History, Characteristics of French Expressionist Painting.

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Fauvism (Paris c.1905-7)


What is Fauvism?
Famous Fauvist Painters
Characteristics of Fauvism
History and Influences
The Most Fashionable Style of Painting
Legacy of Fauvism
Famous Fauvist Paintings

Famous Paintings

Portrait of Matisse (1905)
Tate Modern, London.
By Andre Derain.

Champs de Ble and Restaurant at Bougival
(1905-6) Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
By Maurice de Vlaminck.

Charing Cross bridge I (1906)
Whitney Museum, New York.
By Andre Derain.

Woman with Large Hat (1906)
Private Collection.
By Kees van Dongen.

Harmony in Red (The Dinner Table)
(1908) Hermitage, St Petersburg.
By Henri Matisse. One of the
greatest 20th century paintings
of the Fauvist genre.


What is Fauvism?

In modern art, the term Fauvism refers to a highly fashionable, if short-lived, art movement associated with the Ecole de Paris, which formed around friendships between French artists around the turn of the century. Famous above all for their bold use of colour, the 'Fauves' received their name at the 1905 Salon d'Automne exhibition in Paris, from the influential French art critic Louis Vauxcelles, who insultingly described their vividly coloured canvases as being the work of wild beasts (in French, fauves), and the name stuck. Curiously, while Matisse (1869-1954) and his French colleagues were dubbed fauvists, neither Wassily Kandinsky nor the 'Russian Matisse' Alexei von Jawlensky - both of whom exhibited alongside the Fauves at the Salon - were given the same treatment. Part of the general Post-Impressionism movement, which tried to go beyond the mere imitation of nature as practised by Impressionists, Fauvism is an early form of expressionism, since its use of colour is non-naturalistic and often garish. The close artistic association between Fauvism and the expressionist movement can be seen in the fact that Neo-Expressionism is known in Germany as Neue Wilden (German for 'new Fauves'). Fauvism was also influenced by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), whose flat areas of pure colour paved the way for the great expressionist paintings of the early 20th century. For more about the contribution of Fauvism to the expressionist art of the early 20th century, see: History of Expressionism (c.1880-1930).


For other important trends
similar to Fauvism, see:
Art Movements, Schools
from about 100 BCE.


Famous Fauvist Painters

The most important Fauvist Painters were Henri Matisse and Andre Derain (1880-1954), who had both studied together in 1897, together with Derain's close friend Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958). Other members of the group - nicknamed fauvettes by Vauxcelles - included the Dutch-born figurative painter Kees van Dongen (1877-1968), the lyrical artist Georges Rouault (1871-1958), the painter of 'waterways' Albert Marquet (1875-1947), the delicate colourist Raoul Dufy (1877-1953), the Cubist-in-waiting Georges Braque (1882-1963), the Le Havre artist Othon Friesz (1879-1949), the Neo-Impressionist Louis Valtat (1869-1952), the versatile Henri-Charles Manguin (1874-1949), the Impressionistic Charles Camoin (1879-1964) another friend of Matisse from Moreau's class at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, and Jean Puy (1876-1960) a participant at the original 1905 Salon d'Automne show.

Characteristics of Fauvism

A late example of Post-Impressionist painting, Fauvism was the first real avant-garde art of the 20th century, although it had no agenda, no manifesto, no agreed set of aesthetics: just a wide group of friends with similar ideas about painting. Matisse, the eldest, became the leading figure of the group, not least because of his innovative painting Luxe, Calme et Volupte (1904). Its decorative composition and emancipated employment of colour made it (in the words of Raoul Dufy) "a miracle of imagination produced by drawing and colour." In fact the painting borrows heavily from the Neo-Impressionism of Paul Signac (1863-1935) and his predecessor Georges Seurat (1859-91), but it signalled the beginning of a more unrestrained use of colour. Matisse and Derain followed this up with a number of works (landscapes and portraits) painted in Collioure, a small town in the South of France, attracting other artists with their vivid palette (brighter and more direct than anything Pointillism had to offer), and their strong belief in the expressive power of pure colour to evoke emotional feeling.

