Progression of Art
Luxe, Calme et Volupte
This early work by Matisse clearly indicates the artist's stylistic influences, most notably Georges Seurat's Pointillism and Paul Signac's Divisionism, in the use of tiny dabs 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 places on the picture plane, never quite merging 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. Matisse took this work's title, which translates as "luxury, peace, and pleasure," from Charles Baudelaire's poem L'Invitation au Voyage (Invitation to a Voyage).
Oil on canvas - Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris
The River Seine at Chatou
This scene depicts the portion of the Seine that runs through Chatou, the Paris suburb where de Vlaminck and Derain shared a studio beginning in 1901. For The River Seine, de Vlaminck used impasto (a technique practiced by many Fauves): thick daubs of paint applied directly from the tube, then brushed together in short strokes to create the effect of movement. For the water and sky, de Vlaminck used a range of blues and greens, as well as dazzling white highlights applied in choppy dabs; the two red-and-orange trees at the left provide a lively contrast. The finished effect is one of brightness and vibrating motion; detail and traditional perspective matter far less than a sense of buoyant pleasure. As de Vlaminck said, "I try to paint with my heart and my guts without worrying about style."
Oil on canvas - The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Pinède à Cassis (Landscape)
Derain famously claimed to use "color as a means of expressing my emotion and not as a transcription of nature." In this painting (just as in his famous Mountains at Collioure (1905)) Derain used long, isolated brushstrokes, influenced by Divisionist painting, to structure the trees and ground of his landscape. The colors are indeed non-representational, even unnatural: the trees' trunks are almost green, and the landscape is abstracted in patches of bright yellow and orange. The pulsing brushwork and jarring contrasts of these colors suggest the shimmering heat of a Mediterranean summer. By rejecting chiaroscuro and spatial depth, Derain keeps the viewer's attention fixed on this effect of light and on the life force that seems to ripple through every element of the landscape.
Oil on canvas - Musée Cantini, Marseille
Portrait of Henri Matisse
Derain painted this portrait of Matisse during the artists' shared summer in Collioure, when the two men were experimenting side-by-side in their work. As in most Fauvist portraiture, a detailed likeness of the subject was not the artist's goal. Derain's chief focus was to express a state of mind through the use of visible brushwork and fluid lines, both of which accentuated his applications of pure color. The sitter's right side is shadowed in violet and turquoise, and the left side of his face is highlighted in broad strokes of pink and red; this non-naturalistic use of saturated color underscores the figure's direct, intense gaze. While the background is painted in thin, vertical strokes, Matisse's head emerges more strongly in impasto brushwork, as if Derain were building it up from the paint itself, rather than through the traditional use of shading or perspective.
Oil on canvas - Tate, London
Le Bonheur de Vivre
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
Yacht at Le Havre Decorated with Flags
Following in the footsteps of Claude Monet and Eugene Boudin, Dufy painted numerous scenes of Le Havre, a port town located on France's northwestern coast. This view includes several docked ships against a background of local architecture. Although this imagery is largely naturalistic, Dufy's rejection of traditional perspective and his unconventional paint application are avant-garde. The abrupt diagonal line of the wharf at left, for example, has a destabilizing effect. The scene is painted in a stylized notation of quick brushstrokes: a scattering of small curved dabs for the waves, tiny blocks of color for the quayside buildings, and rough, abbreviated strokes for the forms of passing pedestrians. From the ship's mast at the center of the composition dances an array of nautical flags; each one is a small abstraction of color and shape. However, Dufy's apparently unpolished brushwork and the bare edges of the canvas do not detract from the work; instead, they evoke an overall mood of breeziness and gaiety.
Oil on canvas - Musée d'art moderne Andre Malraux, Le Havre
Paysage à La Ciotat
Achille Émile Othon Friesz, a native of Le Havre, moved to Paris to study art in 1898 and became part of the circle that included Matisse, Rouault, Marquet, and Dufy. He frequently traveled in search of landscapes, and from 1906 to 1907 a trip to L'Estaque and La Ciotat in southern France with his friend Braque yielded several important Fauvist works. For this view of the town, Friesz used warm and light yellow tones which he accentuated by touches of green. Although he was a devoted Fauvist for as long as any of his contemporaries, Friesz's approach to the canvas was far more traditional, his color choices were more deliberate, and his application of paint was more methodical. In this sense, Friesz painted an Impressionist-style landscape using Fauvist color.
