Fauvism [fauvisme]

Fauvisme was a French painting movement of the first half of the twentieth century. The term fauves (“beasts”) was coined by the French critic L. Vauxcelles to indicate those painters, linked by a custom of life and work together (H. Matisse. M. Vlaminck. A. Derain, A. Marquet, A.E.O. Friesz, H.-Ch. Mansuin. Ch. Camoin. J. Puy. K. Van Dongen. L. Vallai. P.P. Gineud, R. Pichot), whose works caused a scandal at the Salon d’Automne in Paris in 1905 for the “wild” expressive violence of the color, applied in pure tones with absolutely anti-naturalistic effects. To the above-mentioned names must be added those of R. Dufy and G. Braque (not present in the catalog of the 1905 Salon), while it seems questionable to link G. Rouault and the sculptor A. Maillol, closer to the Nabis, to Fauvism. Maillol, closer to the Nabis.

Louis Vauxcelles’ comment concerned the room of the 1905 Salon d’Automne in which the artists belonging to the movement had gathered; in the center was exhibited a bust of the sculptor Marque, in academic style, the critic, perhaps repeating a joke in use, wrote in his report: “The candor of this bust surprises in the midst of the orgy of pure colors: Donatello among the beasts of Fauves” (“Gil Blas”, October 17, 1905). This “cage of fauves” gathered in room VII the works of Camoin, Flandrin, Matisse, Marquet, Rouault, all students of G. Moreau; and in the adjoining room those of Derain, Van Dongen, Vlaminck. Also exhibited, in other rooms, d’Espagnat, Friesz, Laprade, Puy and Valtat.

Neither Braque nor Dufy were represented that year. In reality, the fauvisme, which brought together for a few years some of the main painters of the twentieth century, corresponds more to a common phase of research, sealed in a certain sense by the vast echo of the “scandal”, than to a true aesthetic movement with a program. The Salon d’Automne of 1905 consecrated a painting that had in fact already existed for almost five years, and was the work of young artists who often did not know each other. This painting had established itself through successive thrusts “at first discontinuous, intermittent, which finally converge and burn with a brief and sumptuous blaze” (J.-Leymarie).

The formation of fauvisme, which was not a current with an a priori defined program, can be traced back to the period between 1894 and 1897, when Manguin, Matisse, Camoin and Marquet met in the atelier of G. Moreau at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Moreau at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris: the master’s watercolors, with freely arranged patches of color, and the arabesque line of his oil sketches constituted an initial contribution to the pictorial training of the future fauves, whom Moreau himself stimulated to free research, autonomous from academic conventions.

Anticipations of fauvisme can be found in the paintings of Matisse’s stay in Brittany (1896) and in contemporary works by Valtat, through which the influence of the Nabis is also filtered. Between 1897 and 1898 arrived in Paris Van Dongen, Friesz and Puy, who came into contact, at the Académie Carrière, with Matisse and Derain: the latter, in 1900, knew Vlaminck and rented a studio with him in Chatou. The same year came to Paris Braque and Dufy who, with Friesz, formed the so-called group of Le Havre and suffered strongly the influence of the painting of Matisse. Thus, at the beginning of the century, all the painters who five years later would be referred to as the fauves were in contact with each other in Paris.

Fauvism, prepared by different suggestions and stimuli, is defined as a new mode of expression based on the autonomy of the painting: the relationship with visible reality is no longer mirroring and nature is understood simply as a “springboard” or, in Symbolist terms, as a repertoire of signs from which to draw for their free transcription. The young painters in Moreau’s studio discussed Impressionism a great deal, often in negative terms, but they fully grasped the novelty of a light generated by the combination of pure colors. Matisse and his friends, however, looked with greater interest in other directions: first of all, at Van Gogh, whose retrospective exhibition (Paris, 1901) had made an enormous impression on them, and especially on Vlaminck; then at Seurat, whose theory of color was known through the mediation of Signac, who in 1899 had published Da Eugène Delacroix al neoimpressionismo. The pointilliste component is well recognizable in works by Matisse. Marquet and Derain between 1903 and 1905 (Derain, Arbres, 1903, Paris. Coll. Kvrilis; Matisse. Luxe, calme et voluptè, 1904-05. New York, Coll. Whitney).

The influence of Gauguin, known through the two Parisian exhibitions of 1904 and 1906, marks the development of fauvisme after the famous Salon of 1905: the small touches of unmixed color give way to larger colored surfaces (where the lesson of Manet is also felt), crossed and interrupted by sinuous and very mobile signs. From Gauguin, the Fauves took up the search for unmediated, direct and synthetic modes of expression, based on an arrangement of colors similar to that of musical composition, where each tone has an autonomous value.

Undoubtedly also the exhibitions of Islamic art and of French primitives (in 1903 and 1904) contribute to direct the research of the fauves in the sense of a more rigorous chromatic simplification and of the total freedom (of arbitrariness, according to the well-known assertion of Van Gogh) in the use of color (Matisse, Portrait with green stripe, 1905, Copenhagen, Statens Museum for Kunst; Vlaminck, La Seìne a Cairières-sur-Seine, 1906. Paris Coll. Guy Roncey; Derain, Woman in a shirt, 1906, Copenhagen, Statens Museum for Kunst).

His enthusiasm for African and Oceanian sculpture (“discovered” in 1905) was based on the conviction that primitive art achieves the synthesis of perception and expression pursued by the Fauve painter when he explodes blues, reds, yellows and pure colors on the canvas like “dynamite cartridges” (with an impetus that in Vlaminck even seems to anticipate gestural painting) without any mixture of tones. “The expressive component of color,” says Matisse, “emerges in a purely instinctive way,” and the choice of colors “is based on observation, emotion, sensitive experience.”

The year of full manifestation of the movement is 1906, which marks a further intensification of chromaticism (Dufy, The 14th of July at Le Barre, 1906, Paris, Musée National d’Art Moderne; Marquet, The 14th of July at Le Havre, 1906, Paris, private coll. ): the fauvisme irons out at the Salon d’Automne (Matisse exhibited La joie de rivre, Merion, Pennsylvania, Barnes Foundation), and painters such as Braque (La Ciotat, 1907, Paris, Musée National d’Art Moderne) and the Russians Kandinsky and Jawlensky turned towards its modes of expression.

In some way the painting of the “fauves” participates in the broader problem of European expressionism, as evidenced by the tangencies that link many works of the German group “Die Brϋcke” (exhibited in Dresden in 1906) to the French movement and that seem to announce an affirmation of fauvisme as an international style. But the overbearing growth of Cubism (Les Demoselles d’Avignon date from 1907) broke the unity of the fauve movement, whose members now proceeded in different directions, mostly attracted by the new Cubist syntax and the revival of Cézanne models. Only Dufy, Van Dongen and Matisse (who in 1908, in Notes d’un peintre, gave a theoretical and aesthetic justification for the role assigned to color in Fauvist painting) deepened, albeit in different ways, the original research of Fauvism.

The success of fauvisme was almost immediate, unlike the non-conformist artistic movements that had preceded it (Impressionism, for example): contacts with gallery owners, dealers and collectors (Vollard, Druet, Kahnweiler, the Steins) were established as early as 1905 and even the French government bought fauve works from the first Salons. This was an undoubted sign of the new relationship between art and the market that was being established at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries and that has characterized, ever since, the more structural aspect of artistic production.

If we want to define what novelty Fauves canvases have in common, we arrive at very simple data: exaltation of pure color, rejection of perspective and chromatic values of classical art, and, at the same time, rejection of space, light and Impressionist naturalism. However, rather than a sudden and spontaneous explosion, fauvisme was born from the encounter between three apparently contradictory traditions of post-impressionism: Gauguin, neo-impressionism and Van Gogh. It was in fact Gauguin’s lesson, the one that Derain, Vlaminck and Matisse brought to maturity; to tell the truth, it was mainly Gauguin’s interpretation that Sérusier spread around 1890 in the painters’ studios, armed with the famous Talisman, or the artist’s theoretical reflections, since the muted and gentle harmonies of the painter of the tropics often remained beyond his declarations on pure color. But there remains in numerous Fauves canvases, especially those of Matisse and Derain, an echo of his cloisonnisme, of his organization of color in flat areas or surrounded by arabesques (Derain: l’Estaque, three trees, 1906: Toronto, priv. coll.), of his arbitrary poetics of color, and it often appears in the Fauves’ subjects of a homage to his Edenic themes (Matisse: the Joy of Living, 1905-1906: Merion Penn., Barnes Found.).

