Andre Durenceau's Color Driven Art

One of the current favorites at Grapefruit Moon Gallery is the noted French-American artist Andre Durenceau, and we're thrilled to have just added this fresh new artwork to the website. The artist was born in Auray, France in 1904, and after studying at Paris’ l’Ecole des Beaux Arts, he moved to the United States in 1923 to design textiles for the United Piece Dye Works in Manhattan.

Little has been published about the life of Durenceau, though he had a long and storied career, creating magazine covers for Theater magazine, working as a textiles designer, muralist, and advertising illustrator. His dark, avant-garde vision was highly influential throughout the Art Deco and mid-century period.

In 1928 Woodstock, NY-based publisher H.C. Perleberg printed Durenceau’s most well-known graphic design collection Inspirations, a collection of 128 geometric-patterned pochoir prints. The patterns occasionally depict human figures, but mostly feature plant and animal life as well as abstract shapes. The collection is grouped into sets of three to eight, all utilizing the same color scheme with no more than, and often less than, six colors. Durenceau's interest in color as a tool to convey emotion, capture attention in design, and provide narrative continuity would continue throughout his career.

Pl. 3 [Four plant form compositions.] from Inspirations : twenty-four plates, with 128 compositions

Pl. 3 [Four plant form compositions.] from Inspirations : twenty-four plates, with 128 compositions

“In the intense time through which we are passing quick perception of purpose is of first consideration: we have no time to enter into difficult problems, in word or color,” the book’s introduction states. “A poster, a design must be conceived in utter directness, to nothing else but its purpose of advertising, or modernly decorating. Mystical allegorical time-wasting efforts are passed by, and their purpose is lost. The blending of color, the indistinct effects compelling close scrutiny, or long contemplation to loosen in us consent and admiration, have no longer a place; we do not even stop to delve into the mystery. The change from time-taking conception to the terseness of modern expression – we see at a glance, or not at all.”

Shortly after Inspirations' publication, Durenceau moved across the country to Hollywood where he worked as a color advisor to Technicolor, applying his theory of design to the silver screen. In 1931 Durenceau advised Warner Bros. on the studio’s first full-length color film, “Manhattan Parade,” the second full-length film shot in improved Technicolor.

He became well known in the arts community and painted incredible murals in the severe art deco and hypnotic exotic style for which he was known. Some of his more noted pieces from this period include a mural of Samson and Delilah that hung in the Leimert Theater and commissions by Joan Crawford, Lilyan Tashman, and the Vanderbilt Whitney family. Of the Leimert mural, Arthur Miller wrote in the Los Angeles Times "Andre Dureneau's "Samson and Delilah" mural is an amazing work. For such figure drawing one must go clear back to Rubens."

Samson & Delilah, 1932, courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library

Samson & Delilah, 1932, courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library

In the late 1930s, Durenceau returned to the East coast, settling in New York City, where he continued his celebrated career as a muralist and illustrator, putting his modernist visions on view at the 1939 World's Fair.

He illustrated several books, including The Selfish Giant (1932) by Oscar Wilde; An Immoral Anthology (1933), an anonymously penned collection of risqué poetry; and The Way of All Flesh (1944) by Samuel Butler. His illustrations tended towards the provocative, and even at times the erotic and grotesque.

In the late 1940s/early 1950s he was still actively working as a muralist, while pursuing a career as a historical artist for National Geographic and an illustrator for mainstream glossy magazines such as the American Weekly and Reader's Digest. He illustrated a guide to common American butterfly and moth species written by Robert T. Mitchell in 1964. Durenceau died in 1985 in Sarasota, Florida.


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