Fauvism 1904 - 1908
The first breakthrough event in twentieth century art was the 1905 Salon d'Autumne with its scandalous 'Fauve' paintings.
The so-called Fauve artists showed in a single room, known as Salle VII. One painting in particular, Matisse's Woman with a Hat, caused the same level of controversy as Manet had years before with Olympia.
(In the same year, Manet's painting of Berthe Morisot, was considered to be quite modern, but acceptable to the Jury.) The paintings in Salle VII were considered by most to be irredeemably ugly.
However, painter Maurice Denis described the exhibition in the following way, "When one enters the gallery devoted to their work, at the sight of these landscapes, these figure studies, these simple designs, all of them violent in colour, one prepares to examine their intentions, to learn their theories; and one feels completely in the realm of abstraction. Of course, as in the most extreme departures of van Gogh, something still remains of the original feeling of nature.
But here one finds, above all in the work of Matisse paintings outside every contingency, painting in itself, the act of pure painting.
All the qualities of the picture other than the contrasts of line and colour, everything which the rational mind of the painter has not controlled, everything which comes from our instinct and from nature, finally all the factors of representation and of feeling are excluded from the work of art.
Here is, in fact, a search for the absolute. Yet, strange contradiction, this absolute is limited by the one thing in the world that is most relative: individual emotion".
source: Russell T Clement, Les Fauves, A Sourcebook, 1994
Berthe Morisot, 1905
Henri Matisse, Woman with a Hat, 1905
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First exhibited at the 1905 Salon d'Automne in Paris, this painting is of Matisse's wife, Amelie. She is depicted in an elaborate outfit with classic attributes of the French bourgeoisie: a gloved arm holding a fan and an elaborate hat perched atop her head.
The critic Camille Mauclair said “A pot of paint has been flung in the face of the public,” while Leo Stein, who bought the painting, described the work as “the nastiest smear of paint I had ever seen.”
When asked about the hue of the dress Madame Matisse was actually wearing when she posed for the portrait, the artist allegedly replied, "Black, of course."
Matisse commented on his work of this period: "I had the sensation of an object's colouring; I applied the colour and this was the first colour on my canvas. I added to this a second colour, and then, if this second colour did not appear to agree with the first, instead of taking it off I added a third, which reconciled them. I then had to continue this way until I felt that I had established a completely harmonious canvas and that I was emptied of the emotion that made me enjoy it."
Woman with the Hat combines pointillist colour with post-impressionistic technique. Matisse had studied Paul Signac’s use of pure colour and his organisation of the picture plane through contrasting complementary pairs.
In doing so, Matisse created an energetic, even a tense effect. The pairs of complimentary colour are repeated in different parts of the painting. While they structure the work, they also encourage the movement of the spectator’s eye that does not stop at any given point.
However, in the process, Matisse moves away from Signac’s pointillist dot. His thick and flat contours borrow from the post-impressionists painters such as Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh rather than from Signac. For a contemporary spectator, Matisse’s Woman with the Hat appeared less finished than Signac’s painstakingly detailed technique of pointillism.
Paul Signac, Woman with an Umbrella (portrait of Signac's wife Berthe) 1893
The Fauves ( 'wild beasts' in French) were a group of French artists who applied intensely bright colours to their canvases in rough, instinctive brush strokes. (The name was coined by a critic and was not used by the arists themselves.)
Fauvism caused shockwaves as there was often no relationship between the colour used for a subject and its actual colour. The Fauve painters broke with older, traditional methods of perception. Details were omitted in favour of simplified scenes, featuring flat areas of pigment.
The Fauves generally rejected the fantastic imagery of the Post-Impressionists, and returned to the more traditional subjects preferred by the Impressionists, such as landscapes, cityscapes, and scenes of bourgeois leisure.
Much like Van Gogh, Gauguin and Cézanne (all skilled colourists in their own right), the Fauves 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 colours and evident brush motions on the canvas. Matisse claimed that colour and form could only achieve their full potential if they become independent from the objects they depicted.
Fauvist art can be identified by the following features:
Bright and bold colours;
Instinctive brush strokes;
Non natural colour;
Use of pure cultures;
Colour to express emotion;
Omission of detail;
Artists from this period include:
Henri Matisse 1869 - 1954
André Derain 1880 - 1954
Maurice de Vlaminck 1876 - 1958
Albert Marquet 1875 - 1947
Raoul Dufy 1877 – 1953
Émilie Charmy 1878 - 1974
Kees van Dongen 1877-1968
Georges Braque 1882 - 1963
Key Fauvist Artists
Artists who directly influenced Fauvism
The Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau was the movement's first inspirational teacher; as a professor at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, he pushed his students, including Henri Matisse and George Roualt, to think outside of the lines of formality and to follow their visions. Matisse said of him, "He did not set us on the right roads, but off the roads. He disturbed our complacency." "With him one was able to discover the sort of work most suited to one's temperament."
In 1896, Matisse, then an unknown art student, visited the Australian Impressionist artist John Peter Russell on the island of Belle Île off Brittany.The next year he returned as Russell's student and abandoned his earth-coloured palette for bright Impressionist colours, later stating, "Russell was my teacher, and Russell explained colour theory to me". Russell had been a close friend of Vincent van Gogh and gave Matisse a Van Gogh drawing.
