Andre Dérain at the Gallery of Modern Art. LISTINGS: GLASGOW 56 EDINBURGH 57
[- Derain’s velvet revolution
A leading exponent of Cubism and close friend of Picasso and Matisse, Andre Dérain chose to distance himself from the avant-garde movement of the early 20th century and seek a return to classical
tradition. Miranda France went to see his ‘Late Work’ at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.
‘Nothing belongs to us absolutely’, wrote Dérain ; in 1943, ‘neither our sensations, nor any of the data we get from nature. What then is to be obtained from a self-styled originality?’ So much for the argument that art is a means of self-expression. but De’rain’s theory is a useful guideline to his work. He was certainly an enigmatic artist who embraced a range ofstyles and influences. In so doing he upset the artistic applecart of historians and amateurs who like to know where they stand with artists, and mark them down accordingly as Fauvist, Symbolist, Cubist or Classicist.
Dérain was, at some point or other, all ofthese things. However, he is best known for the Fauve paintings of 1905—10. ‘Fauvism’ — from the French for ‘wild beast‘ — was a natural progression from the works of Gauguin and other Symbolists. Matisse and Dérain were felt to be the fore-figures ofthe movement and their brilliantly-coloured paintings are still immensely popular. Later the critic Apollinaire would write that ‘Picasso‘s cubism is the outgrowth of a movement originating with Dérain.’ But, in spite of the accolade, De’rain was unsatisfied with many of his Fauves and burned a great number ofthem in 1910. The fire seemed to be symbolic of his ending an era — and, to a certain extent, of his development with Matisse and Picasso.
Some would say that Dérain forsook the avant-garde as he looked increasingly to the works of the past. A member of a group of Montmartre artists, poets and philosophers who all inﬂuenced one another to a certain extent, Dérain was perhaps more inspired by artistic and academic scholarship than the others. Jane Lee, curator of the exhibition and author of a monograph on
Andre Dérain‘s ‘Arlequin et Pierrot‘ at the Scottish National Gallery at Modern Art
Dérain. sees this interest in history as drawing De’rain away from the Cubism path and paving the way to the later works featured in the exhibition.
Psychologically, one might suppose ‘late‘ pictures to be of less interest. set aside from the artist‘s body ofwork. This is patently not the case with the pictures in this exhibition. taken from the 1920s and 1930s and painted at a time when Derain was regarded as one of France's foremost artists. At that time it would have been very difficult to see his work at all. since no sooner were his pictures completed than they were snapped up by private collectors.
The spacious, light rooms of the Gallery of Modern Art provide a perfect context for the works. Nudes, still lifes. landscapes. portraits and prints hang in separate rooms with the biggest room given over to Derain's large works. These are painted in beautifully rich colours which still betray Gauguin‘s inﬂuence. as well as the earthy tones of 18th century Spanish paintings. Presiding over the room is Arlequin er Pierrot. a depiction of the two commedia dell’arre figures popular with 19205 artists, which has strong Renaissance overtones.
The muted tones of ‘Le Retour d’UIysse‘. on the opposite wall, are a deliberate evocation of Pompeiian-style wall painting. Ulysses‘ wife Penelope is depicted at the centre of a table. surrounded by the suitors she is trying to stave off until her husband‘s return. lmbued with a special light. Penelope inevitably looks like Christ presiding over the Last Supper and it was apparently Dérain‘s intention that the scene should, at first glance, be confused with this more
E famous image. The painting has its own history:
' during the Occupation De’rain‘s house was taken over by German soldiers and many of the works
: destroyed. Several bullet holes in Le Rerour
(I'Ulys'se had to be repaired after the war.
Of the nudes, La Surprise is a good example of Renoir‘s influence on Derain and recalls the former‘s famous Bathers of 1887. Like Renoir, Derain was inﬂuenced by 16th century Italian pictures in his painting ofnudes; the images of voluptuous naked women, luxuriating in green fields, eating berries and wrapped in skimpy bits of cloth will certainly strike a chord with Rubens
lovers. If Rubens is too much for you, the earthy,
strong tones of De’rain‘s landscapes, reminiscent
; ofCézanne and Corot. should prove a good antidote.
Dérain’s move away from the avant-garde worried many people in the art world; one critic, Andre Salmon was concerned that Derain‘s
' post-1910 work was ‘on the margin of modern art’.
On the contrary, according to David Elliot, Director ofOxford's Museum of Modern Art, De’rain‘s return to tradition constituted a 'velvet revolution‘. De’rain regarded the mixing of influences and changing ofstyles as an integral part of the process of learning. Sadly, he paid a price for his diversification: Dérain’s refusal to identify himselfwith one particular school makes him a difficult product to market when compared with, say. Picasso the Cubist or Dali the Surrealist. Perhaps with this exhibition, Jane Lee will. to some extent, be able to set the record straight. Andre Dérain: The Late Work. unti127 May at the Gallery ofModern Art, Bel/0rd Road, Edinburgh
The List 5- 18 April 199155