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Movements Fauvism

Fauvism

Started: 1899

Ended: 1908

Quotes

"The chief function of color should be to serve expression as well as possible. I put down my tones without a preconceived plan. If at first, and perhaps without my having been conscious of it, one tone has particularly seduced or caught me."
Henri Matisse, from "Notes of a Painter"
"We move towards serenity through the significance of ideas and form ... Details lessen the purity of lines, they harm the emotional intensity, and we choose to reject them. It is a question of learning - and perhaps relearning the 'handwriting' of lines. The aim of painting is not to reflect history, because this can be found in books. We have a higher conception. Through it, the artist expresses his inner vision."
Henri Matisse
"One can talk about the Impressionist school because they held certain principles. For us there was nothing like that; we merely thought their colours were a bit dull."
Kees van Dongen

KEY ARTISTS

Henri Matisse Henri Matisse
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Henri Matisse Page
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Georges Braque Georges Braque
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Georges Braque Page
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Maurice de Vlaminck Maurice de Vlaminck
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André Derain André Derain
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Raoul Dufy Raoul Dufy
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"If the trees look yellow to the artist, then painted a bright yellow they must be."

Synopsis

Fauvism, the first twentieth-century movement in modern art, was initially inspired by the examples of Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat, and Paul Cézanne. The Fauves ("wild beasts") were a loosely allied group of French painters with shared interests. Several of them, including Henri Matisse, Albert Marquet, and Georges Rouault, had been pupils of the Symbolist artist Gustave Moreau and admired the older artist's emphasis on personal expression. Matisse emerged as the leader of the group, whose members shared the use of intense color as a vehicle for describing light and space, and who redefined pure color and form as means of communicating the artist's emotional state. In these regards, Fauvism proved to be an important precursor to Cubism and Expressionism as well as a touchstone for future modes of abstraction.

Key Ideas

One of Fauvism's major contributions to modern art was its radical goal of separating color from its descriptive, representational purpose and allowing it to exist on the canvas as an independent element. Color could project a mood and establish a structure within the work of art without having to be true to the natural world.
Another of Fauvism's central artistic concerns was the overall balance of the composition. The Fauves' simplified forms and saturated colors drew attention to the inherent flatness of the canvas or paper; within that pictorial space, each element played a specific role. The immediate visual impression of the work is to be strong and unified.
Above all, Fauvism valued individual expression. The artist's direct experience of his subjects, his emotional response to nature, and his intuition were all more important than academic theory or elevated subject matter. All elements of painting were employed in service of this goal.

Most Important Art

Le Bonheur de Vivre (1905-06)
Artist: Henri Matisse
The Joy of Life, possibly Matisse's best-known Fauvist work, was created in response to the negative critical reactions that followed Matisse's contributions to the 1905 Salon d'Automne. Although the subject of merry-making figures within a pastoral setting is a venerable one in Western art, Matisse's daring use of non-natural color to structure this enigmatic world, and his free delineation of its inhabitants, gave a fresh update to this imagery. Matisse's nudes perform activities of sensual bliss: dancing, making music, and embracing. They are connected to each other and to the vividly colored landscape by a sinuous network of curving lines and by the artist's radical use of the same pure colors for all the elements of his composition. Pairings of complementary colors (red and green, purple and yellow) produce strong visual contrasts that almost seem to vibrate, and the traditional means of suggesting depth and lighting have been eliminated. This idyllic scene unites thematic and visual influences from the Renaissance to Art Nouveau to Persian miniature painting, but it does so in a way that is undeniably modern. The Joy of Life was as influential as another large figurative canvas, Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), in its expressive reimagining of the human figure and its surroundings.
Oil on canvas - The Barnes Foundation, Merion, PA
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Beginnings

In the opening years of the twentieth century, Post-Impressionist painters working in France such as Van Gogh, Gauguin, Seurat, and Cézanne were considered leaders in avant-garde art. Their collective experiments with paint application, subject matter, expressive line, and pure color were advances that fed the emergence of Fauvism. Symbolism, with its emphasis on the artist's internal vision, was another important influence. From another source, the European reassessment of African sculpture as art rather than an anthropological curiosity introduced new ideas of form and representation to the European modernists.

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Matisse as Fauvist Pioneer

Henri Matisse is generally considered the principal founding artist of Fauvism. Like many of his contemporaries, Matisse was greatly influenced by Moreau's teaching that personal expression was among the most important attributes of a great painter. Also of considerable importance to the young Matisse were the techniques and systematic visual language of Pointillism, which had been spearheaded by his fellow countrymen Georges Seurat, Paul Signac, and Henri-Edmond Cross. Although Matisse did not apply Pointillist theory directly to his own work, the application of tiny dots of paint in varying colors to create a harmonious visual tone was something that fascinated Matisse. His observation of this technique led him to develop "color structure," or large, flat areas of color that established a deliberate, decorative effect and sense of mood. He was also very aware of the Post-Impressionist work of Paul Gauguin, Pierre Bonnard, and Edouard Vuillard, whose integration of solid color and design was a departure from the flickering, momentary effect of Impressionist painting.