Oil on canvas
Jeanne dans les fleurs
In the early stages of his career, newly inspired by a visit to the 1905 Salon d'Automne, Dufy painted several garden scenes inspired by his family's home in Le Havre. However, 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 this scene of his family's garden, composed in a shallow, tightly cropped space, was a more expressive work of art. His ambiguous mingling of foreground and background through the curves of the foliage, his raw brushwork, and his non-naturalistic use of color (even in the skin of his model, his sister Jeanne) exemplify Fauvism's freedom from literal physical appearances and its new stress on color's intrinsic emotional power.
Oil on canvas - Musée d'art moderne Andre Malraux, Le Havre, France
At the Circus (The Mad Clown)
A student of Moreau and a friend of Matisse, Rouault brought a more somber, psychologically observant approach to his early Fauvist works like At the Circus. Although he shared the other Fauvists' use of impasto application and dense brushwork, he preferred darker colors that echoed his intense observation of human suffering. Like Édouard Manet and Honoré Daumier in the 19th century and his contemporary Pablo Picasso in the early-20th century, Rouault chose the subject of the circus performer. His clowns and acrobats, always shown offstage, reveal the inner pain and loneliness behind their colorful makeup. Rouault was criticized for focusing his attention on the wretched individuals at the margins of society (he also depicted prostitutes, wanderers, and physical laborers). His spiritual and artistic interests soon led him in a different direction than his fellow Fauvists: he began to paint more satirical scenes of societal inequality and the corrupt abuse of power.
Oil on cardboard - Philadelphia Museum of Art
Le Viaduc à L'Estaque
Between 1905 and 1908, Braque painted the landscapes of L'Estaque (a setting also favored by Cézanne) in different color palettes. This 1908 composition reveals Braque's combination of Fauvist color and simplification of form with a nascent interest in volume and multiple perspective: the rounded arches of the ancient viaduct connect both sides of the landscape in the distance, but the foreground is a carefully arranged stack of boxy houses and vigorously brushed greenery. Le Viaduc a l'Estaque foreshadows Braque's future role in the development of Cubism, the next major modern movement of the 20th century.
Oil on canvas
Dance and its pendant Music were two of Matisse's late Fauvist works, the culmination of his work in this style. These large-scale canvases were commissioned by the Russian merchant Sergei Shchukin, a major patron of avant-garde art in that period. The arrangement of figures in a circular dance is a centuries-old motif, often used to suggest a golden age of harmony and leisure. However, by simplifying and distorting his dancers' anatomy for expressive purposes, and painting them in a vibrant, non-naturalistic red against a flat ground of blue sky and green earth, Matisse emphasized the primordial aspect of dance. The figures' extremities brush the edges of the composition, as if their dynamism were barely contained by the canvas. When it was first exhibited publicly, at the Salon d'Automne of 1910, Dance puzzled and shocked the audience.
Oil on canvas - The Hermitage. St. Petersburg, Russia
The Red Studio
In The Red Studio, Matisse dismantled the conventional distinctions between foreground and background, figure and space. Color and perspective are both non-naturalistic in this work: the canvas is one broad field of saturated crimson. When asked about this choice of color, 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." The delicate, pale outlines of furniture and walls are actually underpainting revealed from behind the red, and they are not consistent with any traditional perspectival system. Instead, space is flattened and exaggerated so that the viewer seems to be looking down into the studio from a raised vantage point. While this expressive use of color and space is Fauvist, the simplification of forms and static quality of The Red Studio point the way from Matisse's Fauvist phase to his growing interest in non-Western sources and his eventual association with the École de Paris.
Western masters from Rembrandt to Courbet had painted their own studios, but instead of showing himself at work as they did, Matisse evoked his creative process and inner vision. The Red Studio also includes an assortment of the artist's Fauvist paintings, as well as sculptures and ceramics, a box of pencils or pastels, a wineglass, and a potted plant that brings a note of the natural landscape into this interior setting. Ironically, the works of art appear more "real" than the abstracted room where they have been created. Certain omissions also reinforce the idea that this "studio" is a state of mind as well as an actual physical location: the left rear corner of the room lacks any defining line, and the grandfather clock has no hands to tell time.
Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York