Illustrated companion

Derain's attachment from about 1920 onwards to a form of painting rooted in the art of the past, particularly that of the seventeenth century, was based on a deeply thought out philosophy. Essentially he believed that art was timeless and that its function was to reveal meaning through elements of the real world that had, or could be given by the painter, a symbolic significance. Derain was not alone in his view, but the particular rigour and thoughtfulnes of his position made him a central and influential figure in the current of theory and practice of painting in France between the wars which is sometimes referred to as traditionisme.

'The Painter and his Family' is an allegory, a symbolic statement about art and the life of the artist. It is a completely invented scene, bearing no resemblance to the artist's actual working conditions, always alone in his studio. Derain is seated, in front of him on the table a still life of fruit in a bowl. He has paused in his painting to stare hard at the parrot perched on the easel. The art historian Jane Lee has suggested that the parrot as 'a symbol of worldliness and lust' refers to Derain's belief in the fundamentally dionysiac or joyful nature of art. The peacock also represents earthly glory, while the cat reflects Derain's interest in 'arcane sciences and esoteric practices'. The artist is supported by his family: out of the mysterious shadows behind him enters his sister-in-law bearing refreshment in vessels, in a manner strongly reminiscent of seventeenth century religious painting. Behind him his niece stands, her statuesque appearance suggesting a muse, the dog a symbol of her fidelity to the artist, and of his to art. The artist's wife, another muse, is reading a book, a reference to the realm of literature, and the artist's literary interests, as an integral part of his art. All these elements, including the artist himself, form a circle, the centre of which is the gap between artist, easel and his subject, the still life. It is across this gap that the act of creation takes place.

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.169