André Derain was born in 1880 at Chatou, which a small artists’ colony in the outskirts of Paris. His father was a successful pastry chef and a town councillor. Derain received a good education but disliked school calling it a ‘more bitter memory for me than the darkest hours of my military career.’
He took his first lessons in painting in 1895 from an old friend of his father and Cézanne. In 1898 he went to the Académie Carriere in Paris, where he met Matisse. Later, in June 1900 he met Maurice de Vlaminck with whom he formed a close friendship. Together they rented a disused restaurant in Chatou which they used as a studio, much to the disgust of their neighbours, who they often shocked with their bohemian behaviour.
During the next couple of years Derain pursued his studies, copying old masters in the Louvre and visiting exhibitions of contemporary art. He was extremely impressed by the Van Gogh retrospective at the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery in 1901, and it was here he introduced his two friends, Vlaminck and Matisse, to one another. Later in 1901 Derain was called up for military service and on his release in September 1904 he returned to Chatou. It was at about this time that he got to know the poet Guillaume Apollinaire. The following year, 1905, 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. Later in 1905 at the Salon d’Automne Derain, Matisse, Vlaminck and others had their paintings hung together as a group. The paintings were bold, vibrant and extremely colourful and the space in which they were exhibited was soon dubbed the ‘Cage aux Fauves’ (‘Cage of Wild Beasts’). IT was here that the term Fauvism was was first used.
“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 was selling a lot of paintings and soon married Alice who he lived with in Montmartre.
Between 1920 and 1924 four books were published about his work and as a result he began to to acquire connections in aristocrat circles. Count Etienne de Beaumont, who had set himself up as the impresario Diaghilev’s rival, offered him theatrical commissions in 1924 and 1926. His 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.
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 small flat 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.
During the second World War he was courted by the Germans, because he belonged to a group of artists who could not be dismissed by Nazi theoreticians as ‘degenerate’. 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. The German propaganda machine made much of Derain’s presence in the Reich, and after the Liberation he was branded as a collaborator and ostracized by many French people.
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) from him. As soon as he was well again he left his wife, but the break was short lived because in 1954 he was knocked down by a truck in Chambourcy. He did not sustain serious injuries, but the shock was too much for a man in his seventies. He did not recover and died later that year, but not before making an an official reconciliation with his wife.