Synthesizing all these ideas, Matisse turned away from using subtle hues of mixed paints and began working with bright color, directly from the tube, as a means of conveying emotion. He had been working outdoors since the mid-1890s, and his travels to Corsica and the south of France in 1898 increased his interest in capturing the effect of strong natural light. A summer spent working alongside Signac and Cross at Saint-Tropez on the French Riviera in 1904 gave him a further opportunity to witness their techniques.

Fellow Fauves: Derain and de Vlaminck

During the same years as Matisse's initial experimentation with Post-Impressionist techniques, the two painters André Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck met in 1901 and began sharing a studio in Chatou, a western suburb of Paris. Working closely together, they developed their new mutual interest in bold color and directional brushwork.

Matisse met Derain in 1899, and two years later, through Derain, he met de Vlaminck. As an older and more established artist, he supported and encouraged these two kindred spirits, even introducing them to prospective dealers. In 1905 Matisse visited the studio in Chatou, where he was strongly impressed by de Vlaminck's use of pure color. Matisse invited Derain to spend the summer of 1905 with him in Collioure, a port and fishing town located on the southern coast of France. The two men spent this breakthrough summer working and refining their styles and techniques, producing numerous significant paintings during a crucial four-month period of collaboration.

The 1905 Salon d'Automne

Later that year, the Salon d'Automne exhibition was held at the Grand Palais in Paris. Matisse, Derain, and de Vlaminck all exhibited works in this show; they were joined by other former students of Moreau, including Henri Manguin and Albert Marquet. The paintings on display were quite distinctive in their use of vivid, saturated color and spontaneous brushwork. Also included in the exhibition was a more traditional-looking Italianate sculptural bust by Marquet, and this figure's proximity to the garishly colored, energetically executed paintings prompted the critic Louis Vauxcelles to describe the scene as "Donatello parmi les fauves" ("Donatello among the wild beasts"). The term "Fauves" was thus coined for these artists; although it was pejorative in its original context, it endured.

Concepts and Styles

An Expanding Circle

Despite initial hostility from critics, many of the Fauves enjoyed commercial success following the Salon d'Automne exhibition of 1905. Their art was featured at additional exhibits held over the following years, notably at the Salon des Indépendants in 1907, where the main attraction was a large room dubbed "The Fauves' Den." Meanwhile, other artists began to join the central trio of Matisse, Derain, and de Vlaminck. The expanding group of Fauves (all based in France) eventually included Othon Friesz, Georges Rouault (another student of Gustave Moreau), Kees van Dongen, Georges Braque, and Raoul Dufy. These artists traveled together, shared studios, and exchanged ideas freely during the rather brief heyday of Fauvism.

The Primacy of Color

All the Fauves were intensely preoccupied with color as a means of personal expression. Color and the combination of colors constituted the intrinsic subject, form, and rhythm of their work. A sky could be orange, a tree could be blue, a face could be a combination of seemingly clashing colors; the end result was a wholly independent product of the artist's perception, rather than a faithful depiction of the original physical form. Additionally, compositional elements were built up through the placement of color, rather than through perspectival systems or draftsmanship.

Subject and Style

In their shared preoccupation with expression through color and form, these artists were generally less concerned with the novelty of their subject matter. Whereas the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists had depicted scenes of modern, urban life, such as the boulevards, cafes, and concert halls of Paris, the Fauves took more traditional subjects as their starting points. Their subject matter drew from the world around them and included portraits, landscapes, seascapes, and figures in interiors, but the visual impact of the color composition took primacy over any possible narrative or symbolism. Instead, they used their subjects as vehicles for the acts of observation and painting, with their active brushwork and non-naturalistic color as means of leading the viewer into their inner, creative journeys.

Later Developments

Parody of the Fauve Painters (1913) - Robert Chanler

The Fauves' tendency to distort form and color in order to express inner sensations was a strong influence on the Expressionists, whose own artistic movement proved much longer-lived and more cohesive. The German Expressionists, led by such artists as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, employed a similarly aggressive use of color in their bustling Berlin street scenes and frequently grotesque portraiture.

Cézanne and Cubism

In a sense, Fauvism's demise can be also attributed to a renewal of interest in Cézanne. A Cézanne exhibition held in Paris in 1907 revived attention in the artist's work, particularly his emphasis on natural order and structure. Georges Braque, for example, began to favor a more restricted color palette, focusing more on subtle gradations of color and scale. This approach led Braque to fill his canvases with a crowded yet carefully ordered abundance of shapes and forms, as in his 1908 work Road near L'Estaque, which is unmistakably a crucial precursor to the artist's development of the Cubist style.

