Sous-bois en Provence signed 'a derain' (lower right) oil on canvas 50.5 x 61.5cm (19 7/8 x 24 3/16in). Painted circa 1920-1921
PROVENANCE Galerie Kahnweiler, Paris. Henri Canonne, Paris; Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 28 May 1930, lot 23. Private collection, U.K.
LITERATURE M. Kellerman, André Derain, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, vol. II, Paris, 1996, no. 475 (illustrated p. 15).
The south of France was a region which Derain both explored and painted exhaustively. The young artist's first visit to the Mediterranean coast was in the summer of 1905 when he joined Matisse at Collioure during his formative association with the Fauves. Derain would return to the south almost every summer thereafter, captivated by the striking difference in atmosphere: 'More than anything [...] it is the light. The blonde, golden light which suppresses shadows... there is so much to do...everything I've done until now seems stupid' (the artist quoted in J. Lee, Derain, Oxford, 1990, p. 21).
The warm light which suffuses Sous-bois en Provence looks back to Derain's early landscapes in this way, but is rendered in a calmer palette than those compositions he had painted alongside Matisse and Vlaminck. The young artist's vibrant and at times jarring hues have developed into a mature and harmonious palette of blues and ochres, muted by the preceding influence of Cézanne and the Cubists, and the yellow tones in particular are typical of Derain's landscapes of the 1920s. Concurrent to the execution of the present work, Derain was working on his 1919-1921 treatise on painting, entitled 'De Picturae Rerum', in which he emphasised the importance of light in forming a composition.
Enlisted in military service during the First World War, Derain had found little time to paint in the years preceding this work. Upon his return to civilian life in 1919 he developed an increasing admiration for classicism in art and in a marked move away from Fauvism, looked particularly to Corot, who was widely seen as bringing the Renaissance into the nineteenth century. We can see Corot's inviting path in Sous-bois en Provence, serving to draw the viewer into the composition, just as Derain uses the trees either side as a classical framing device. This harmonious landscape is typical of his output from the 1920s which was a time of apparent renaissance for Derain. Characterised by a new freedom, the paintings were usually executed en plein air and, save for occasional trips around Europe, the artist concentrated primarily on the French landscape. Painted in a looser style than the geometric tiled compositions of his Cubist association, landscapes from the post-war period such as this portray a reassuringly gentle land of rolling hills, shady forests, cool streams, villages and churches.
Indeed, in the elegant curves, sinuous branches and lively brushwork of Sous-bois en Provence we sense the renewed joy in landscape painting that Derain was experiencing, described in a letter to Kahnweiler on 5 November 1921:
'There are days, when the mistral blows, that turn the land into splendid primitive landscapes with a metallic tone and precise lines, things that give me a lot of pleasure. The sky is filled with clouds the shape of airships. I would love it if I never lose sight of this kind of thing, so vigorous and at the same time so warm' (the artist quoted in I. Monod-Fontaine, André Derain: An Outsider in French Art, exh. cat., Copenhagen, Statens Museum for Kunst, 2007, p. 153).