What is Fauvism?

Fauvism originated in Paris between 1904 – 1908. Despite being a short-lived movement, it provoked profound change in the art world, an age of experimentation. As Matisse said of the influence of his teacher, Gustav Moreau, “He did not set us on the right roads, but off the roads. He disturbed our complacency.” Moreau, a controversial teacher, was fundamental in the group’s evolvement, and he taught Matisse, Marquet, Manguin, Rouault and Camoin – all founding members of the movement.

Fauvism embodied a free and abstract use of colour, embracing the full spectrum of the palette. As Gaugin, who’s bright Tahitian depictions were a profound influence on the group, said, “How do you see these trees? They are yellow. So, put in yellow; this shadow, rather blue, paint it with pure ultramarine; these red leaves? Put in vermilion”.

The subject matter is usually landscapes or relatively domestic events and portraits, but depicted in wild brush strokes and unfamiliar shades; contrasting the darker hues of the turn-of-the century Symbolists.

The Origins of Fauvism

‘Fauvism’ originates from ‘les Fauves’, or ‘wild beasts’, which is what critic Louis Vauxcelles coined them when he described the group’s first show in 1905 as “Donatello chez les fauves”, or, “Donatello among the wild beasts”. The exhibition was met with approval and disapproval in (almost) equal measures, with Matisse’s Woman With a Hat receiving the brunt of the displeasure. His spirits would soon be revived as Gertrude and Leon Stein bought the piece. Gertrude Stein also held a weekly salon, where Matisse, Apollinaire, the young, unknown Picasso and other members of the avant-garde would convene to exchange ideas.

The Fauvists were heavily influenced by Vincent Van Gogh’s, Paul Cézanne’s and Gaugin’s use of colour. Equally by Gogh’s wild and heavy Post-Impressionist brush strokes.

In terms of composition and subject matter Ingres was a great influence on Matisse, as were other Classical painters such as Titian (this was obviously noted by Vauxcelles in his comment “Donatello among the wild beasts”).

Most Famous Fauvist Painters

Matisse is the most notable of the Fauvists, and Matisse’s most typical Fauvist (and one of his most celebrated) works is Bonheur de Vivre (Joy of Life), 1905-06; which is a nod to the influence of Cézanne and is pictured above.

Raoul Dufy, André Derain, and Maurice Vlaminck were all preeminent members of the group. One of Vlaminck’s most renowned paintings, The River Seine at Chatou, 1906, demonstrates his love for Van Gogh and his style, once declaring he loved him more than his own father. Georges Braque, who would go on to found the Cubist movement with Picasso was also a member of the group.

In recent times, the artwork of Bob Dylan has drawn comparisons to the Favism movement…what do you think?

See artwork by Bob Dylan

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