Derain, Balthus, Giacometti… an artistic friendship


A first! The City of Paris Modern Art Museum has mounted an exhibition tracing the fruitful friendship between three major figures of 20th century art. A unique opportunity to rediscover the work of Derain, Balthus and Giacometti through their strong mutual affection and admiration.

Never before united, the new exhibition clearly highlights the aesthetic commonalities shared by these three major figures of Modern art and retraces the history of a friendship that developed in the healthy rivalry of the Surrealist circle in the early 1930s (Balthus’s first exhibition at Pierre Loeb was in 1934). At the time, Derain, Balthus and Giacometti were frequenting the same intellectuals and artists including Antonin Artaud, Max Jacob, André Breton, Louis Aragon, Jean Cocteau, Pierre Reverdy, Robert Desnos, Jean-Paul Sartre and André Malraux. Inspired by their conversations and their respective works, all three were searching for some kind of “unknown reality” and a modernity capable of respecting and even honoring the artistic excellence of the past without rejecting it. All three introduced a strong new creative energy into 20th century art while forcefully asserting their individual world views.

The project for this ambitious exhibition was initiated more than ten years ago by Strasbourg’s Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. In order to illustrate the close friendship and artistic links between these three individual artists, the museum had to get hold of some of the most valued works in art history. André DERAIN’s explosions of colour via Fauvism have twice generated results above $10 million, including a record of $24.1 million for Arbres à Collioure (1905) at Sotheby’s London in 2010; BALTHUS’s erotically charged works have reached nearly $10 million (Lady Abdy, almost two metres tall, fetched $9.9 million at Christie’s in New York in 2015), while one of Alberto GIACOMETTI’s stretched and solitary bodies crossed the $100 million threshold, joining the Top 10 most expensive artworks in auction history (L’homme au doigt, a bronze sculpture from 1947, was acquired for $141.2 million incl. fees by billionaire Steve Cohen at Christie’s in New York).

This exhibition is therefore one of the major cultural events of the year, built around no less than 350 borrowed works (mainly focused on the years 1930-1960) and curated by Jacqueline Munck. The works have been lent by major private and museum collections around the world including the MoMA, the Metropolitan Museum, the Tate, the Hirshhorn Museum, the Boijmans Museum, the Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation, the Orsay Museum, the Maeght Foundation, the Beyeler Foundation, Geneva’s Petit Palais Museum and the Pompidou Center in Paris. The latter is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and will soon be hosting a major exhibition devoted to André Derain’s work during the so-called “radical decade” (1904-1914). As the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition clearly illustrates, André Derain was a major inspiration for Giacometti who stated that Derain had “given him and taught him the most since Cézanne”. So Derain will once again be in the Parisian spotlight from 4 October 2017 to 29 January 2018.