André Derain is one of the great figures of the artistic revolution of the early 20th century, both pictorial and sculptural: first of all as a protagonist of Fauvism, together with Matisse and Vlaminck, and for his fundamental contribution, together with Braque and Picasso, to the primitivist and Cézannian experiments in the crucial moment of incubation of cubism, to which, however, he does not adhere.
In the Twenties and Thirties he attains great international success, but because of this change of course, while still maintaining a prime position in the Parisian art scene, he is criticised by the avant-garde environment. André Breton, who was a great admirer of his, accuses him (like Giorgio de Chirico) of having exhausted his authentic creative streak and to have taken refuge in a nostalgic dimension of tradition, drying up his unquestionable talent.
Already beginning in the mid 1910s, following his own personal theoretical and cultural attitude, he chose a direction of research decidedly in contrast with the avant-garde spirit which had characterised his first period.
Although in 1925 he declares «What ingenuity or what weakness to speak of restlessness of modern painting», Derain cannot escape his condition of the modern artist, and the “outdated” direction of his stylistic imprint does not at all cancel the existential and aesthetic dimension of that restlessness (and not even its originality), but transfers it to a different operational level in a fascinating and paradoxical way.
His research is characterised by the singular intellectual refinement of his continuous stylistic discarding, and by an obsessive desire to push the practice of painting to the edge of the abyss of nothingness, in the obstinate and impossible intention of reaching «the secret of things» through what he calls «archipeinture». Who perhaps has understood the authentic sense of his art better than anyone is Alberto Giacometti, who became his close friend from 1936 onwards.
In the last phase of his life, Derain increasingly isolates himself, and a posthumous exhibition at the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris in 1954 (the year of his death) is not enough to bring the attention of the dominant critics back to his work, of which only the first avant-garde period is appreciated.
For the start of a true re-evaluation of the artist through a more current lens, one has to wait until his complex and apparently contradictory artistic adventure is re-read from a postmodern critical perspective and no longer within an evolutionary vision of art marked by the succession of modernist tendencies. Of particular importance in this sense was the great retrospective at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (1994-95), significantly entitled Le peintre du trouble moderne.
Since then, fortunately, the return of interest for this fascinating and controversial major figure of twentieth-century art is progressively growing.
As part of its exhibitions dedicated to the great modern masters, the Museo d’Arte Mendrisio has decided to organise an important retrospective of André Derain (27.9.2020-31.1.2021) which intends to explore all the main aspects of his research, and in particular, to help refocus and re-evaluate the peculiar qualities of his complex and articulated production between the two wars and until his death.
Through the presentation of about a hundred works, the exhibition will develop through the specific sections dedicated to the central problems of his research: in the fields of painting, drawing, sculpture, and his commitment to the theatre.
As far as painting is concerned, we will especially try to analyse the evolution and the stylistic and thematic experiments, in addition to the numerous implicit or explicit references of the diverse domains of art of all eras. This, in the various genres: landscapes, still-life, portraits, female nudes, and his more complex compositions.
Equally significant, although smaller, is the sculptural production, which will be documented with a very interesting group of works.
Passionate about theatre, the artist collaborates on many important stagings for shows and ballets. A section will attempt to highlight this lesser known, but very relevant aspect of the artist’s activity, through a selection of drawings, sketches and photographic documents.
A catalogue of about 230 pages, published by the Museo d’Arte Mendrisio, will document all the works on display with photographs and a short description, introduced by the contributions of scholars and curators, and followed by the customary apparatus showing a selected bibliography and a selection of the exhibitions. Some exemplary theoretical texts by the artist will also be published, translated for the first time into Italian.