France 1880 – 1954
Auto-portrait dans l'atelier [Self-portrait in the studio] c.1903 Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas
Derain was in his early twenties when he painted this self-portrait. It is difficult to be more precise for the painting is not dated and a clear chronology of Derain's early, pre-Fauve work to which this painting belongs is hampered by the scarcity of reliably dated paintings.
In the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Derain's paintings being prepared by Michel Kellermann, Self-portrait in the studio will be assigned the date 1903.1 From September 1901 until September 1904 Derain was in the army, fulfilling his compulsory military service. He painted little while he was 'on duty', but he did work with Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958) while on leave at Chatou. The ball of Suresnes (St Louis Museum of Art), sketched on the spot and painted during his leave, is Derain's only dated painting from 1903, but this ironic 'regiment portrait' is stylistically atypical and therefore unreliable as a basis for comparison.Self-portrait in the studio was painted directly and rapidly from the artist's own image in a mirror (which may account for the rather flabby articulation of his extended painting arm). Its subdued palette is strategically punctuated by vivid areas of bright colour that hold the composition to the surface (such as the yellow fruit or flowers that seem to materialise beneath the artist's outstretched hand and the red stripe that clings to the artist's leg). The style of the painting2 presents a remarkable parallel with Henri Matisse's (1869-1954) paintings of 1903, such as Carmelina (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Tompkins Collection, Arthur Gordon Tompkins Fund). Although Matisse and Derain were well acquainted by this time, it cannot be established that they saw each other, or each other's work, in 1903.
While acknowledging the parallels that exist between Self-portrait in the studio and Matisse's work of 1903, John Golding has made a strong case for placing Derain's painting earlier, in 1901 or possibly 1902. Golding has pointed out that, unlike the colour modelling of Self-portrait with soft hat (collection Mr and Mrs Nathan Smooke, Los Angeles), almost certainly painted shortly after Derain's demobilisation from the army in 1904, Self-portrait in the studio, for all its bold accents of colour, is still essentially a tonal painting.3
Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.92.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra