Ism number two – Fauvism

Definition – Fauvism

Fauvism describes the style of the ‘les Fauves’ (which is French for ‘wild beasts’), a short-lived group of early twentieth-century French artists who aimed to emphaise painterly qualities in their art, and strong, bold colours over representational or realistic values.

The advent of Modernism is frequently dated to the appearance of the Fauves in Paris at the Salon d’Automne in 1905. Their style of painting, using non-naturalistic colours, has been described as one of the first avant-garde developments in European art. The Fauvists found their name when a critic pointed to a renaissance-like sculpture in the middle of that first exhibition and exclaimed with derision ‘Donatello au milieu des fauves!’ (‘Donatello among the wild beasts!’).

The style was basically expressionist, and distorted forms in landscapes featured the most.

The Fauvists believed absolutely in colour being an emotive force. Colour lost its descriptive qualities with the Fauvists and became luminous, creating light rather than imitating it.

Key Artists

Henri Matisse – Matisse felt he had to make colour serve his art. Matisse was recognized as a leader of the Fauves, along with André Derain; the two were friendly rivals, each with his own followers. He was known for his strong colours and talented draftsmanship.

Les toits de Collioure

André Derain – partner in crime in the Fauvist movement with Matisse. In March 1906, art dealer Amrbroise Vollard sent Derain to London to create a series of paintings focusing on the city. Deraine came up with 30 paintings that were radically different from anything done by previous painters. With bold colors and compositions, Derain painted multiple pictures of the Thames and Tower Bridge. These London paintings remain among his most popular work.

London Bridge

George Henri Rouault – Rouault exhibited several paintings along side the other Fauves in 1905. His sad and depressive impressions of judges, clowns, and prostitutes caused a big stir in Paris. The suffering of Christ was also a favourite subject.

Colourful Parisian life

Maurice de Vlaminck – Vlaminck shared a studio with Deraine and through him met Matisse. He began exhibiting with the pair in 1904 and took part in the famous 1905 exhibition which launched the trio as Fauvists. Although he had a long career in art he is best known for his period as a fellow Fauvist.

Potato Picker

One Key Work

The one key work I have chosen is Derain’s distinctly Fauvist portrait of Matisse, painted during the artists’ shared summer in Collioure. This painting provides a key example of the Fauvist tendency to experiment with a range of colors, apparently at random, and allowing the painter’s emotional state to dictate the composition. And also, with other well-known Fauvist portraiture, a detailed depiction of the subject was not of the utmost importance. Derain’s chief focus with this, and other portraits, landscapes, and stilllifes, was to express his mental state via a consistent use of broken brushstrokes and impulsive lines, both of which served to accentuate his applications of pure colour.

Henri Matisse


Web Musuem, Paris, [last accessed 12 November 2012]

Wikipedia on Fauvism, [last accessed 12 November 2012]

Wikipedia on Derain, [last accessed 12 November 2012]

Shelley Esaak, on Vlaminck, [last accessed 12 November 2012]

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