"If the trees look yellow to the artist then painted a bright yellow they must be."
Fauvism was the first twentieth-century movement in modern art. Inspired by the examples of, , , and , it grew out of a loosely allied group of French painters with shared interests. was eventually recognized as the leader of Les Fauves, or "The Wild Beasts," and like the group, he emphasized the use of intense color as a vehicle for describing light and space, as well as for communicating the artist's emotional state. In these regards, Fauvism proved to be an important precursor to and , respectively, and an inspiration for future modes of abstraction.
In the opening years of the twentieth century,painters such as , , , and were considered the leaders in avant-garde art. Collectively, their experiments with paint application, subject matter, form and, most importantly, pure unmixed color, were the seeds that brought forth Fauvism.
Henri Matisse Develops His Style
Matisse, the principal founding artist of Fauvism, was like many of his contemporaries a great admirer of the Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau. In the closing years of the nineteenth century, Moreau's teachings that personal expression was among the most important attributes of a great painter were very influential for Matisse, who turned away from using subtle hues of mixed paints and began applying bright, unmixed color to his paintings as a means of personal expression.
Also of considerable import to the young Matisse were the applied techniques and visual language of, which had been spearheaded by fellow countryman Georges Seurat. Although Matisse did not apply Pointillist theory to his own work, Seurat's unique application of tiny dots of paint in varying colors to create a harmonious visual tone was something that fascinated Matisse, and in large part led him to develop "color structure," or large areas of color that served to create a deliberate, decorative effect and sense of mood.
In 1905, Matisse invited André Derain to visit him in the fishing port town of Collioure in the south of France, where Matisse had made his home after leaving Paris. The two men spent the summer working and maturing their styles and technique. While a great many paintings were produced during that time, a stand-out piece is Matisse's Olive Trees, Collioure (1905) wherein the artist delicately applied small daubs of pure color to create a composition that is both representational and abstract. When considering Matisse's early body of work as well as that of other Fauvist artists, this painting can be considered the first definitively Fauvist work of art.
Later that same year, the Salon d'Automne held an exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris. Included were several works by, , , and . Although their work received a tepid response from the public, the paintings on display were quite distinctive, particularly in the use of bold, vivid color and heavy brush work. Included in the exhibition was an Italian-like bust by Marquet, and its proximity to the Fauve paintings prompted the critic Louis Vauxcelles to describe the scene as that of "Donatello parmi les fauves" ("Donatello among the wild beasts"). Thus, the Fauve name was coined.
Concepts and Styles
The Fauves' preoccupation with surface effects, color, and personal expression meant that they were generally less concerned with the individuality of their subject matter. The Impressionists and Post-Impressionists had depicted scenes of modern life, such as the cafes and alleyways of Paris, and the Expressionists would do likewise in the years to follow, painting street scenes in Berlin and portraits of prostitutes and other social outcasts. The Fauves, much like van Gogh, Gauguin and Cézanne (all skilled colorists in their own right), wanted to paint what they saw and to turn that act of painting into an emotional and often spontaneous journey; their work, a record of each journey, was defined by the colors and evident brush motions on the canvas.
The work of Henri Matisse, in particular, whose own development as an artist is nearly synonymous with the development of the Fauvism movement, was largely preoccupied with color as a means of personal expression. Color in its pure and unmixed state composed in the artist's mind a form of pure expression. A sky could be orange, a tree crimson red, a face any combination of seemingly clashing colors, with the end result being a wholly independent abstraction of the artist's perception, rather than an abstraction of the physical form as was common in Impressionism. For artists like Matisse, Derain and Vlaminck, color and the combination thereof constituted the singular subject, form, and rhythm of the painting in its entirety.
Fauvism and Expressionism
What united the Fauves above all else was their explicit focus on the use of color to convey emotive expression. André Derain once said, "I used color as a means of expressing my emotion and not as a transcription of nature." This tendency among the Fauves, to create a free distortion of form and color to express inner sensations, was of great influence to the Expressionists, whose own artistic movement proved much longer lived and more cohesive. The German Expressionists, led byand , took this practice several steps further, downplaying the use of pure color structures in their work in place of stressing the physical distortion of their subjects to communicate psychological states.
Fauvism and Cubism
Interestingly enough, unlike his Fauvist brethren, an important motif in Matisse's early work was his depiction of faces, particularly that of his wife in The Green Line, aka Mme. Matisse (1905), and Blue Nude (1907), which clearly indicate a fascination with African sculpture. This had a profound influence on(twelve years Matisse's junior), who incorporated African and Iberian masks into his own work, including a number of self-portraits and most notably the iconic Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907).
During this same time,, who had been a practicing Fauve for a short but significant period, began to favor a more restricted color palette, focusing more on subtle gradations of color and scale, much in the style of Cézanne. This led Braque to fill his canvases with an almost overcrowded abundance of shapes and forms, as with his 1908 work Road near L'Estaque, which is unmistakably a crucial precursor to the artist's development of the Cubist style.
Despite some initial hostility from critics, many of the Fauves enjoyed commercial success following the 1905 Salon d'Automne exhibit, with additional exhibits held in the following years, notably at the Salon des Indépendants in 1907, where the main attraction was a large room dubbed "The Fauves' Den." However, by 1908 the Fauves were individually venturing in separate directions;began developing alongside , briefly flirted with the style as well, and darkened both his palette and subject matter. Meanwhile, artists such as , , and - none of whom made as much of an impact on Fauvism as or even - abandoned the style almost as quickly as they had first adopted it.
Much like Braque, Matisse would also change artistic direction under the influence of Cézanne. (In 1908 a Cézanne exhibition in Paris helped revive a widespread interest in his work, and notably his emphasis on natural order and structure. In a sense, Fauvism's demise can be attributed to Cézanne.) Rather than focusing on color, Matisse aimed to create strikingly simple forms and figures, carefully balanced and with a distinct emphasis on movement and the expression contained within. This technique would be a major influence onand his development of the "push/pull" theory. And the influence of Matisse on Hofmann would be important in introducing Fauvist ideas into the milieu of , which was initially more inclined toward and .
Ultimately, the Fauves remained a disparate group of artists. Their identity as a group only grew over time, and almost as soon as it was recognized, they dispersed. Neither did they produce a manifesto defining their artistic aims, although Matisse's "Notes of a Painter," written in 1908, echoes many of their concerns.
"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 the held certain principles. For us there was nothing like that; we merely thought their colours were a bit dull."
-Kees van Dongen