Art Gallery Museum Painting Fine Art Artist Biography





Fauvism, a relatively short-lived movement in French painting (from about 1898 to about 1908) that revolutionized the concept of colour in modern art. The Fauves rejected the Impressionist palette of soft, shimmering tones in favour of the violent colours used by the Post-Impressionists Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh for expressive emphasis. They achieved a poetic energy through vigorous line, simplified yet dramatic surface pattern, and intense colour.

Les Fauves, literally “the wild beasts”, was originally a pejorative label applied to the group at their first exhibition in 1905, although the Fauvist style had been employed by the group's members for several years before that date. The artists included André Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, Raoul Dufy, Georges Braque, Henri Manguin, Albert Marquet, Jean Puy, Emile Othon Friesz, and Henri Matisse, their undisputed leader. The epithet was never accepted by the painters themselves and, indeed, in no way does it describe their sunny or lyrically subjective imagery.

Technically, the Fauvist use of colour derived from experiments made by Matisse at Saint-Tropez in the summer of 1904, working with the Neo-Impressionist painters who placed small dabs of pure colour side by side to achieve an even more optically correct image than that of the Impressionists. Matisse's Neo-Impressionist pictures, while abiding strictly by the rules, show, beyond a mere recording of optical response, a strong interest in lyrical colour.

In the summer of 1905, Matisse and Derain painted together at Collioure in “a golden light that eliminates shadows”. They began to use pure complementary colours applied in flat, vigorous strokes, achieving an equivalent of light rather than a true rendering of it. In their high-key colours these pictures dazzle the viewer with Mediterranean sunshine. When a neighbouring collector showed them some of Gauguin's South Seas pictures, they saw their theories of subjective colour confirmed, and Fauvism was born.

Matisse made the final break with optical colour; a woman's nose could be flat green if it added to the colour composition and expression of the painting. Matisse said, “I do not paint women; I paint pictures”.

Each of the Fauvist painters experimented with the principles of the style in his own way. By about 1908, however, all had forsaken strict adherence to it. With colour firmly established as a personally expressive element of painting, each went his own way.


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