Text from Edward Lucie-Smith, "Lives of the Great 20th-Century Artists"
"Of all the major figures in the Ecole de Paris, André Derain's reputation has sunk into the deepest trough. It is doubtful if it will ever again stand as high as it did between the two World Wars.
"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. He disliked school - much later, he said that 'the teachers, ushers and pupils were a far more bitter memory for me than the darkest hours of my military career.' He left 'with few regrets and the reputation of being a bad, lazy and noisy scholar', but with a prize for drawing. He took his first lessons in painting in 1895 from an old friend of his father's and of Cézanne's (but who nevertheless thoroughly disliked Cezanne's work), and in 1898 he went to the Académie Carriere in Paris, where he metMatisse. In June 1900 he met Maurice de Vlaminck, and formed a close friendship with him. The two young artists rented a disused restaurant in Chatou which they used as a studio, and often shocked their neighbours with their antics. Meanwhile, Derain pursued his studies, copying in the Louvre and visiting exhibitions of contemporary art. In igoi he was extremely impressed by the Van Gogh retrospective at the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery, and it was here that he introduced his two friends, Vlaminck and Matisse, to one another.
"In the autumn of that year Derain was called up for military service. He could do little work, but carried on a lively correspondence with Vlaminck until his release in September 1904. He returned to Chatou, and it was at about this time that he got to know the poet Guillaume Apollinaire. The following year, 1905, was an important one for him. The dealer Ambroise Vollard, to whom he had been introduced by Matisse, bought the entire contents of his studio (he did the same with Vlaminck). Derain exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants and sold four pictures, and then at the Salon d'Automne where he, Matisse, Vlaminck and others were hung together as a group, in a space which was promptly dubbed the 'Cage aux Fauves' ('Cage of Wild Beasts') by a facetious critic, and Fauvism was officially born.
"Following his success at the Salon d'Automne, Vollard commissioned some views of London from him, and he visited England for the first time, returning in 1906. The summer of 1906 was spent painting at L'Estaque, where he met Picasso, and in the next year he signed a contract with Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler, Picasso's dealer. He married on the strength of this new financial security, and with his wife, Alice, went to live in Montmartre, where his friendship with Picasso continued. Fernande Olivier, Picasso's mistress at that time, has left a vivid description of him:
Slim, elegant, with a lively colour and enamelled black hair. With an English chic, somewhat striking. Fancy waistcoats, ties in crude colours, red and green. Always a pipe in his mouth, phlegmatic, mocking, cold, an arguer.
"Alice Derain at this period was so calm and beautiful that she was nicknamed 'La Vierge' - 'the Holy Virgin'. Her husband's ties with Picasso and his circle were strengthened when he supplied the illustrations for Apollinaire's first book of poetry, L'Enchanteur pourissant(1909), and illustrated a collection of poems by Max Jacob in 1912.
"With the outbreak of war in 1914, Derain was mobilized and remained in the army throughout the conflict, fighting on the Somme, at Verdun and in the Vosges mountains. There was little opportunity to paint, but his career did not come entirely to a halt. The dealer Paul Guillaume gave him his first one-man show in 1916, with a catalogue preface written by Apollinaire; and he provided another set of illustrations, this time for André Breton's first book, Mont de Piete. He was forced to remain in the army until 1919, serving with the French occupation forces in Mainz, but when he was finally released the French art world received him with open arms. In 1919 he designed the ballet La Boutique fantasque for Diaghilev (the first of many ballet designs), which scored a major success, and in 1920 he signed another contract with Kahnweiler, replaced by a contract with Paul Guillaume in 1923. Four books were published about his work between 1920 and 1924, and he began to move in fashionable circles. The aristocratic patron Count Etienne de Beaumont, who had set himself up as Diaghilev's rival, offered him further theatrical commissions in 1924 and 1926. His reputation rose to new heights when he was awarded the Carnegie Prize in 1928 and began to exhibit extensively abroad - in London in 1928; in Berlin, Frankfurt and Düsseldorf in 1929; in New York and Cincinnati in 1930; and once again in London and New York in 1931.