African Art

In another interesting crossover during this era, the Fauves' and Pablo Picasso's circles were both interested in African art. Matisse's travelled to Morocco acquired new ideas about color and patern that surfaced in works like The Green Line (Portrait of Madame Matisse) (1905) and Blue Nude (Souvenir of Biskra) (1907), with their radically simplified features and angular limbs inspired by African sculpture. This use of non-Western artistic sources also had a profound influence on the younger Picasso; he began to incorporate African and Iberian masks into his own work, including in a number of self-portraits and in the iconic Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907).

By 1908 the Fauves were individually venturing in separate directions: Braque began developing Cubism alongside Picasso, Derain briefly flirted with Cubism as well, and de Vlaminck darkened both his palette and subject matter. Meanwhile, other artists in the group, such as Marquet, Dufy, and Rouault, had begun to work in other styles.

Aftermath

Ultimately, the Fauves joined together for a short but highly consequential episode, rather than a fully defined school. Although they never produced a group manifesto outlining their artistic aims, Matisse's "Notes of a Painter," written in 1908, formalized many of their shared concerns and goals, including their commitment to personal expression and individual instinct, their use of color as an independent visual element with an emotional effect, and their rethinking of composition as pictorial surface. Even after the dissolution of the group, nearly as soon as it gained its infamous nickname, Fauvism's ideas and landmark works would continue to influence art for decades to come.

Original content written by Justin Wolf

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

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Useful Resources on Fauvism

Books
Websites
Articles
Videos
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
written about fauvism
Fauvism

By Sarah Whitfield

Fauve Painting: The Making of Cultural Politics

By James D. Herbert

The Fauves

By Nathalia Brodskaia

The Fauves: The Reign of Colour

By Jean-Louis Ferrier

Celebration of Raoul Dufy

By Heather Egan Stalfort
The JHU Gazette
October 1, 2007

The Many Moods of Henri Matisse

By Michael Kimmelman
The New York Times
September 20, 1992

"Fauve Landscape": Shocking Colors and Tranquil Themes

By Roberta Smith
The New York Times
February 22, 1991

Those Fabulous Fauves: Landmark landscapes by turn-of-the-century French artists once dubbed 'wild beasts' go on view at LACMA

