The Turning Road, L’estaque by Andre Derain

Posted: October 17th, 2013





The Turning Road, L’estaque by Andre Derain


            The masterpiece by André Derain’s The Turning Road, L’Estaque is a key production that is part of the Fauvism avant-garde art movement. The painter himself, Andre Derain was a very interesting artist who also excelled in sculpting and other philosophical disciplines. The title of the painting was extracted from the curving road that passes through the scene toward the lower right. Andre Derain was also the founder of fauvism alongside Henri Matisse. Independently, fauvism is an appealing technique in painting that applies the use of blown up colors when painting objects or people. In fauvism, color was considered the most significant aspect of a painting and the subject only took a backseat in such paintings.

Fauvism can be sometimes applied abstractly, for example; a painter could use blue color for a woman’s hair to express the deepness of the color. The exaggeration of colors in fauvism was similarly replicated in the painting of The Turning Road, L’estaque. Andre Derain also uses nature in a creative way that connects with many people as the painting creates a feeling of tranquility. The color in the painting was also freed from its formal purpose and employed to bring out expressions of the painter (Derain 12). The painting was also a rare masterpiece that was only available in the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. These two factors: the use of fauvism and the rarity of the painting made The Turning Road the best object for analysis.

Cultural context

This landscape in the canvas symbolizes the French township of L’Estaque that had been painted earlier by Paul Cézanne. Derain was on a journey to southern France in 1905 where he met up with Henri Matisse to develop the basic aspects of a new style of painting together. Fauvism was first developed by Matisse and Derain in 1905 from which the style started appearing in their paintings. Andre Derain was a Frenchman by birth and even studied painting in France where he had his first contact with Matisse. Matisse, on his part, started as a fully-fledged painter in France in fauve works and classical masterpieces (Derain17).

When Andre Derain first painted The Turning Road, L’estaque was a small town situated at the port. The town was on top of a hill that offered a far-reaching view of the Bay of Marseilles. After twenty years, the port has been swallowed by taller buildings and other industries leaving very few clues on the original location. L’estaque was officially recognized by Paul Cézanne who painted it in over forty different canvases. Even during his time, Cézanne acknowledged the aesthetic beauty of the hill and the view accompanying it. Within France and the rest of Europe, fauvism came up as a revolution that did not follow any regulations.

The effect of Paul Gauguin, Paul Cézanne and Vincent Van Gogh’s works that were put on display was that of liberation. Artists all over Europe saw the works of the legends as an opportunity to exercise their artistic freedoms and experiment with new techniques one of which was fauvism. Fauves were believed to be at the helm of modernism in art starting with Van Gogh who used color to express his true feelings (Derain 26). Fauvism was a short-lived movement that lasted until the exit of Matisse from art. Most of the works produced by fauves were not considered profound art, but they gave enough visual satisfaction.

In France and parts of Europe, the period between 1900 and 1920 represented the Age of Anxiety that was characterized by a revolution against rational art, principles of fascism and poor politics. The effect of preparation and involvement in WW1 also had an effect on the art that was done in France. Andre Derain’s work was also interfered with when on several occasions, he had to go and fight in the army. The development of new technology, advancement of the industrial revolution and the thriving of the cultural scene were partly responsible for the increased appreciation of fauvism and the inception of new styles such as expressionism and cubism. In the rest of Europe and America, normalcy underpinned the culture as well as the religion. Each religious group vehemently protected its own principles and ideas with the Protestants being the most vocal group. These religious groups influenced politics, business and even art (Derain 89).

Visual Analysis

            The dominant style used in The Turning Road, L’estaque is that of fauvism.

Paul Cézanne was another painter who also captured the aesthetic value of the turning Road. In his numerous paintings of L’estaque, Cézanne described the visual quality of the painting as bearing the optical effect of the sun that is strong enough to illuminate all the other black, white and colored objects in the painting. The style used by Andre Derain was clearly ahead of other artists in his time, as his style was adopted forty years after he died. The painting had violet, blue and red tree trunks that had the look of a direct application of the paint from the tubes in dabs and swirls onto the canvas.

Derain made abundant use of fauve and only maintained the green color of the pin and olive trees that were naturally evergreen in the Mediterranean region. He also concentrated on vivacious colors to put across a more moving understanding of a landscape, as opposed to a rational approach. A look at the picture conjures images of the way the landscape would look in the autumn: multicolored and drenched in hues, expressive and windy. The colors in the painting are also symbolic as they display certain emotions. The screaming colors show the areas to focus such as the trees, the road and the sky (Derain 34).

