He was a born draughtsman, with an emphasis on drawing in colors. His visual memory was astounding, as was his ability to paint in a lifelike way, to bring to the fore the fragility of this subjects, never the same despite their sameness, in the variety of their representations.
Constant Detré's three styles
The first Period ( 1920-1930 )
are the hand to mouth years during which he lives enthusiastically for his art, surviving on nothing more than bread and tea, as he once confessed.
His ink drawings (so-called « Miseries » and « Cannon Merchants ») represent his indignant reaction against all forms of prevailing injustice. He also illustrates books (Zola’s Thérèse Raquin), and paints watercolors (circus artists). He was attracted to brothels, as is evidenced in his so-called « Dessins à la Lanterne » (lantern drawings), which reflect with great feeling and acuity the atmosphere of the age.
His career as a teacher
For several years he was to hold a teaching position for fashion and theatrical drawing at the « Julian Academy » in Paris.
His curriculum announced :
Tuesdays from 2 to 4 :
1– Live model sketching-
2-The art of fashion– Outlining– Coloring.
3- Imitation drawing after painting– Drawing techniques black and coloured pencils-
5- Color harmonizing
6- Model creation.
Regarding his teaching in the theatricals, it book place the same day 3 to 5 in altercation. His program consisted in :
1- Live model sketching– Stage costumes– Dolls
2- Theatrical history from primitive to modern times.- the Music-Hall- the Cinema.
3- The theater and its contruction– Production– Sets- Model making– Studiotheaters-
4- Visiting the great Paris Theaters.
The Second Period ( 1930-1940)
He translated some of the writings of his compatriot Béla BALASZ who was a friend of Lenin but who opted to seek refuge in Russia instead of France and who was to write the librettos of some for Béla BARTOK’s best known ballets. With his friend Maurice HENRION ( (6) he also created a shadow theater for which he translated some Hungarian folk-tales such as the Black Amphore based on the Marvellous Mandarin. The wood models he drew and carved (which were still visible at the time of the june 1967 auction at Hotel Drouot (according to M. Henrion) have not been preserved. He collaborated with his friend Geza BLATTNER, a highly individualistic puppeteer and also a good painter, who founded the puppet theater called « Rainbow » (first period ). He also did engravings with another friend Emeric TIMAR.
This period was in sharp contrast thanks to this marriage with a French artist born in Yzeure (Allier), Claire Carnat, a gifted puppet designer. He met her in Paris, and she had trained at the Elisa Lemonnier School (then directed by the mother of the painter Yves Brayer). Together they founded from scratch a puppet theater called « COU-COU » touring in season such spas as The Bourboule (Puy de Dôme), and performed in Paris as well, Salle Pleyel, the Vieux Colombier, and for Gaston BATY (the well-known theatrical director). His pastels now celebrate with optimism the charms of womanhood : such as various specimens of « madams » whom he called SUZYS, or sly Paris characters, feminine heads and bodies and elongated boyish female figures (the so-called « garçonnes ») or contrarily voluptuous creatures, sketched with such promptitude on the spot that they appear endowed with an intense appetite for life, such is their verisimilitude. A few Algerian pastels remain as testimony of the period of his honeymoon.
The third Period ( 1940-1945 )
despite the turnmoil, was specially productive. Together with his wife and in-laws who own a contryside property near Moulins, 350 km in the south, the artist abandons Paris.
In 1937,he is again called up for military service following his naturalization, but as a mere private this time and only for three months of non-active duty (on account of his age – over thirty) between September and November 1939. From then on, he can relax and devote his time to his art. One time he is ordered to help guide errant soldiers from the Second Army to special meeting points and even block 800 khaki clad escapees from Claivaux prison. His knowledge of German serves him in good stead. He is no longer the Paris bohemian, he can settle down and feel comfortable with his beloved young wife, in congenial surroundings, except for his testy in-laws. His rural quietude serves him well as a source of inspiration for his intimist representations of family gatherings but lack of money and the circumstances also explain why he resorts almost exclusively to no other models than his wife, in-laws and friends. All the same, his production increases in quantity and quality, with extremely colorful pastels, depicting women, portraits, landscapes. Through his steel-rimmed spectacles he likes to picture himself gazing benevolently at his subjects from within his pastels, thus representing himself as his own subject-matter, a timeless two dimensional transfer, a cut-out figure of the artist amongst his flesh-and-bone creatures.
Official site of Painter Constant DETRÉ (www.cdetre.com )