Fauvism

What is Fauvism?

Fauvism was an art movement that flourished in France from 1905 to 1908. It was led by Henri Matisse (1869 – 1954) and André Derain (1880 – 1954). Other important Fauvists were Maurice de Vlaminck, Henri Charles Manguin, Othon Friesz, Kees van Dongen, Georges Braque, and Raoul Dufy. Their work was characterized by painterly qualities, a saturated color palette, and simplified forms. Pure, vivid colors were fiercely applied to the canvas with short brush strokes, providing a strong and immediate visual impression of the work. The name Fauvism comes from a derogatory comment of art critic Louis Vauxcelles after he saw paintings by Matisse and his fellow artists at the 1905 Salon d’Automne in Paris. Vauxcelles described their works and the unconventional use of paint and brushwork akin to the “wild beast” (“les fauves” in French).

Notable Fauvist Artworks

Characteristics of Fauvism

Initially, Fauvism was inspired by the Post-impressionism of Van Gogh and Paul Cézanne and the Neo-impressionism of Seurat and Signac. The Fauvists adopted their painterly approach to painting directly from nature and their extensive use of complementary colors. However, unlike their predecessors who were engaged in the color theory exploring optical effects of colors, the Fauvists were less interested in science and representation and more in communicating the artist’s emotional response to subjects through color. They experimented with the expressive potential of color using bright, unblended colors applied thickly to the canvas, often directly from the paint tube, in an arbitrary manner with spontaneous, short brush strokes. They simplified forms and distorted perspectives creating a new pictorial space that was defined by anti-naturalism.

Matisse and Derain introduced this new painterly approach in the summer of 1905 while working together in a small village called Collioure in the South of France. They exhibited their works at the Salon d’Automne in Paris the same year and shocked the visitors with the new painting style.  On this occasion, the term “fauves” was first used by Louis Vauxcelles to describe the unconventional art he saw. Although derogatory, the painters proudly accepted the name.

Fauvism’s Contribution to Modern Art

Fauvism was the first of the avant-garde movements of the twentieth century that pushed art away from naturalistic representation. Fauvists separated color from its descriptive purpose and instead emphasized its emotional value, allowing it to exist as an independent element within the painting without being true to nature. They were also one of the first painters to make a move towards abstraction. These developments paved the way for a series of subsequent art movements such as Cubism, Expressionism, and Abstract Art. After 1908, some of the Fauvists, like Braque and Derain, headed towards Cubism, while Vlaminck turned to Expressionism. Only Matisse, the leader of the movement, remained faithful to the Fauvist sensibility for the rest of his career.

Notable Fauvists

  • Henri Matisse (1869 – 1954), French
  • André Derain (1880 – 1954), French
  • Maurice de Vlaminck (1876 – 1958), French
  • Henri Charles Manguin (1874 – 1949), French
  • Georges Braque (1882 – 1963), French
  • Othon Friesz (1879 – 1949), French
  • Kees van Dongen (1877 – 1968), Dutch-French
  • Raoul Dufy (1877 – 1953), French

Related Art Terms

 

About Asja Nastasijevic, M.A.

Asja NASTASIJEVIC is an Art Historian and Art Writer living in Paris, France. She holds a MA degree in Art History from the University of Belgrade and an MA in Art & Cultural Management from the University of Turin. Over the years, she worked as an art gallery assistant, art writer, editor, and content creator for various art-related and design-related magazines, galleries, and online marketplaces. When not writing and researching, she leads art history tours in Paris and the Louvre. Her motto is: "Put all you are into the smallest thing you do." It is a verse from a poem by one of her favorite poets Fernando Pessoa.

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