Fauvism Movement and Chronology

"If the trees look yellow to the artist then painted a bright yellow they must be."

Synopsis

Fauvism was the first twentieth-century movement in modern art. Inspired by the examples of van Gogh, Gauguin, Seurat, and Cézanne, it grew out of a loosely allied group of French painters with shared interests. Henri Matisse 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 Cubism and Expressionism, respectively, and an inspiration for future modes of abstraction.

Key Ideas

Fauvism never developed into a coherent movement in the manner of Impressionism or Surrealism, but instead grew from the work of several acquaintances who shared common enthusiasms. Many, such as Matisse, Marquet, and Rouault, had been pupils of the Symbolist Gustave Moreau, and admired his emphasis on personal expression.
The Fauves generally rejected the fantastic imagery of the Post-Impressionists, and returned to the more traditional subjects once favored by the Impressionists, such as landscapes, cityscapes, and scenes of bourgeois leisure.
Rather than extend the quasi-scientific investigations of artists such as Seurat and Signac, Fauves such as Matisse and Derain were inspired by them to employ pattern and contrasting colors for the purposes of personal expression.
The Fauves became renowned for using pure and unmixed colors, which they intensified further by applying paint in thick daubs and smears.
Although the Fauves were not well-versed in academic color theory, they sought out unique and unnatural color combinations in their paintings without allegiance to realistic representation; in this sense, color existed on the canvas as an independent characteristic, with its own rhythm and mood.

Beginnings

In the opening years of the twentieth century, Post-Impressionist painters such as van Gogh, Gauguin, Seurat, and Cézanne 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 Pointillism, 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 Matisse, Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, and Albert Marquet. 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.

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Concepts and Styles

Color Structure

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 by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, 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 Pablo Picasso (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, Georges Braque, 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.

Later Developments

Parody of the Fauve Painters (1913) - Robert Chanler

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; Braque began developing Cubism alongside Picasso, Derain briefly flirted with the style as well, and Vlaminck darkened both his palette and subject matter. Meanwhile, artists such as Albert Marquet, Dufy, and Rouault - none of whom made as much of an impact on Fauvism as Matisse or even Georges Braque - 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 on Hans Hofmann and 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 Abstract Expressionism, which was initially more inclined toward Surrealism and Cubism.

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.



Original content written by Justin Wolf
comment to editor

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 the held certain principles. For us there was nothing like that; we merely thought their colours were a bit dull."
-Kees van Dongen

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Luxe, Calme et Volupte
Luxe, Calme et Volupte

Title: Luxe, Calme et Volupte (1904)

Artist: Henri Matisse

Artwork Description & Analysis: This early work by Matisse is a clear indicator of the artist's stylistic influences, most notably Georges Seurat's Pointillism and Paul Signac's Divisionism, in the use of tiny daubs of color to create a visual frisson. What sets this work apart from these more rigid methods, however, is Matisse's intense concentrations of pure color. The oranges, yellows, greens, and other colors all maintain their own discrete place on the picture plane, never quite coming together to form the harmonious tonality that both Seurat and Signac were known for, and instead heighten the almost vertiginous effect created by the striking dots of paint.


Oil on canvas - Musee National d'Art Moderne, Paris

Mountains at Collioure
Mountains at Collioure

Title: Mountains at Collioure (1905)

Artist: André Derain

Artwork Description & Analysis: As Derain famously claimed, he used "color as a means of expressing my emotion and not as a transcription of nature." Mountains at Collioure was made while Derain and Matisse were summering together in Collioure in 1905, and was later included in the Salon d'Automne exhibition. In this painting Derain used long, thick, and uneven brushstrokes of pure color, creating a natural landscape composed of non-representational, almost unnatural colors. Derain approached his canvases much in the way Cézanne did: composing complex scenes using simple components, which in this case were line and color, and nothing more.


Oil on canvas - National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Portrait of Henri Matisse
Portrait of Henri Matisse

Title: Portrait of Henri Matisse (1905)

Artist: André Derain

Artwork Description & Analysis: Derain's distinctly Fauvist portrait of Matisse, painted during the artists' shared summer in Collioure, is a key example of the Fauvist tendency to experiment with a variety of colors, seemingly at random, and allowing the painter's emotional state to dictate the composition. Likewise, as with most Fauvist portraiture, a detailed portrayal of the subject was not of great importance. Derain's chief focus with this, and other portraits, landscapes, and still-lifes, was to express his own state of mind through the consistent use of visibly broken brushstrokes and impulsive lines, both of which served to accentuate his applications of pure color.


