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26 June, 2013
Andre Derain
Every style of painting has artists from the past whom its devotees fervently admire. Realists worship Corot and Courbet; Impressionists, Monet and Renoir; Expressionists van Gogh and Gauguin; Abstractionists, Picasso and Kandinsky; Surrealists, Dali and Miró, and so on and so on. There are those amongst us like myself who worship lines and order while others detest both in favour of free-flowing emotional expression, regardless of style. If this latter group is in search of a painting icon from the past to whom they might pay homage, let me suggest one - André Derain (pronounced der-RAN). This contemporary of Picasso, heir to van Gogh, protege of Matisse, and colleague of Vlaminck could easily be considered one of the most expressive of the Expressionists and among the least bound by traditional art styles or painting techniques. Right-brained painting mavericks would adore him.

Derain was born in Chatou, France, in 1880, his father a pastry shop owner who had dreams of his becoming an engineer. While still a teenager however, young Andre showed such skill and determination in becoming a painter, his father had little choice but to send him to the Académie Carriere in Paris (little choice because it was all he could afford). There he met Matisse. There he picked up Fauve (beastly) colour. While still a student under Matisse, he was involved in a minor railway accident where he met fellow victim, Maurice Vlaminck, who was also a rebellious young colour-demented painter. Discovering they had much in common, the two young pups decided to spend the summer of 1900 near Derain's birthplace where they rented a dilapidated old house situated on an island in the Seine. There, while worrying daily that the structure might suddenly tumble into the river, they set up shop to teach each other how to paint.

As much as they had in common, there were still differences. Like Matisse, Derain struggled through much of his early career to try and organise his wild colour tendencies; while on the other hand, Vlaminck never even tried. Having been influenced by Matisse, Derain tried to plan his colours and compositions; Vlaminck just let the inspiration and paints flow. Derain tried to follow in the path of van Gogh and Matisse, Vlaminck couldn't be bothered following any path. Derain was caught between the two. But what seemed like an artistic conflict, eventually became his greatest strength, both influences serving to diversify as well as moderate his style. As a result, at the early age of 25, Derain encountered a gratifying affirmation of his artistic worth which two of his idols, van Gogh and Gauguin, never had. The canny art dealer, Vollard, one day visited his studio; and on the spot, bought out everything he had in stock, the whole lot, a total of 25 paintings in all. Vollard saw Derain as a young Cézanne, and knew a good deal when he saw it. He recognised the young artist's work as a congenial hybrid, blending the best of van Gogh, Cézanne, and Matisse into an art that was easier to "live with" than any of the others, and for a price he knew he could market. For the Expressionist painter, that's an ideal worth striving for.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
5 December 1999

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