Andre Derain Mountain Road
Andre Derain's 1907 Mountain Road is one of the most captivating modern works in the collection of the Hermitage in St Petersburg. Documenting a seminal shift in the artist's oeuvre, this canvas marks a seismic shift in the trajectory of twentieth-century painting. Derain's early work seems to have been characterized by a number of chance meetings with some of the leading figures of Expressionist, Fauvist, and Abstract painting. Meeting Maurice de Vlaminck and Matisse in the early years of the century, both artists convinced him to take up painting, and under their tutelage forged a powerful sense of pictorial design. Derain compared color to the use of dynamite, advocating that artists plant explosives on the canvas to fulfil a pyrotechnic chromatic schema. In Mountain Road one can see the artist striving to contain the exuberance of his fiery tones through the highly constructed composition of the landscape.
In his early career Derain spent long hours at the Louvre and was fascinated by the primitive artefacts recently bought back from colonial expansion operations. Anchored in a sense of figurative immediacy, Derain bought to avant-garde painting a sense of synthesis. Indeed, even during the most revolutionary moments of his Fauvist career he could not dispel his taste for composition. In 1908 he would approach the Cubist style, and thereafter would continually attempt to renew and restore the tradition. Yet after a short spell in London in 1904, Derain became enraptured with the rolling landscapes and fluid natural terrain of the English isle. Shortly after, Derain would become closely acquainted with Cézanne and would bring to his style a new figurative dimension, anchored in the exotic. It was at this point in his career that he completed his Mountain Road that his style had evolved through a desire to build a geometric pattern on the frame. Returning to his native France, to the shores of the Mediterranean, Derain accentuated the rhythmic vibration he found running through nature.
Detached from the reality of his natural vistas, Derain simplifies his forms and conceives of them as absolutely flat surfaces, identified only by an extremely thick line. The palette is reduced: a dark blue and green for trees, ocher soil and blue sky attenuating the streaming heat of the day. Mountain Road is a curious work of austerity and monumentality, enacted through forms that bare a tendency to abstraction and transformation.
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