By William Wilson
The Los Angeles Times
October 3, 1990

Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh was a Dutch painter, commonly associated with the Post-Impressionist period. As one of the most prolific and experimental artists of his time, van Gogh was a spontaneous painter and a master of color and perspective. Troubled by personal demons all his life, many historians speculate that van Gogh suffered from a Bipolar disorder.
ArtStory: Vincent van Gogh
Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin was a French Post-Impressionist artist who employed color fields and painterly strokes in his work. He is best known for his primitivist depictions of native life in Tahiti and Polynesia.
ArtStory: Paul Gauguin
Georges Seurat
Georges Seurat
Georges Seurat
Georges-Pierre Seurat was a French painter who gave rise to the Post- and Neo-Impressionist artistic styles of the late nineteenth century. Seurat's greatest contribution to modern art was his development of Pointillism, a style of painting in which small dots of paint were applied to create a cohesive image. Combining the science of optics with painterly emotion, Pointillism evoked a visual harmony never before seen in modern art.
ArtStory: Georges Seurat
Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne was an influential French Post-Impressionist painter whose depictions of the natural world, based on internal geometric planes, paved the way for Cubism and later modern art movements.
ArtStory: Paul Cézanne
Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse was a French painter and sculptor who helped forge modern art. From his early Fauvist works to his late cutouts, he emphasized expansive fields of color, the expressive potential of gesture, and the sensuality inherent in art-making.
ArtStory: Henri Matisse
Albert Marquet
Albert Marquet
Albert Marquet
Albert Marquet was a French painter, primarily associated with the Fauvist movement. Marquet's work came to the public's attention in the 1905 Salon d'Automne, alongside works by Matisse, Derain and Braque.
Albert Marquet
Georges Rouault
Georges Rouault
Georges Rouault
Georges Rouault was a late-nineteenth-century French painter. Although his name is typically associated with the Fauvists, due to his friendships with the likes of Matisse, Marquet, Manguin, and others, his work in this movement was limited. Rouault's preferred motifs included clowns, prostitutes, and religious subjects, with a more muted color palette than his Fauve counterparts. In this regard, Rouault's body of work was closer to Symbolism.
Georges Rouault
Symbolism
Symbolism
Symbolism
Symbolism is an artistic and literary movement that first emerged in France in the 1880s. In the visual arts it is often considered part of Post-Impressionism. It is characterized by an emphasis on the mystical, romantic and expressive, and often by the use of symbolic figures.
ArtStory: Symbolism
Gustave Moreau
Gustave Moreau
Gustave Moreau
Gustave Moreau was a French Symbolist painter who depicted narrative moments and figures from classical mythology and biblical history.
Gustave Moreau
Cubism
Cubism
Cubism
Cubism was developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque between 1907-1911, and it continued to be highly influential long after its decline. This classic phase has two stages: 'Analytic', in which forms seem to be 'analyzed' and fragmented; and 'Synthetic', in which pre-existing materials such as newspaper and wood veneer are collaged to the surface of the canvas.
ArtStory: Cubism
Expressionism
Expressionism
Expressionism
Expressionism is a broad term for a host of movements in early twentieth-century Germany and beyond, from Die Brücke (1905) and Der Blaue Reiter (1911) to the early Neue Sachlichkeit painters in the 1920s and '30s. Many Expressionists used vivid colors and abstracted forms to create spiritually or psychologically intense works, while others focused on depictions of war, alienation, and the modern city.
ArtStory: Expressionism
Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism refers to a number of styles that emerged in reaction to Impressionism in the 1880s. The movement encompassed Symbolism and Neo-Impressionism before ceding to Fauvism around 1905. Its artists turned away from effects of light and atmosphere to explore new avenues such as color theory and personal feeling, often using colors and forms in intense and expressive ways.
ArtStory: Post-Impressionism
Pointillism
Pointillism
Pointillism
Pointillism is a mode of art-making, first developed in 1880s France, in which all of the paint is applied to the surface as tiny points or daubs of color. Based on the laws of color theory, pointillism relies on the viewer's eye to mix the disparate dots into the lines, shapes, shadings, and color ranges of the full scene.
Pointillism
Paul Signac
Paul Signac
Paul Signac
Paul Signac was a French painter and significant Post-Impressionist in the late nineteenth century. Along with Georges Seurat he developed the painting style known as Pointillism, in which small and precise dots of color were used to compose a larger, Impressionistic picture.
Paul Signac
Henri-Edmond Cross
Henri-Edmond Cross
Henri-Edmond Cross
Henri-Edmond Cross was a French painter and printmaker. His Pointillist work proved to be very influential to Henri Matisse and to the development of the Fauvist movement.
Henri-Edmond Cross
Pierre Bonnard
Pierre Bonnard
Pierre Bonnard
The French artist Pierre Bonnard, although dismissed as old-fashioned by some of the avant-garde in his lifetime, was esteemed by contemporary colorists like Matisse. A member of the Nabis group in his youth, his innovative paintings play with light, decorative surfaces, and Impressionist techniques.
ArtStory: Pierre Bonnard
Edouard Vuillard
Edouard Vuillard
Edouard Vuillard
Edouard Vuillard was a French Post-Impressionist painter especially known for his interiors and domestic scenes. A member of the Les Nabis group, his works are characterized by rough areas of color, pointillist daubs and dots, and decorative patterns that spread out across background fabrics and wallpaper.
ArtStory: Edouard Vuillard
Impressionism
Impressionism
Impressionism
A movement in painting that first surfaced in France in the 1860s, it sought new ways to describe effects of light and movement, often using rich colors. The Impressionists were drawn to modern life and often painted the city, but they also captured landscapes and scenes of middle-class leisure-taking in the suburbs.
ArtStory: Impressionism
André Derain
André Derain
André Derain
André Derain, co-founder of Fauvism with Henri Matisse, was a French artist whose paintings exhibit the writhing energetic lines and bright colors characteristic of the movement.
André Derain
Maurice de Vlaminck
Maurice de Vlaminck
Maurice de Vlaminck
Maurice de Vlaminck was a French painter who early in his career was a prominent member of the short-lived Fauvist movement, along with Matisse and Derain. De Vlaminck's best known work is characterized by a bold usage of reds, oranges and yellows, with a preference for rolling landscapes and woodland scenes. De Vlaminck's canvases became increasingly monochromatic later in life, yet the influences of Cézanne and Van Gogh are readily apparent in most of his work.
Maurice de Vlaminck
Henri Manguin
Henri Manguin
Henri Manguin
Henri Manguin was a French Fauvist artist. An avid painter of nature and landscapes, Manguin was greatly influenced by Paul Cezanne's use of color and light. Manguin traveled extensively throughout Europe and spent the last months of his life in St. Tropez.
Henri Manguin
Georges Braque
Georges Braque
Georges Braque
Georges Braque was a modern French painter who, along with Pablo Picasso, developed analytic Cubism and Cubist collage in the early twentieth century.
ArtStory: Georges Braque