Post-Impressionists (Pointillists) such as Henri Edmond Cross and Paul Signac were more interested in creating harmonies of pure colour than in harmonising the colours of a particular landscape or natural scene. When Paul Signac published his Neo-Impressionist treatise in 1899, Matisse was immediately attracted to his ideas about colour and composition, and in 1904 the he spent time with Cross and Signac in St Tropez where Signac had a studio. Matisse and the other Fauves were excited by their approach to colour, however they lacked the scientific intent of Pointillism. Rather, they emphasised the expressive potential of colour, employing it arbitrarily.
Vlaminck's rough handling of paint, squeezing paint directly onto the canvas from the tube, was influenced by Vincent Van Gogh, whose work he'd seen in 1901. However, the Fauve artists (especially Matisse and Derain) tended to combine the vigour of Van Gogh's colour and brushwork with the tempering influence of other artists whose emphasis on structural values was more pronounced.
Space was also a defining characteristic of Fauvism, influenced by Post-Impressionists like Paul Cezanne. In 1899 Matisse purchased a Cezanne Bathers and spent the years of 1899 to 1901 evolving a method of translating his visual experience in a way that could accommodate the lessons of both Cezanne and Van Gogh. Instead of trying to show space as three-dimensional, Matisse focused on flattening out the space, working in planes rather than depth, something that would later influence Pablo Picasso and his Cubist colleagues. As well, Matisse admired Cézanne's "merit of wanting the tones to be forces in a painting".
Matisse and Derain also studied the work of Paul Gauguin, and their works shared the latter's emphasis on broad areas of colour. His interest in "primitive" art and his stress on pure and non-naturalistic colour provided precedents for the Fauvists' interest in non-Western art and the expressive potential of hues. He was also attracted to Gauguin's sculptures.
At the turn of the Century, the admiration for primitive traditions extended to their aesthetic value, entirely apart from the context of their creation. Matisse, an inveterate museum browser, had probably encountered African sculptures at the Trocadéro museum with fellow Fauve painter Maurice de Vlaminck, before embarking on a spring 1906 trip to North Africa. After returning that summer, Matisse painted two versions of The Young Sailor in which he replaced the first version's naturalistically contoured facial features with a more rigidly abstract visage reminiscent of a mask.
Fauvism was short lived, and by the end of the decade, artists in the group had diverged toward more individual interests. Nevertheless, Fauvism remains significant for it demonstrated modern art’s ability to evoke intense rhythm and mood through radical visual form. The use of intense colour as a vehicle for describing light and space, as well as for communicating the artist's emotional state proved to be an important precursor to Cubism and Expressionism and an inspiration for future modes of abstraction.
The work of Henri Matisse, in particular, whose own development as an artist is almost synonymous with the development of the Fauvism movement, was largely preoccupied with colour as a means of personal expression - colour 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 colours, 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.
Matisse and Derain at Collioure in 1905
The chief proponents of Fauvism were Henri Matisse and Andre Derain. Just as Monet and Renoir had painted together at La Grenouillére (the Frog Pond) in 1869, in 1905 friends Matisse and Derain spent a summer painting together at Collioure, a fishing village near the Spanish border. It could be said that even though the style that was to become known as Fauvism had been evolving since the late 1800s, Collioure was the birthplace of Fauvism as we know it today. It was an astonishingly productive period of co-operation between the two artists that took them beyond the confines of Post-Impressionism and the pointilist/divisionalist techniques of Signac and Cross.
Derain found Matisse's methodical experimentation with colour and compositional structure could assist him to develop his own talents. His paintings, which included many views of the heights overlooking the bay, show his rapid powers of assimilation and individual advance. He employed a mixed techniques, sometimes painting in flat areas at at other times using a rainbow-hued pointillism. His palette was light and flowerlike, rich and varied in its intensities and nuances with cool tones of lavender, green and violet and warm ones of orange vermilion and pink.
Matisse, intoxicated with the climate, dashed off numerous small, scintillating sketches that sparkled brilliantly with colour. Like Derain, he enhanced the pointillist technique techniques through the use of cross hatchings and swirls. He allowed the white canvas to act as colour and texture in his works, which appeared even more unfinished than Derain's.
Source: Russell T. Clement, Les Fauves: A Sourcebook, 1994
Note the logic in the way in which Matisse has applied his colours.
They function in complementary pairs—orange-red masts over blue hulls, red blossoms amid green leaves on the wall, opposing reflections of turquoise and pink.
Complements such as these become more intense when seen next to each other. Isolated by bare areas of the canvas, the combinations generate a visual vibrato that keeps our eye fixed on the surface.
The angled, out-flung doors invite into the scene, but different brushstrokes in each “zone” set up cross-rhythms that impede recession: wide sweeps in the room’s interior, short wavy lines or staccato dabs in the view beyond.
In this exercise, choose a subject you find uplifting, a scene, a portrait or a still life, and paint using vibrant colours, being mindful of how well your palette works together.