Oil on canvas - Philadelphia Museum of Art

Le Bonheur de vivre (The Joy of Life)
Le Bonheur de vivre (The Joy of Life)

Title: Le Bonheur de vivre (The Joy of Life) (1905-06)

Artist: Henri Matisse

Artwork Description & Analysis: This painting, likely Matisse's best known Fauvist works, was created in response to the negative critical reactions that followed Matisse's entry into the 1905 Salon d'Automne. Matisse's intent with The Joy of Life was to further intensify the application of pure color in a blissful and natural scene, one in which color itself was a joyful thing to behold. Interestingly enough, Matisse uses a more conventional flesh tone (mostly) for his nudes, who perform all the things that to the artist's mind embody pure joy: sleeping, dancing, and embracing. The forms are connected by Matisse's sinuous use of line, adding a dimension of linear exactness to the composition.


Oil on canvas - The Barnes Foundation, Merion, PA

The River Seine at Chatou
The River Seine at Chatou

Title: The River Seine at Chatou (1906)

Artist: Maurice de Vlaminck

Artwork Description & Analysis: This scene depicts the portion of the Seine that runs through Chatou, the Paris suburb where Vlaminck and Derain shared a studio beginning in 1901. For The River Seine, Vlaminck used impasto (a signature technique among many Fauves): thick daubs of paint applied directly from the tube, then swirled together to create the visual effect of movement. In particular, Vlaminck's use of the primary colors red and blue, and the bright application of white, are the thickest areas on the canvas, and yet together never quite achieve the bold irregularity and adventurism that characterized the Fauvist paintings of Matisse and Derain.


Oil on canvas - The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Jeanne dans les fleurs
Jeanne dans les fleurs

Title: Jeanne dans les fleurs (1907)

Artist: Raoul Dufy

Artwork Description & Analysis: In the early stages of Dufy's career he painted several garden scenes, inspired by his family's home in Le Havre, yet this is the only one from that period that contains a human figure. Like the Impressionists, Dufy was fond of painting gardens and flowers, but his vast range and intensity of colors and the tight frame in which he contained Jeanne dans les fleurs made this a highly personal and expressive work of art. In particular, Dufy's unorthodox uses of green are what give the painting a visual and distinctly Fauvist vibrancy.


Oil on canvas - Musee Malraux, Le Havre, France

Paysage (Le Bec de l'Aigle, La Ciotat)
Paysage (Le Bec de l'Aigle, La Ciotat)

Title: Paysage (Le Bec de l'Aigle, La Ciotat) (1907)

Artist: Othon Friesz

Artwork Description & Analysis: The Eagle's Beak, a visually striking and unusual rock formation in the town of La Ciotat in southern France, was a favorite subject of Friesz's, and one he painted more than once, never using the same color combination twice. For this 1907 composition, Friesz opts to use warm tones of yellow and red, accentuated by touches of green - the only color that may have an actual place in the depicted natural setting. Although a devoted Fauvist for as long as any of his contemporaries, Friesz's approach to the canvas was far more traditional. His color choices are more deliberate, and his application of paints more methodical than other Fauves. In a sense, Friesz is painting an Impressionist-style landscape using Fauvist color.


Oil on canvas - San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Le Viaduct a l'Estaque
Le Viaduct a l'Estaque

Title: Le Viaduct a l'Estaque (1908)

Artist: Georges Braque

Artwork Description & Analysis: When tracing the genealogy of Cubism, Picasso's early efforts at painting Barcelona rooftops and the work Les Demoilselles d'Avignon often receive the most credit in its development. Georges Braque's late Fauvist works, however, may well represent the true founding of Cubism. Between 1905 and 1908, Braque painted the landscapes of Estaque (also a favorite setting of Cézanne's) several times over, using a different color palette each time. This 1908 composition reveals Braque to be more concerned with shape and form than with depicting an emotional state via pure color. Braque's intent, in fact, is the simplification of the things that compose this landscape. Le viaduct a l'Estaque represents a key transition from Fauvism to Cubism.


Oil on canvas - Musee National d'Art Moderne, Paris

L'Atelier Rouge (The Red Studio)
L'Atelier Rouge (The Red Studio)

Title: L'Atelier Rouge (The Red Studio) (1911)

Artist: Henri Matisse

Artwork Description & Analysis: Although Fauvism had altogether faded away by 1911 and its respective practitioners had gone their separate ways, Matisse remained devoted to experimenting with varied colors and combinations, regardless of whether they related to the real world. The Red Studio is an achievement of massive scale. Bold, unified color is only broken up by portions of line and space for the room's furnishings. When asked about his choice of color for the work, Matisse commented, "Where I got the color red - to be sure, I just don't know. I find that all these things...only become what they are to me when I see them together with the color red." This painting is, in many respects, a culminating point for Fauvism, wherein a single color becomes all consuming.


Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York

Bibliography
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggests some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.