"By now, Derain's art had evolved considerably since his Fauve days. First, he had passed through a period when he showed the influence of African art (of which he was a pioneer collector), and also of Picasso'sCubism. After the war, like many other artists, he felt the renewed appeal of Classicism. He went to Italy in 1921, for the Raphael centenary celebrations held that year, and was deeply impressed by High Renaissance painting. He also drew on more directly 'classical' sources, such as Fayum portraits and Roman mosaics. The increasing conservatism of his work was not challenged until 1931, when a book called Pour et Contre Derain (For and Against Derain), containing essays by various hands, was published. A particularly damaging verdict came from the veteran painter and critic Jacques-Emile Blanche, who wrote: 'Youth has departed; what remains is a highly cerebral and rather mechanical art.'
"Derain's work now divided informed opinion - and those who defended him began to make him the pretext for a general condemnation of Modernism. During the 1930s he gradually lost touch with many of his old friends. He bought a large house at Chambourcy near Saint Germain-en-Laye, though he also maintained a pied-a-terre in Paris. The latter served several purposes: he found it difficult to find good models at Chambourcy, where he lived with Alice, his wife, her sister, and the latter's daughter; it also provided a convenient place to meet his mistresses.
"Despite the animosity which some of the avant-garde now displayed towards him, he continued to receive plenty of official recognition. He was given a retrospective at the Kunsthalle in Bern in 1935, and was included in the important 'Exposition des Artistes Indépendants' held at the Petit Palais in connection with the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1937.
"The Second World War was the beginning of Derain's long catastrophe. in 1940 he fled from his house in Chambourcy and returned to find that it had been requisitioned by the Germans; 1941 saw the birth of an illegitimate son, the child of a favourite 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. He was much courted by the Germans, since he belonged to a group of artists who could not be dismissed by Nazi theoreticians as 'degenerate' (as was the case with the Cubists and Surrealists), but who, on the contrary, represented the prestige of French culture, with which the Nazis wished to identify themselves. Hitler's Foreign Minister Ribbentrop wanted him to come to Germany and paint his whole family: Derain rejected this offer, but accepted an invitation to make an official visit to Germany in 1941. Vlaminck also agreed to accompany the party, and the tour was preceded by a series of official receptions designed to reconcile the two men, who had quarrelled some time previously. The German propaganda machine naturally made much of Derain's presence in the Reich, and after the Liberation he was branded as a collaborator and ostracized by many people.
"Derain continued his public activity as an artist to some extent: he did book illustrations, including a splendid series for an edition of Rabelais'sPantagruel published in 1944. He executed more theatre commissions, notably the ballet Mam'zelle Angot for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in 1947; Mozart's Seraglio for the Aix-en-Provence Festival in 1951; and Rossini's Barber of Seville for the same festival in 1953. But gradually he became more and more reclusive. He, his wife and her relations had returned to Chambourcy, together with his illegitimate son, whom he had now formally adopted. His wife gave the necessary consent for this, but the relationship between the couple was otherwise very bad; they were reputed to speak to one another only on rare occasions, and then about money (they had married under the French law of 'community of property' and Alice Derain was determined to protect her financial interests). He had another affair with a model, and a second illegitimate child was born, whom he dared not acknowledge. Derain was now increasingly filled with doubts about his own art. He once said ruefully:
I concentrate too much and too effectively on my painting and am in too close contact with it. I can visualize the shapes I want to portray and it is these shapes that are killing me. When I try to disengage myself from a choice between two known shapes, everything falls apart.
"In 1953 Derain fell ill, and his sight was seriously affected. His wife made an attempt to seize control of his affairs and to keep certain old friends (and the mothers of his two children) apart from him. As soon as he was well again he and Alice separated. But he was not to enjoy his freedom from her for long. In 1954 he was knocked down by a truck in Chambourcy. He was taken to hospital, and at first it was thought he was not seriously injured, but the shock was too much for a man now in his seventies. He failed to recover, living only long enough to effect an official reconciliation with his wife."