What Is 'Fauvism'?

by Aileen Mitchell 17. August 2016 12:00

The Turning Road, L'Estaque – Andre Derain

Fauvism is one of the most influential styles in contemporary art, whether today's artists are fully aware of it or not. The 'wild beasts' of Fauvism radicalised colour and form, and inspired the next generation of young artists to engage with their surroundings on a whole new level, changing art forever.

Last month we looked at the trailer for the new film, Loving Vincent. It's from the legacy of Van Gogh that the story of Fauvism begins …

Starry Night – van Gogh

French artist Henri Matisse is considered the founding father of Fauvism. Inspired by Van Gogh's post-impressionist style of intensifying colours and distorting forms to create images fraught with emotion, Matisse began to use colour on a very emotional level. The results of this were bright, multi-coloured paintings and scratchy brush stroked figures.

In complete contrast to the pastel coloured impressionist paintings from the 1800s – 1900s, Matisse would use paint straight from the tube without mixing them, and combine cold and warm palettes in the same work.

The concept behind creating these daring new paintings was to not paint the scene before them as realistically as possible, but to interpret how the scene was conceived in the mind. Matisse didn't choose colours based on what looked technically correct, but based his palette on the feelings and emotions he had whilst painting a particular 'experience' rather than 'scene'.

The first time Matisse's colourful works were displayed, a respected art critic exclaimed that the one renaissance sculpture in the exhibition was surrounded by work created by 'wild beasts' (les fauves). Although this comment was intended to be highly damming, Matisse and his fellow artists in this new style decided to take this as inspiration for the title of the new movement they had created, Fauvism.

The Green Stripe – Henri Matisse

One of the most famous works created during this movement was the portrait of Amelie Matisse – wife of Henri Matisse, called Green Stripe, carrying the famous green stripe down the middle of her face.

Dividing the face into two shades is a conventional portrait technique – usually used to divide the face between light and shade – but Matisse chose to use the line as a divide between cool and warm tones.

This bold new move was analysed in many different ways – some said the green stripe was for jealousy, others said it divided the painting into purity and serenity. The most likely reason, however, is none of these. Matisse was not called a wild beast for nothing. Art was now beyond the point of displaying well-known representations and symbolism. The green stripe is simply there because it was what Matisse felt inspired to do at the time. Under close analysis, art historians claim that much of the painting appears to have been 'improvised'. This is indicated by the brush strokes – which are perhaps most obviously ad lib in the black patch centre-right. 

Paysage du Midi – Andre Derain

Although revolutionary, this gaudy movement did return to familiar territory in the subject matter artists would choose to paint. Moving away from the popular urban depictions, les fauves returned to painting landscapes.

In fact, London played a large part in the Fauvist movement. We can really see this period of history in context when we compare Claude Monet's dreamy, misty picture of the Houses of Parliament with Andre Derain's piece of yellows, pinks and lurid greens.

Houses of Parliament – Claude Monet

Charing Cross Bridge – Andre Derain

London art is still by far one of our most popular categories of art to this day! Perhaps it was Fauvism that set off this iconic theme with our very own ArtGallery artists.

Icarus – Henri Matisse

Fauvism was also a revolutionary movement for exploring the negative space in a painting. This is how works like 'Icarus' came to be so famous. Out of context, some people can find it difficult to understand why a piece so simple has become so revered. The answer is context. There may be thousands of people who can reproduce work like this, but les fauves were the first to do it – the first to have this original idea of completely breaking away from traditional art.

Inspired by some of the greatest painters of the previous era, like van Gogh, Munch and Cezanne – Matisse inspired many young artists who in turn became notable painters of their respective fields, such as Chagall, Levy and many abstract expressionists.

At the time of Matisse's first exhibition, another critic commented that his work was, 'a pot of paint flung in the face of the public.' This could either be taken in a negative way, or a great of describing the rebellious, spontaneous spirit captured by fauvism. We'd like to see it as a compliment to one of the most energetic and influential styles in Western art.

[Image credits]

User: artfactory.com/ André Derain, The Turning Road, L’Estaque (1906)

/ Public Domain

User: bgEuwDxel93-Pg at Google Cultural Institute

/ Starry Night – van Gogh/ Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain

User: William Allen, Image Historian

/ The Green Stripe – Henri Matisse

/ Flikr / Public Domain

User: Sharon Mollerus

/ Paysage du Midi – Andre Derain

/ Flikr / Public Domain

User: Unknown

/ Houses of Parliament – Claude Monet/ Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

User:  André Derain / Charring Cross Bridge – Andre Derain / Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain

User: Sharon Mollerus / Icarus – Henri Matisse/ Flikr / Public Domain

Tags:

Art History | The Art World

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