History and Influences

Naturally, Matisse and his friends were not working in a vacuum. First and foremost, they owed a considerable debt to Monet's Impressionism, whose non-naturalist colour schemes had caused such a scandal in the mid-1870s. Without the pathfinding work of Impressionist painters, it is doubtful that Fauvism could have happened in the way it did.

Symbolism, too, was a contributing factor. Many Fauvists had studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts under the great symbolist teacher Gustave Moreau (1826-1898), whose originality had already ruffled their artistic complacency. Neo-Impressionism was another influence, except that Fauvist painters found it too restrained and replaced its harmony with a bolder, more primitive form of expression. Thus the dotted motif was replaced with freely applied wide chunky brushstrokes of pure colour, and compositions were relatively simple, sometimes abstract.

The work of Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) - still largely unknown to the public - was another important influence, especially for the flat areas of pure colour associated with the style of Synthetism, which he had developed at the Pont-Aven school during the late 1880s, and which he had developed further during the 1890s in his art of the South Seas. Gauguin's seminal retrospective at the 1906 Salon d'Automne was hugely influential on the development of Fauvist-style expressionism. Fauvists also borrowed from Gauguin's primitivism, as well as from both African sculpture and Oceanic art: Matisse, Derain and Vlaminck were among the first painters to collect African statuettes and masks. Vincent van Gogh (1853-90) was another influence, especially on Maurice de Vlaminck. The Dutchman's use of pure colour, allied to a spontaneous rough style of brushwork, soon found its way into Fauvist praxis: an example being Matisse's seminal painting Woman with a Hat (1905), famous for its frenzied brushstrokes and vibrant, unnatural colours.

NOTE: To see how non-naturalist painting like Fauvism opened the door for abstract art, see: Realism to Impressionism (1830-1900).

The Most Fashionable Style of Painting

At its famous launch in the Salon d'Automne of 1905, the new style caused shock and incredulity among the art critics and public, but collectors and dealers were much more enthusiastic, and Fauvist paintings rapidly became the most fashionable and desirable works on the market. In addition to French dealers like Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939) and Berthe Weill, the new style attracted large foreign buyers including the Russians Ivan Morozov (1871-1921) and Sergei Shchukin (1854-1936): one reason why there are so many Fauvist works in the Hermitage Gallery in Russia.

By 1906, Fauvism was seen as the ultimate refinement in French painting, and another reminder that Paris remained the undisputed centre of world art. Derain produced a set of London landscapes - featuring the bridges and docks of the River Thames - after similar works by Claude Monet. Except that, while Monet's London paintings had been all about light and atmosphere, Derain's were an unrestrained celebration of colour. Other Fauves, like Kees van Dongen and Albert Marquet began producing some of their best work, while Vlaminck painted his greatest landscapes.

But by the end of the year, the real novelty and excitement of the movement was over, even though the Fauvist style influenced a number of visiting artists from Belgium, Holland, Poland and Russia, and had a significant impact on the nascent expressionist movement, which was beginning to emerge in Germany. By 1907, many Fauvists had moved on to explore other styles. Van Dongen joined the expressionist group Die Brucke in Dresden; Derain drew closer to Picasso before favouring a more classical style of art; Vlaminck eventually exchanged his Fauvist palette for a more muted style of realist expressionism. Matisse remained fascinated by colour for the remainder of his life, although he dabbled with several different styles, including symbolism and abstract art, before producing his immortal series of Blue Nudes at the advanced age of 83. As the foremost colourist in modern art, he continues to be an inspiration for many twentieth century artists.


