The Great Tree was one of the landscapes painted at Saint-Maximin and exhibited at Paul Guillaume’s gallery in 1931. In the 1930s, Derain was, more than ever, seeking the classical ideal.
In this painting, Derain returns to Cézanne, not in forms or the modulation of the brushwork, but in his very Cézannian choice of colours: greens and oranges. On the other hand, the brushwork and the technique of representing light are the result of research that Derain had been conducting for years. The light is suggested through delicate touches of yellow or dabs of creamy white. The browns of the tree are suggested with longer and deeper brushstrokes. The motif, trees in the foreground in front of a landscape at midday, is also reminiscent of Cézanne. The design, however, is closer to Corot and the 19th century landscape artists.
Trees fascinated Derain and were a recurrent subject of study. He had an almost mystical view of them: "The life of a tree is a mystery that no painter has ever managed to solve. Henri Rousseau was perhaps the only one to worry about this. And even then he could not see the forest for the leaves."
Provenance: Paul Guillaume (1931) ; Domenica Walter