top of page
  • gerard van weyenbergh

Fauvism, a basic description

Its history, its key ideas

In the summer of 1905, Matisse and Derain worked furiously in pairs on the shores of the Mediterranean, in Collioure. They translate the landscape in a subjective way, without the classic perspective effect, painting in large flat areas of color. These two artists contribute to give birth to the modern landscape, in the tradition of post-impressionism. They are joined in this quest by their friends Vlaminck, Camoin, and Marquet, who cultivate, like them, an aspiration for renewal. All were encouraged to free their palette by attending Gustave Moreau's courses at the Beaux-Arts or the Académie Julian.

Expressionism through color is one of the roadmaps of the pictorial avant-garde, whether in France or Germany (as opposed to the constructivist avant-garde who explore more the concept of space). Expressionism made followers, like Georges Braque, a tawny time before taking an interest in cubism.

In the fall of 1905, these artists exhibited together in a room in the Salon d'Automne. The canvases with violently expressive and non-imitative colors lead art critic Louis Vauxcelles to describe them as "wild animals", as opposed to all classicism. The scandal promises to be so great that the President of the Republic refuses to inaugurate the exhibition.

Henri Matisse appears as a messenger, with his Woman in a hat, an innovative portrait, quickly brushed, showing an unusual palette for this subject. Inspired by Van Gogh, Gauguin, and neo-impressionism, Matisse abandoned the principle of resemblance in favor of the power of color, which becomes the real subject of the work.

The discovery of African art and extra-Western cultures had a major influence on Matisse, Derain, and Vlaminck. The wild beasts paint synthetic forms, and seek above all to a structure by color, unlike the impressionism to which they criticize its lack of structure. Fauvism cultivates a true lyricism and a great exuberance. Unlike cubism, it is not an austere, restrictive art, but rather an ode to freedom. Matisse, moreover, admires Mallarmé's poetry and expresses his desire to return to Arcadian sources. The shores of the Mediterranean, bearers of the myth of a dreamed Antiquity, is the ideal environment for these artists.

But can we speak of Fauvism as a real aesthetic? Artists have never claimed theoretical foundations for their approach; they have never formed a full-fledged group, supported by a doctrine or a manifesto. Rather, it is the meeting of painters sharing the same aspiration for a painting free from constraints, turned towards the search for emotion, without derogating from the representation of reality (in contrast to cubism). From 1908, everyone continued their research alone, especially Matisse, who undertook a more formalist work.

André Derain, Portrait of Henri Matisse , 1905

This painting was produced in Collioure in 1905, while Matisse and Derain were carrying out a painting campaign. The two artists had been friends for five years. If it remains faithful to the representation of reality, this portrait is not an illusionist, as shown by the colors used by Derain. The shade is translated by the blue color and the light that strikes Matisse's face by the use of red. André Derain painted in large flat areas, which removed any perspective effect from the portrait. It is a typical portrait of the fawn period of Derain.

Henri Matisse, Portrait of André Derain , 1905

This portrait is the answer to that of Derain. Henri Matisse also painted it in Collioure in the summer of 1905. We feel here the scope of the neo-impressionism lesson that Matisse had received from Paul Signac and Henri-Edmond Cross because the artist works with complementary colors. While achieving a harmonious work, his portrait also seems to seek a non-illusionist resemblance but more based on the rendering of an attitude.

Henri Manguin, Self-portrait, around 1905

Henri Manguin, like Charles Camoin or Jean Puy, was part of the Fauve group in 1905. He was also one of Matisse's companions in the Atelier of Gustave Moreau in the 1890s. Friend of Bonnard and Signac, Manguin settled in the southern Mediterranean and built a lyrical work, with daring chromatic accents. Women and the landscape are her favorite themes.


bottom of page