Les Fauves (literally meaning ‘Wild Beasts’) were a small group of French painters, influenced by Gaugin’s vibrant paintings from Tahiti, from Seurat’s use of pure pigment in pointillism and the emerging color theories from physicist James Clerk Maxwell and American painter Ogden Rood. For many of these painters, Van Gogh’s (obscure at the time) and Cezanne’s work were a large influence. Maxwell had developed a theory that colors could be mixed by eye. He proved this by spinning multicolored disks to produce sensations of different colors (violet and green made blue). Ogden continued along this line of thought saying that when colors were placed next to each other, the eye would automatically blend them as well (as illustrated in Seurat’s pieces).
Paul Gauguin Nave, Nave Moe 1894 Oil on Canvas Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg George Seurat Evening, Honfleur, 1886 Museum of Modern Art, NYC Oil on canvas 30.75x37”
Though Fauvism only lasted 3 years, it was a very important movement because it was the first time that color was being abstracted. Color for the Fauves was used as a tool of expression and they felt that Impressionism’s use of color held back expression with their very literal palette.
The first gallery showing of Matisse and Andre Derain was shared with a Donatello (high Renaissance sculptor) exhibition. Later a critic called the show “Donatello among the wild beasts” and coined the phase “Fauvism”. The show was exhibited with much harsh criticism and one critic stated, “A pot of paint has been flung in the face of the public.”
The Fauves were ardent in their study of color and the reason I like this movement so much is that it began an era where a different kind of observation and decision making had come to the forefront in making paintings.
In this painting for example, it seems that Matisse painted this portrait with a red light on the right side of the subject. Not only is the face pretty pink on that side, but the exaggerated red highlights on the cheekbone and on the hairline above the right eye show this. Also, a shadow is the complementary color of the light source. The left side of the face shows a greenish shadow. The next time you’re in red light around a mirror, check it out-green shadows. There was probably a white light on the left side, as seen by the lightness of the brow line on that side, the illumination of the left side of the left eye brow, the cast shadow to the right of her neck and face and the fact that the hair hasn’t turned black in shadow.
You can tell Impressionism’s impact on Derain in the lending of loose and choppy brushwork and his affinity towards plein air painting. Derain, along with Matisse, is considered to be one of the founders of Fauvism. His skewed perspective elements seem to show Van Gogh’s influence.
After the premiere of the first Fauvism show, Matisse was seriously bummed. The critics tore him a new poop shoot and few artists were interested in using color as an expressive device. Fortunately, Gertrude Stein purchased Woman with a Hat and gave him a motivating slap on the ass and a solid “atta-boy”. We’ll get to Gert again soon. On the left here is one of Matisse’s first paintings that would be considered to be in this style.
Open Window, Collioure
Oil on canvas 1905
Woman with a Hat
1905 oil on canvas
Fauvism really only lasted from about 1905-1908. Afterwards, Matisse continued with his study of color and began to dick around with perspective and the flattening of space. In The Dessert: Harmony in Red you’ll notice a strong primary color palette. The Dance is more about joy and excitement. The figures in the background are even larger than the figures in the foreground, once again showing his push toward a skewed perspective.
The Dessert: Harmony in Red
Oil on Canvas 1908
Oil on Canvas 1910
Museum of Modern Art, NY
8' 6 1/2" x 12' 9 1/2"
Here, the figure at the left moves purposefully; the strength of her body is emphasized by the sweeping unbroken contour from her rear foot up to her breast. The other dancers seem so light they nearly float. The woman at the far right is barely sketched in, her foot dissolving in runny paint as she reels backward. The arm of the dancer to her left literally stretches as it reaches toward the leader's hand, where momentum has broken the circle. The dancers' speed is barely contained by the edges of the canvas. -from MoMa.org
Later in life Matisse got old. He continued pushing his fascination with flat space and his study of color (again, note the primary color palette here). He eventually got cancer and could no longer paint. This prompted him to make paper cut out pieces, some very large.
Quick FYI- Vincent van Gogh's The Starry Night will not be on view at MoMA from June 11 through September 20, 2008. The painting will be on view at Yale University Art Gallery in the exhibition Van Gogh's Cypresses and The Starry Night: Visions of Saint-Rémy from June 15 to September 2, 2008. It will then return to MoMA for the exhibition Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night from September 21, 2008, to January 5, 2009. The exhibition then travels to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, where it will be on view from February 13 to June 7, 2009. The painting returns to MoMA once again in late June, 2009.