Michel Kellermann has confirmed the authenticity of this painting.
Derain's first documented paintings date from around 1895, when the artist was only fifteen years old. Living with his parents in Chatou, a small town on the Seine west of Paris, Derain studied informally with a local painter named Jacomin, and at the Lycée Chaptal in Paris, where he received prizes in drawing and natural science. In 1895 his parents sent him to an engineering college in Paris. Derain ignored his studies to paint on the banks of the Seine and to explore the Louvre, where he was especially drawn to the Italian primitives of the 14th and 15th centuries.
One day in 1899 while strolling in the museum he met an old friend from the Lycée Chaptal, the painter Georges Linaret, who was copying an Uccello in pure colors taken straight from the paint tubes. He was following the example of Paul Sérusier's Le talisman, which was painted in Pont-Aven under the guidance of Gauguin in 1889 and had become a rally point of the Nabi movement during the 1890s. Linaret introduced Derain to Georges Rouault and Henri Matisse, who had been pupils of Gustave Moreau at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and after the death of their teacher in 1898, transferred to the studio of Eugène Carrière. Derain joined them, and decided to devote himself entirely to painting.
Matisse was eleven years older than Derain, and provided useful guidance to the young painter, who was not yet 20 years old. Derain followed Matisse's advice to copy Old Masters in the Louvre, but more importantly he was drawn to the pure color and expressive, improvised brushwork in the older artist's plein-air landscapes and table-top still lives. The summery river scenes that Derain painted in Chatou in 1899 display his familiarity with the flat, simplified landscape forms and the vivid but gently modulated color harmonies of Nabi painting (Kellermann, nos. 3-10). Very abruptly, however, at some time in the fall or later in 1899, he painted the present work in a new and more vigorous manner that recalls the paintings of Matisse during the same period. He quickly closed the gap with the most progressive painters of his day, and presaged the look of things to come.
Indeed, the present painting might easily be mistaken for one done on the eve of the Fauve movement, which was still five years in the future. Here Derain painted with pure colors or those mixed only with white, laying warm tones alongside or directly over cool colors, sometimes mixing them directly on the canvas. He manipulated complementary colors, playing off greens against deep alizarin crimson, blues against cadmium reds and oranges, and used a neutral beige mixture in the house at right to counter balance the overall brilliance of his palette. He outlined the houses and trees in quickly-drawn strokes of black and Prussian blue, and elsewhere allowed the white ground of the canvas to form transitions between adjoining areas of contrasting color. In manner that strikingly foretells his later Fauve practice, he divides the tree trunks and branches into individual colors, using orange, olive green and dark red. In his previous paintings Derain employed a blandly consistent brushstroke across the entire canvas. Here, by contrast, he painted quickly and excitedly in broken, staccato strokes, achieving a spontaneous look that overcomes any previous tendency to hesitation or cautiousness. While his earlier pictures suffered from too much finish, as if the artist were compelled to cover every bit of canvas in a uniform layer of paint, in Le Jardin he is unconcerned about leaving thinly worked passages (such as in the sky or in the house at left), and actually makes them an essential aspect in the appearance of the picture.
The present painting stands out among Derain's efforts in 1899, and looks forward immediately to the paintings he did in 1900 and 1901. He achieved this significant advance before the fateful day in June 1900 when his commuter train from Paris to Chatou derailed, and he decided to walk home with Maurice de Vlaminck, another resident of Chatou he had not previously met but who happened to be on the same train. Each was delighted to learn the other was a painter, and they set out the next day to paint side by side at the river's edge. Derain's obligation to perform military service forced a hiatus in his painting that lasted from September 1901 to September 1903, but thereafter he resumed his partnership with Vlaminck, and their "School of Chatou" became one of the primary catalysts in the emergence of the Fauve movement.
The first private owner of this painting was the renowned Irish-American collector John Quinn (1874-1924). His New York law practice made him a significant force in finance, public and cultural affairs, and in 1913 Quinn helped to organize the famous New York Armory Show that brought large numbers of pictures by modern French artists to America for the first time. He patronized the galleries that opened in New York to handle this new art, such the Bourgeois Gallery, The Carroll Gallery, The Washington Square Gallery and Stieglitz's famous Gallery 291. He made his first buying trip to Europe in 1911, and began by acquiring Post-Impressionist Art, and then moved on to collect Matisse and Picasso. His agents bought heavily in Paris during the First World War, when artists and dealers there had few outlets for their pictures. The present painting was acquired from his estate a couple of years after his death, and the majority of his collection was sold at auction in Paris in October 1927.