Derain’s “Demoiselles d’Avignon”

André DERAIN (1880-1954)

Pure line engraving with drypoint
on BFK Eug Delâtre laid paper, 1908 or 1913.
References: Adhémar 46; Gilbert 36
Second state of two, after the landscape was filled in.
Edition of 35 probable; always unnumbered.  Rare.
Signed in pencil.
Plate: 10 ⅜ x 7 ¾ inches.

André Derain’s stature as an artist does not equal that of Pablo Picasso; and when it comes to printmaking in particular, their output is incomparable.  Picasso created thousands of prints, while Derain made about two hundred, counting generously.  When looking specifically at cutting edge cubism Derain is probably edged out by Fernand Léger as the more accomplished and sophisticated competitor of the Spanish master.  And finally, when speaking of important cubist printmakers, Picasso, Jacques Villon, and Léger are surely regarded more highly.

All this aside, Derain cannot ever be underestimated as one of the foremost artists of the early part of the 20th century.  He proved this time and again as a painter, specifically during his fauve and cubist periods.  And while he only struck printmaking gold a handful of time, as he did with the phenomenal drypoint titled Paysage dans le Goût  Italien, even as a graphic artist Derain should be noticed.

Baigneuses, or Quatre Baigneuses dans un Paysage clearly borrows from Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon, painted in 1907.  The poses of the women echo those painted by Picasso.  The dating of this print is difficult.  Eva Gilbert, who wrote a thesis on Derain’s output as a printmaker dates it 1908, while Jean Adhémar quotes 1913 in his 1955 exhibition catalogue.  Even the publisher of this print is uncertain.  While there seems to be a consensus that the main printing is from 1913, possibly in an edition of 35, two different publishers are mentioned. Adhémar attributes the edition to Galerie Simon, while Gilbert considers the print published by Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. No matter the date and publication, this elegant composition shows off Derain’s amazing control of the burin, a technique which requires strong and steady control of its tool. Touches of drypoint can be detected; mostly along the plate’s edges.  The artist uses traditional crosshatching to create shading and depth.  The various planes of the composition seem stacked, in a sculptural manner, rather than juxtaposed.  The figures contrast slightly from their background, yet many of their outlines are simultaneously absorbed by the landscape.  The elegance of this composition toys with representation and abstraction in a particularly successful manner.

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