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French painter and sculptor André Derain was a leading figure of the avant-garde during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was born in Chatou, Yvelines, France in 1880, just outside Paris. He began to study art on his own in 1895 and in 1898 while studying engineering he also took painting classes under Eugène Carrière where he met Henri Matisse. He also shared a studio with Maurice de Vlaminck and together they painted scenes of their neighbourhood.
Derain spent the summer of 1905 painting alongside Matisse in the village of Collioure in the South of France, a pivotal moment in his career, whose landscapes of bold, nearly acidic colour and relatively free handling of paint were ground-breaking. The two artists exhibited their works from that summer at the Salon d’Automne of 1905, prompting critic Louis Vauxcelles to derisively refer to these works as Les Fauves, or “wild beasts” which marked the beginning of the Fauvist movement.
Derain sustained significant commissions and experimented even more freely, synthesizing the chromatic richness of Fauvism with the fragmentation of Pointillism, or Divisionism. In March 1906, noted art dealer Ambroise Vollard sent Derain to London to produce a series of paintings of the city. In 30 paintings (29 of which are still in existence), Derain presented a portrait of London, many of the Thames and Tower Bridge, that was radically different from anything done by previous painters on the subject, including Monet. These bold colour compositions remain among his most popular work as noted by art critic T. G Rosenthal: "Not since Monet has anyone made London seem so fresh and yet remain quintessentially English.”
In 1907, dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler purchased the works held in Derain’s studio to render the artist financially and gave him room to experiment, notably with stone sculpture. He then moved to Montmartre to be closer to Picasso and created works influenced by Cubism and Cézanne. He exhibited with the Der Blaue Reiter group in Germany in 1912, and at the Armory Show in New York the following year.
After World War I, Derain approached his paintings with a renewed interest in classicism, exhibiting internationally and enjoying high profile commissions. During World War II, his work was appreciated by the Germans in France for its classicism, which would result in accusations of Nazi collaboration after the war.
Although he returned to a sense of classicism in his later career, Derain is best known for his role in the development of Fauvism alongside Matisse at the turn of the century. His flattened forms and vibrant colours allowed for the liberation of colour from the mimetic representation of subject matter; the ways in which he abstracted his landscapes and figural scenes emphasized colour as a conveyer of meaning in its own right.
His legacy influenced countless artists of the twentieth century. His works can be found in the permanent collections of major museums around the world including the Museum of Modern Art, Musée d’Orsay, the Hermitage Museum and the Tate Gallery, among others.