Legacy of Fauvism

Despite being superceded by Cubism and, arguably, overshadowed by expressionism, Fauvism was the most radical trend in art for more than 30 years. And though comparatively short-lived, it had a massive affect on the perceived value and role of colour in painting. In particular it resonated strongly with exponents of German Expressionism: see, for instance, works like Portrait of Gerda (1914) by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938), and the 'Heads' series by Alexei von Jawlensky (1864-1941). Fauvist paintings were exhibited alongside German expressionist works at the influential Sturm Gallery in Berlin, founded by Herwarth Walden (1879-1941). It also exerted a significant influence on French expressionist painters from the Paris School, inspiring contemporary movements such as Orphism (1910-13) and Rayonism (1912-14). Fauvism was introduced to Scotland by the Scottish Colourists, a group of four painters - Samuel John Peploe (1871-1935), Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell (1883-1937), John Duncan Fergusson (1874-1961), and George Leslie Hunter (1877-1931) - who were strongly influenced by Matisse and other Fauves while painting in France before the First World War.

Famous Fauvist Paintings

Here is a short selected list of expressionist paintings by the most famous 20th century painters associated with the group:

Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Luxe, Calme et Volupte (1904) Musee d'Orsay.
Landscape at Collioure (1905) Museum of Modern Art, New York.
The Roofs of Collioure (1905) oil on canvas, Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia.
Open Window, Collioure (1905) National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.
Woman with a Hat (1905) San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Le Bonheur de Vivre (1905-6) Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pennsylvania.
The Gypsy (1906) Musee de l'Annonciade, St Tropez.
Blue Nude (1907) Baltimore Museum of Art.
Harmony in Red (The Dinner Table) (1908), Hermitage, St Petersburg.
Portrait of Mme Matisse (1913) Hermitage, St Petersburg.

Albert Marquet (1875-1947)
Andre Rouveyre (1904) Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
July 14, Le Havre (1906) Musee Albert Andre, Bagnols-sur-Ceze.
Le Pont Neuf (1906) National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.
View of the Seine (1906) Museum of New Western Art, Moscow.
Winter on the Seine (1910) National Gallery, Oslo.

Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958)
The White House (1905-6) Private Collection.
Champs de Ble and Restaurant at Bougival (1905-6) Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
The Blue House (1906) Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
Landscape with Red Trees (1906) Musee National d'Art Moderne, Paris.
The Wheat Field (Champs de Ble) (1906) Milwaukee Art Museum.
Tugboat at Chatou (1906) Private Collection.
The River Seine at Chatou (1906) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
The Bridge at Chatou (1906) Musee de l'Annonciade, St Tropez.

Kees van Dongen (1877-1968)
Woman with Large Hat (1906) Private Collection.
Woman in a Black Hat (1908) Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.
Le Coquelicot (The Corn Poppy) (1919) Toulouse-Lautrec Museum, Albi.

Charles Camoin (1879-1964)
La Petite Lina (1907) Le Musee Cantini, Marseille.

Othon Friesz (1879-1949)
The Seine at Paris, Pont de Grenelle (1901) Glasgow Museums.
Portrait of Fernand Fleuret (1907) National Museum of Modern Art, Paris.

Andre Derain (1880-1954)
The Harbour of Collioure (1905) Private Collection.
Portrait of Matisse (1905) Tate Modern, London.
The Pool Of London (1906) Tate Modern, London.
Charing Cross Bridge (1906) National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
Bridge over the Thames (1906) Musee de l'Annonciade, St Tropez.

Georges Braque (1882-1963)
L'Estaque (1906) National Museum of Modern Art, Paris.


Fauvist paintings can be seen in many of the world's best art museums, notably: the Musee d'Orsay, Paris; the National Museum of Modern Art, Paris; the Tate Gallery, London; Hermitage Gallery, St Petersburg; Minneapolis Institute of Arts; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

• For other colourist movements and periods, see: History of Art.
• For a list of expressionist styles, see Modern Art Movements.
• For more about colour theory and practice in painting, see: Homepage.

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