The Turning Road, L'Estaque
André Derain, French, 1880–1954
Oil on canvas
Canvas: 51 × 76 3/4 in. (129.5 × 194.9 cm) Frame: 58 1/4 × 84 9/16in. (148 × 214.8cm)
Habits of Mind
- OVERCOME FEAR Overcome fear of ambiguity / fear of failure or being wrong / fear of the unknown
SUBJECT AREALanguage Arts
Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking.
Connecting to the Work of Art
This landscape painting was inspired by Derain’s visit to L’Estaque, a town in the south of France. The monumental canvas presents an idyllic country scene with swaying trees and people going about their daily activities. The painting’s title comes from the road that curves through the landscape from the lower right.
The most striking features of this painting and of Derain’s style are the bright, vivid colors and the emphasis on curving lines and forms. Rather than using the colors that trees, roads, and people have in real life, Derain chose hot pinks, yellows, oranges, and reds, which create a sense of heightened emotion. The intense energy of the colors contrasts with the serene view of nature.
In the foreground, large, flame-colored trees with writhing trunks reach to the top of the composition. The bending lines of the trees echo the arc of the turning road. Derain thus unified his composition with both the bold colors and the rhythmic lines that animate the entire painting.
Although Derain’s parents wanted him to become an army officer or an engineer, he was determined to be a painter. In Paris, where he began his art studies, he met Henri Matisse and, following Matisse’s example, began to use brighter colors. In 1905, after four years of military service, Derain joined Matisse in the south of France at Collioure. There they painted a series of brilliantly colored, sun-drenched Mediterranean landscapes. In Paris later that year, Derain exhibited these canvases with works by Matisse and other artists who painted in a similar style. The bright color used so freely led one critic to call the group “Les Fauves,” or “wild beasts”. The term Fauve is still applied to these artists and to the style they developed.
- What words would you use to describe this painting? Why?
- How has Derain used color and outline to differentiate the forms and shapes in this painting? How does his use of heavy outlines contribute to the overall effect of the painting?
- Scan the painting and look closely at the lines and brushstrokes. How did Derain use repetition and movement to create a sense of energy?
- Describe the colors Derain chose. Are they predominantly warm or cool? Do they accurately describe the objects in the painting, or do you think that they are more decorative?
- Consider the composition of this painting. What area(s) of the painting does your eye gravitate toward first? What shapes, colors, or lines create emphasis in that area?
- Examine the setting. Where might this scene be taking place? How can you tell?
- Look closely at each figure. What might they be doing? How do they relate to each other?
- How has Derain differentiated the foreground and background? What effect do his techniques have on the painting?
- Why do you think that Derain chose such vibrant, clashing colors? How would the painting feel different if he had chosen more realistic or muted colors?
- What kind of mood do you think that Derain is trying to communicate through the placement and action of the figures?
- How has Derain altered perspective in this painting? How have his choices regarding perspective and composition created a sense of tension and energy?
- Note the size of the canvas, over 6 feet wide. Why do you think Derain chose such a wide surface for this piece? What effect would it have on a visitor in a museum? How might it look if it were hung on a wall in a living room or classroom?
- The title of this work refers to Estaque, a town in France. Based on this information and on the painting, how would you characterize Estaque? What do you think Derain was trying to communicate about the town?
- Derain’s unconventional use of color and line earned him and his fellow artists the nickname les fauves, the wild beasts. Do you think that “wild” is an appropriate term for this painting? How might this painting have appeared to viewers in early 20th-century France? For comparison, see Gustave Caillebotte’s The Orange Trees.
You can use The Turning Road as a starting point for developing simple, senses-based sentences. Ask students, “if you were standing in this scene, what would you hear? What would you see, taste, smell, or feel?”
Develop simple sentences using these senses—for example, “I can hear ___________”, “I cannot hear ___________”.
Move through all five senses, making simple sentences for each. Consider revisiting the painting over the course of a week, exploring a new sense each day.
Once you’ve written sentences for all five senses, the class can string them together to create a story about students’ adventures in the painting!
Resources Available to Order
The Learning Through Art program is endowed by Melvyn and Cyvia Wolff.
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All Learning and Interpretation programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, receive endowment income from funds provided by the Louise Jarrett Moran Bequest; Caroline Wiess Law; the William Randolph Hearst Foundation; The National Endowment for the Humanities; the Fondren Foundation; BMC Software, Inc.; the Wallace Foundation; the Neal Myers and Ken Black Children’s Art Fund; the Favrot Fund; and Gifts in honor of Beth Schneider.