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Andre Derain was born in 1880 at Chatou, which was then a kind of artists' colony at the gates of Paris. His father was a successful patissier (pastry chef) and a town councillor and Derain was given a middle-class education. By the time he was forty, he was one of the most successful painters in Paris. But by the end of World War II, Derain's name usually came up only to be dismissed with a shrug.
One of the original "wild beasts" (Fauves), he has been difficult to appraise; but at its best, his work has also been almost impossible not to like. Only seemingly did Derain belong with his contemporaries; essentially he was a traditionalist. The trauma of his years in the trenches had turned him toward what is timeless.
Derain's father was prosperous enough to want his son to have the most respectable of careers, preferably engineering. But Andre was already painting, and his best friend was the young ruffian Maurice Vlaminck, whom Papa Derain would not let into the house. Then one day an older painter by the name of Henri Matisse saw some of Andre's work, spoke so glowingly of his talents and prospects that Derain's father finally relented. Maurice and Andre rented a shack on an island in the Seine and their careers finally began.
In 1906 Derain met Picasso and soon afterward signed a contract with Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler, Picasso's dealer. He married on the strength of his new financial security and with his wife, Alice, went to live in Montmartre, where his friendship with Picasso continued. He and Alice made a remarkable couple; he was described as slim, elegant, with an English chic and she as being calm and beautiful.
Derain was at one moment a pointillist, painting with dots, at other moments, he was under the spell of Van Gogh or Cezanne. He spent hours copying in the Louvre. He sold very well, but when he accepted an invitation to lecture in Germany during the Nazi occupation of France, his personal stature plummeted along with his stature as an artist. What the public did not realize was that Derain had been persuaded to go by the Nazis' promise that some French prisoners of war would be released. The Nazis did, in fact, live up to their end of the bargain, but they also extracted maximum propaganda value from the tour.
During the 1930s he gradually lost touch with many of his old friends. He lived in an 18th-century mansion outside of Paris, and spent two or three hours a day drawing in the park surrounding the house. 1941 saw the birth of an illegitimate son, the child of a favorite model. During the Occupation he lived mostly in Paris, dividing his time between several households: his own studio, the house he had provided for his wife and the apartment of his mistress.
Relationships between him and his wife became increasingly worse. He had another affair with a model and a second illegitimate child was born whom he dared not acknowledge Cynical, bitter and physically gross, he withdrew to his country mansion to pursue his favorite hobbies: speeding in his Bugatti sports car and gorging himself on food. His wife left him and when he made headlines in 1954 after being hit by a car; many art lovers thought he was already dead. Two months later he was - one of the loneliest figures in the entire turbulent history of modern art.
Submitted August 2004 by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.
"Time Magazine", December 29, 1961
John Ashbery in "Newsweek", February 21, 1983
From the internet, Artchive.com
"Modern Masters" by Penelope Rowlands in ARTnews, March 1995"
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