreshadowing all the figurative movements of magic realism from the Ingrism of Picasso to the metaphysical painting of De Chirico and the New Objectivity of Germany. Derain’s daring, highly inventive pre-war work is fascinating.

Derain, who was close to Maurice de Vlaminck and Henri Matisse, and then Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, engaged forcefully with Fauvism and Cubism, developing a powerful body of work up to the First World War. He experimented visually in many ways, tackling painting, drawing, xylography, sculpture, ceramics and film, and practised photography throughout his life, along side his painting.

The exhibition focuses on an exploration of Derain’s hitherto unexhibited archives – his photographs, collections of prints and artwork reproductions, writings and correspondence – and for the first time sheds considerable light on some of his most iconic works through strong visual counterpoints : the photographs he took and his atypical artistic references, including Epinal’s engravings, the Maori objects he copied at the British Museum in 1906, and the African sculptures in his collection. The exhibition presents around seventy paintings, a large number of works on paper (watercolours, drawings, sketchbooks and engravings), sculptures and some fifty photographs, as well as Maori and African sculptures and ceramics.

The circuit follows his carer chronologically:

• Firstly, derain’s early works, marked by his roots in a realistic, libertarian style with cruel, acerbic drawing, are presented as a foil to his photographs, which date from his early career to the 1940s. His entire work as a painter was deeply imbued by his liking for photographic compositions, no matter how radical, and a certain realism.

• his landscapes of Chatou, dating from 1903 to 1904, with their lively colours and innovative compositions, show a simultaneous adherence to and emancipation from the Impressionist model.

• His pictorial experiments during the summer of 1905 in Collioure, alongside Henri Matisse, were his baptism by fire in Fauvism.

• His Arcadian, decorative vein, typified in the large piece La Danse (an exceptional loan) and its various versions in watercolour, were a response to Paul Gauguin’s Tahitian works and the contemporary paintings of Matisse.

• The vibrant, synthetic landscapes painted at L’Estaque in 1906 and the flamboyant London series (1906 - 1907) represent the peak of his achievements in colour.

• The maori and African objets d’art of the British Museum, which Derain discovered in London in 1906, and the pantheon he built up through his visits to the Louvre, the Musée du Trocadéro and the National Gallery all nourished the neo-archaism of his sculptures and woodcuts.

• A period influenced by Cézanne, which started in 1907, led Derain towards a formal and geometric synthesis with a series of large compositions of female bathers (also exceptional loans).

• He then began to develop a personal form of Cubism through his compartmentalised landscapes of Cassis, Martigues and Carrières-sur-Seine with their saturated colours, painted between 1907 and 1909. These were followed by those of Cagnes and Cadaquès, characterised by a crystalline, geometric volumetry.

• Without ever abandoning realism, Derain began to accentuate the stylisation of his drawing in 1912 and 1913, producing numerous archaistic portraits, manifesto self-portraits in painter’s clothing, sophisticated, symbolic still lifes and stylised views of windows harking back to Paolo Uccello. This strange, singular «byzantine» period appealed to numerous artists and poets, including the young André Breton.

• The exhibition ends with evidence of the resurgence or survival of the pre-war spirit

• an epic vein and a poetic archaism inspired by Guillaume Apollinaire – through one of his very late works : the large allegorical panel completed in 1944, La Chasse (The Hunt), also called L’Âge d’or (The Golden Age) (1938 - 1944).

André derain was a complex personality, who very early on evinced a certain doubt towards the modern approach while contributing actively to the explorations of the first avant-gardes of the 20th century. gertrude Stein said of him, somewhat perfidiously, « derain is an inventor, a discoverer ; one of those ever-curious spirits who never put their own inventions to good use (…) he is an artistic adventurer, the Christopher Columbus of modern art – but it is others who profit from the new continents. » (Citations from Jean Leymarie’s « André derain ou le retour à l’ontologie », Paris, Skira, 1949)

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December 24, 2017

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