Between 1904 and 1910, André Derain established his career as a painter through his affiliation with the Fauves, or "wild beasts." This was the appellation he, Henri Matisse, Maurice de Vlaminck, and others came to be known by due to their highly experimental use of sharply contrasting colors in bright hues applied with spontaneous brushstrokes. During these same years, Derain and other Fauve artists achieved similarly striking, emotive effects in prints by exploiting stark contrasts between the white paper and the black ink. In his woodcuts of this period, Derain cut out the blocks so that heavy outlines mark the boundaries of flat, simplified shapes and linear patterns.
Derain's illustrations for L'Enchanteur pourrissant, a prose poem by Guillaume Apollinaire, clearly show how the artist's interest in both African carvings and the woodcuts of Paul Gauguin informed his woodcut technique. His bold figures evoke the text but are not tied directly to it. While this approach represents a departure from traditional illustrations, the layout of blocks of text, page-sized prints, decorative elements, and illuminated letters all hark back to elements in early printed books.
This combination of traditional and modernist components appeared again in 1943, when Derain created Pantagruel with publisher Albert Skira and master printer Roger Lacourière. Here Derain uses the white-line woodcut technique colored with the hand application of inks on a single block, a process known as à la poupée. The imagery he uses to depict scenes from this ribald sixteenth-century satire by François Rabelais resembles early playing cards. Among the six hundred printed works Derain made in the course of his career, nearly half served as book illustrations. In addition to woodcut, he exploited the expressive potential of a wide range of intaglio and planographic techniques in his prints.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Jennifer Roberts, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 73.