Good To Know: Fauvism
Fauvism would resound at the 1905 Salon d’Automne, arriving in a scandal completely unexpected by the artists. “In the center of the room, a child’s torso models an exact science. The candor of these busts is surprising amidst the orgy of pure tones… It’s Donatello among the wild beasts!” With these words, art critic Louis Vauxcelles stirred up controversy when he described this small sculpture in the neo-Renaissance style, exhibited in the middle of Room VII of the Salon d’Automne. The word “fauve,” meaning “wild beast,” was out. At 3 p.m. on October 18, 1905, the Parisian crowd invaded the Grand Palais to see “Donatello amongst the fauves” which would become “the cage of the fauves.”
Thirty-nine canvases created a scandal with their violent excess of color. The works sent by Matisse illustrate this new construction of artworks through the use of color:
The Open Window at Collioure by Henri Matisse is an oil on canvas, dating from 1905. This piece which represents the window opening onto the world does not illustrate the traditional, linear perspective. Instead, Matisse uses the window as a way to block the perspective: all the elements are arranged one above the other.
Woman with Hat, an oil on canvas, dates from 1905 and is now in the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco. Color, rather than realism, creates the portrait. This painting caused a scandal with its use of color: the green on the face, and the anxiety it conveys. This choice of vibrant color is daring, and Matisse illustrates the definition of modern painting.
The importance of color in Fauvism
Matisse would push color to the limit, using flat paint. For La plage rouge, he explains: “You’re probably surprised to see a beach this color, but in reality it was yellow sand. I realized I’d painted it red. The next day I tried yellow. It didn’t work at all, so I went back to red.”
Derain and Vlaminck also exhibited their works in Room VII. Derain suggests “Making color a new material.” The principles of Fauvism are to renew the way of painting, the violence of color and spatial deconstruction. Fauvism has been recognized in art history as the first avant-garde movement of the 20th century, but it was mostly active from 1904 to 1907.
Inspirations and origins of Fauvism
Fauvism found its inspiration in Impressionism, even if it was opposed to their naturalistic, instantaneous approach to the physical world. It also found inspiration in the Neo-Impressionists, Van Gogh and Gauguin. Additionally, the primitive arts had a strong impact on Fauve artists, particularly African and Oceanic sculpture.
In 1906 at the Salon d’Automne, Fauvism triumphed, notably with Matisse’s Le bonheur de vivre (Happiness in Life), now conserved at the Barnes Foundation. The principles of Fauvism are again present: the primacy of color, deconstructed space and flat tints of color. Contour, however, finds its place around silhouettes.
In 1907, the influence of Fauvism spread around Europe, particularly in Germany with German Expressionism. In 1905, Ernest Ludwig Kirchner and Erich Heckel created Die Brücke (The Bridge) in Dresden. Color is central to their approach. In 1911 in Munich, the creation of Der Blaue Reiter by Vassily Kandinsky and Franz Marx also displayed this influence.
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