Although most commentators and art historians describe fauvism as an early-twentieth-century movement of French painters, it was never a truly independent movement with its own style or its own theory. The -ism designates merely a new approach to painting, full of color and energy but beyond that difficult to define. This loose meaning of the term fauvism is bound up with its coining by the art critic Louis Vauxcelles, who used it, in his review for the periodical Gil Blas of the third autumn salon (1905), as a label for the paintings of Charles Camoin, André Derain, Henri-Charles Manguin, Albert Marquet, and Henri Matisse. Fauvism implied a conscious attempt to abandon the impressionist approach, and it built on the chromatic and technical innovations of Georges Seurat, Paul Signac, Vincent van Gogh, and Paul Gauguin. Fauvist works were typified by the use of vivid and saturated colors, emphasized by means of violent contrasts.
The beginnings of the fauves date back to the years 1894 to 1897, when Manguin, Marquet, Camoin, and Matisse were fellow students in Gustave Moreau's studio at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. To their names should be added those of such artists as Georges Braque; André Derain, who met Matisse at Eugène Carrière's academy; Raoul Dufy; Othon Friesz; Kees van Dongen; Jean Puy; Georges Rouault; Louis Valtat; and Maurice de Vlaminck.
Apart from its use of color, fauvism proposed a new conception of light and perspective. A canvas such as Matisse's Fenêtre ouverte, Collioure (1905; The Open Window, Collioure) abolished the distinction between foreground and background. In this way, Matisse combined the contributions of Seurat and Gauguin. In his Sieste (Siesta), painted in the same year, the separation between interior and exterior tended to give way to an overall vision of the painted surface. Matisse's approach to painting was echoed by Derain's.
The years 1904 and 1905 were a time of great innovation and collaboration for the fauves. Derain and Vlaminck worked together in Chatou, and Derain and Matisse a little later in Collioure. Among the resulting works were three portraits—Matisse's of Derain (1905), Derain's of Matisse (1905), and Vlaminck's of Derain—along with numerous landscapes attesting to the evolution of fauvism and to the way in which these three artists strove to incorporate and transcend the contributions of their predecessors.
Derain's Pont de Westminster (1905; Westminster Bridge) demonstrates his preoccupation with the solid assembly of the elements of a painting. Like Matisse and Vlaminck, Derain removed color from its traditional role in the description of reality and assigned it an expressive function instead. Consider the newly wrought vision of London embodied in Le pont de Charing Cross (Charing Cross Bridge) and Hyde Park, both done in 1906. Derain works out two fresh ways of expressing themes on the canvas, one based on a broader brush, the other on construction by means of masses of color. The outcome is a fauve London where figures may stroll along pink paths in Hyde Park; the artist transforms the city by means of colors and light that are quite arbitrary if considered relative to nature.
As for Vlaminck, he ensured his position as the most audacious of the fauves with La Cuisine (Kitchen) of 1904 and Le Pont de Chatou (The bridge of Chatou) of 1906, paintings in which he
worked with a very tight focus. His radicalism is manifest, for example, in Paysage aux arbre rouge (1906–1907; Landscape with red tree), which obliges the eye to get past a grid of color before reaching a second plane. Vlaminck deployed the entire chromatic range of red in this work, in which schematic houses can be discerned beyond five colored tree trunks. A truly original approach is likewise displayed by Marquet in, for example, his La fête foraine au Havre (Traveling fair at Le Havre) or Le Pont-Neuf au soleil (The Pont-Neuf in the sunshine), both painted in 1906. These pictures enshrine a dynamic that is set in motion by color and heightened by a plunging point of view. The year 1906 was surely the high point of the movement, for it was then that all these painters embraced an intense and expressive use of color and in so doing created the moment of fauvism.
The fauves imposed no restrictions on subject matter: Dufy depicted a 14 juillet au Havre (14 July in Le Havre) in 1906, while Marquet tookLes affiches à Trouville (1906; Posters at Trouville) for his subject and Braque brought his attention to bear on Le Viaduc de L'Estaque (1907–1908; The viaduct at L'Estaque). But all clung to their own particular characteristics and techniques: Vlaminck was given to dabbing brushwork whereas Matisse and Derain worked with flat areas of color.
It is, therefore, not useful to study fauvism in terms of thematic resemblances; rather, its practitioners should be comparedon the basis of differences in technique and the duration of their obsession with contrasting colors. For Braque or Friesz, for instance, fauvism was simply a step along the way—in Braque's case to cubism and in Friez's to expressionism. Fauvism was also closely related to the painting of Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944) or of Alexei von Jawlensky (1864–1941). It might further be likened to the work of the German group Die Brücke, and to that extent it qualifies as an international movement.
Despite fauvism's brief life span, attributable to the rise of cubism on the one hand and to the diverging routes taken by its exponents on the other, the group produced many major works, among them (to mention only works by the movement's senior member, Matisse) Luxe, Calme, et Volupté (1904–1905; Luxury, calm, and pleasure) and Femme avec un chapeau (1905; Woman with a hat).
Clement, Russel T. Les Fauves: A Sourcebook. Westport, Conn., 1994.
Dagen, Phillipe. Le Fauvisme: Textes de peintres, d'écrivains et de journalistes. Paris, 1991.
Ferrier, Jean-Louis. Les Fauves: Le règne de la couleur: Matisse, Derain, Vlaminck, Marquet, Camoin, Manguin, Van Dongen, Friesz, Braque, Dufy. Paris, 1992. Translated as The Fauves: The Reign of Color: Matisse, Derain, Vlaminck, Marquet, Camoin, Manguin, Van Dongen, Friesz, Braque, Dufy. New York, 1995.
Freeman, Judi. The Fauve Landscape. New York, 1990.
Giry, Marcel. Le Fauvism: Ses origines, son évolution. Neuchâtel, Switzerland, 1981.
Leymarie, Jean. Fauves and Fauvism. New York, 1997.
Pernoud, Emmanuel. L'estampe des fauves: Une esthétique du contraste. Paris, 1994.
Paris Musées. Le fauvisme ou L'épreuve du feu: E la modernité en Europe. Paris, 1999.
Fauv·ism / ˈfōˌvizəm/ (also fauv·ism) • n. a style of painting with vivid expressionistic use of color that flourished in Paris from 1905 and, although short-lived, had an important influence on subsequent artists. Matisse was regarded as the movement's leading figure. DERIVATIVES: fauv·ist n. & adj.
The name comes from French fauvisme, from fauve ‘wild beast’. The name originated from a remark of the French art critic Louis Vauxcelles at the Salon of 1905; coming across a quattrocento-style statue in the midst of works by Matisse and his associates, he is reputed to have said, ‘Donatello au milieu des fauves!’ (‘Donatello among the wild beasts’).