Typically, like all fauve artists, color has been used to relay messages, show emphasis and set the mood of the painting. Derain expresses his feelings through his choice of colors. The constant use of red and yellow shades brings out the jovial or perhaps amicable feelings from the painter. The use of yellow in the tree leaves, the road and parts of the sky may have been to express the onset of summer or a bright, sunny day. Either way, the use of bright colors is enough to prove that the painter had a contented temperament. The selective use of green on parts of the trees brings out the idea of partial reality within the utopia.

In this painting, André Derain applies different colors, shimmering in flat shapes and setting off into spurts of disjointed brush strokes that could have been intended to be expressive of Derain’s feelings than descriptive of the landscape. The twisted road, the tree shafts and the strategically placed forms of villagers all lean to an incorporated rhythm. The harmonious composition controls the brilliant, vibrant colors. The Turning Road could be considered Derain’s most motivated painting as it had less of an impulsive expression in color than a carefully planned painting (Derain 28).

Perspectives and lines in The Turning Road

            The painting was done in a three dimensional style as can be seen by the different angles portrayed by the trees and the walkway. The perspective of the painting allows the viewer to see the foreground. Using the one point perspective style, the features in the background seem to be disappearing into the horizon and are therefore not particularly clear. The main types of lines used in The Turning Road are strong, thick, pronounced and dark. The lines are however thin in some areas that Derain desired to avoid attention. The lines were used in the painting to create tonal variations and simulate the different textures.

Shapes in the Turning Road

            The shapes used in the Turning Road are mostly organic in nature. Derain developed the shapes of the house to have smooth and rounded corners that were somewhat skewed. The houses next to the road were also similarly drawn. Derain preferred to use smooth shapes that exhibited continuity and synchronicity. Avoiding geometric shapes such as squares or circles, Derain managed to convince the viewer that the painting is indeed natural and authentic (Derain 78). These free forms in the painting also have no representational value besides adding to the aesthetic value of the painting.

Forms in the Turning Road

            Derain used linear perspective to achieve a strong sense of space in the painting. He also captured the depth using the two-dimensional images properly. He achieved this technique by using a combination of natural perspective styles such as overlapping, varying the intensity of color and varying the amount of details and distinction. The painting mainly displayed the correct use of positive space, which is the space occupied by forms. In discussing forms, Derain craftily added variations in the shapes to create numerous forms in the painting. The thickness of the free form arc that makes the turning road was made possible by the addition of thickness. The last tree to the right has also been enhanced by adding thickness on its edges.

The painting has no limits on the forms it harbors. Most of the forms are representational such as the bridge, trees, people and buildings. However, some forms could be considered non-representational and only serve to increase the aesthetic beauty of the painting. Derain avoided the use of actual three dimension forms with his best attempt being the curved road that exhibited three planes, thereby qualifying it as three-dimensional. All the other forms are implied three-dimensional. The illusion of 3D was achieved by using tonal techniques such as shading and smearing (Derain 126).


The Turning Road, L’Estaque acts as a landmark in the short, yet critical art-historical revolution of Fauvism, which discovered the central principle of contemporary painting: that the might of a picture has more to do with choice of colors and the nature of marks applied on the surface of the canvas. In the contemporary world, the value of art has been reduced to money value and at worst, aesthetic value. Money itself lost value and only what it can be exchanged for became valuable. People who have the money to purchase these various masterpieces do so without acknowledging their true value (Derain 198).

The society has also been cited as not being aggressive in the promotion of art. Most of the young people have never attended a theater show or art gallery. The mass media has also entrenched the culture of airing material that kills the spirit of art among its consumers. However, within the same generation, artists still use art to expressing their feelings and create beautiful works that enrich the lifestyles of people. In the modern world, art serves to expose the current geographical and structural changes within the community. An example is the progress of art from simple cave drawings of the Stone Age to the paintings of the New York central business district.

In addition, the contemporary world also values art immensely for its historical value. The study of monuments has been influential in bringing out this historical value. The purpose of monuments was to keep human deeds and events alive in the memories of later generations. In this way, much of historical events could be seen and understood by the present generation. Famous monuments and shrines such as those of Napoleon Bonaparte, Hatshepsut, the Mahabodhi Temple, Timbuktu and Heroes of the Ghetto Square hold numerous wealth of knowledge on the past. In this way, art serves the present generation as a source of history. The present generation has little or no use for art as a source of philosophical material.


Work cited

Derain, André. André Derain’s the Turning Road, L’estaque. Houston: Museum of Fine Arts, 2002. Print.

Derain, André. Focus on the Beck Collection, André Derain’s the Turning Road, L’estaque: [May 5-July 14, Organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston]: [exhibition]. Houston: Museum of fine arts, 2002. Print.

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