Such bright bold colours, where did they come from and why did artists start using them? It was Les fauves, (or, the ‘Wild Beasts’) who first experimented with turning the sky pink, the flowers green, the grass orange and the skin purple. The movement we’re describing is known as Fauvism - a very short but sweet art movement that was the first avant-garde to emerge in the Modern period and which laid the foundation for many important movements that followed.
The movement began in France around 1905 and lasted only until 1910. It was inspired by the neo- and post-impressionist paintings by artists such as Van Gogh and Seurat, respectively. It all began when artists Henri Matisse and André Derain spent a summer together working in the south of France in a town called Collioure. At the time, they were interested in new scientific colour theories that were being developed, namely that of complementary colours. These are colours that appear opposite one another on the colour wheel, and when placed next to each other on the canvas make each other appear much brighter.
Instead of focusing on creating paintings which conveyed any particular meaning, emotion or subject matter, Matisse and Derain focused on using these colours, exploring the ways in which their composition would affect the final painting. Their works comprise bold, non naturalistic colours that are applied loosely, boldly and fiercely to the canvas. Fauves were not concerned with rendering space realistically and three dimensionally: rather, they applied flat blocks of colour to the canvas and often presented subjects against non-defined, plain backgrounds. Artists would simplify their subjects, employing subject matter including landscapes, portraits and still lives. Because they stray away from realistic representation, fauvist works are considered the first stepping stone that led to the development of abstract art.
The most famous fauves include Henri Matisse and André Derain. They were, however, joined by many of their contemporaries at various points, who dabbled in the genre as a stepping stone to moving on to develop other important artistic movements such as Cubism and Expressionism. These artists include Albert Marquet, Charles Camoin, Louis Valtat, Jean Puy, Maurice de Vlaminck, Henri Manguin, Raoul Dufy, Othon Friesz, Georges Rouault, Jean Metzinger, Kees van Dongen and Georges Braque
Andre Derain (1880-1954) - Charing Cross Bridge, London, 1906
Oil on Canvas - 80.3 x 100.x cm; 31 ⅝ x 39 ½ in.
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
John Hay Whitney Collection
Henri Matisse (1869-1954) - Le Bonheur de vivre (The Joy of Life), 1905-06
Oil on canvas - 176.5 x 240.7 cm; 69 1/2 x 94 3/4 in
Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia PA
©2018 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Henri Matisse (1869-1954) - Dance, 1909-10
Oil on canvas - 260 x 391 cm
Hermitage Museum, Moscow/RU
© Succession H. Matisse
Henri Matisse (1869-1954) - Femme au chapeau (Woman with a Hat),1905
Oil on canvas - 80.65 x 59.69 cm; 31 ¾ x 23 ½ in.
SFMOMA San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Collection, San Francisco CA
© Succession H. Matisse / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York
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