The influence of neo-impressionism is even more evident: not that of the poetic-mathematical pointillism of Seurat, who had died ten years earlier, but that, more recently, of the violently colored mosaics of Cross and Signac. On the other hand, Signac’s didactic work, D’Eugène Delacroix au Néo-Impressionnisme, which appeared in 1899 as a history of the progressive liberation of color, had particularly interested the young artists of the end of the century. Matisse and Marquet had already tried their hand at pointillism in 1898; but it was especially during the summer of 1904, spent in Saint-Tropez alongside Cross and Signac, that Matisse methodically stuck to the dotted touch and the play of pure complementary colors (Luxury, Calm and Voluptuousness, 1904-1906: Paris, mo). Derain would give a less dogmatic version of Neo-Impressionism, with brighter colors (Collioure, 1905: Troyes, mn, donation P. Lévy; Reflections on the Moon, 1905: Troyes, mn, donation P. Lévy). Lévy; Reflections on Water, 1905-1906: Saint-Tropez, Musée de l’Annonciade).

Another artist, Valtat, who, like Cross and Signac, had settled in the South of France, sent landscapes with broad strokes and violent colors to the Salon des Indépendants from the end of the century. His role as forerunner and companion on the road of the Fauves seems ever more evident today. However, the very spirit of the Fauves canvases of Derain, Vlaminck and especially Friesz has its source primarily in the art of Van Gogh, whose great retrospective at Bernheim-Jeune in 1901 had for many the effect of a revelation.

One of the centers where Fauvism was born was, curiously enough, the Ecole des beaux-arts in Paris, where a very liberal teacher, Gustave Moreau, was able to encourage tendencies far removed from the symbolist preciosities. “Did he not declare to his students that in art, the more elementary the means, the more sensitivity emerges?” Piot (1891), Lehmann 1893) Marquet (1895) and Camoin (1898) were regularly enrolled in Moreau’s course, which he taught from 1892 until his death in 1898. Other painters were enrolled in Elle Delaunay’s course, but abandoned it for that attended by Bussy, Bonhomme, Rouault.

As for Matisse, he attended as an auditor. Date back to this period paintings already fauves for the bright colors and touches violently contrasted, such as the Landscape course of Matisse (1898: Bordeaux, mba) and the Nude fauve Marquet (there). After this pre-fauve period, Matisse and Marquet, between 1900 and 1903, oriented their research more towards problems of composition and simplification of space than towards color. In the same period, two very young painters working at Chatou, Derain and Vlaminck, elaborated a violent and colorful art. The first was already familiar with the attempts of Matisse, whom he had seen painting at the Académie Carrière; the second, a “fauve by instinct”, had identified himself so closely with a language that corresponded to his exuberant and truculent vitality that he was able to exclaim later in perfect good faith: “What is fauvisme? It is me, it is my way of that period, my way of rebelling and freeing myself at the same time” (in Tournant dangereux, Paris 1929). The retrospective of Van Gogh in 1901 immediately inspired him a feverish and participatory expressionism, whose best part flourished between 1904 and 1907 (Portrait of Derain, 1905: Paris, private collection; Outing, 1905: Paris, private collection; Red Trees, 1906: Paris, mnam); he himself described the technique, also in 1929: “I exalted all the colors, I transposed into an orchestration of pure colors all the feelings I could perceive.”

Derain, whose Fauve period is perhaps the happiest and certainly the most powerful of his entire oeuvre, in his landscapes of Collioure and London (Westminster and Reflections on the Water, 1905-1906: Saint-Tropez, Musée de l’Annonciade) he found a very personal balance between the eagerness of Vlaminck and the wisdom of Matisse. Matisse, after a brief but fruitful neo-impressionist phase in 1905, began to experiment methodically with the possibilities of pure color, subjecting it to a rigorous structure (Portrait with Green Line, 1905: Copenhagen, smfk), before becoming interested again, from 1906, in line and rhythm (Joy of Living: Merion Penn., Barnes Found.; Marguerite, 1906-1907: Paris, Musée Picasso).

The same decorative organization underlies the play of pure colors, since 1906, in Raoul Dufy and Albert Marquet, but with a respect for traditional light that makes them somewhat “fauves impressionists”, particularly in the landscapes of Fécamp (1904) and Sainte-Adresse, near Le Havre (1905-1906), where they work side by side. Braque adopted fauvisme in 1906 in Antwerp, where he painted alongside Othon Friesz; but his fundamental fauves canvases date from the following year (Landscape at La Ciotat: Troyes, don. P. Lévy; La Ciotat: Paris, mnam).

His production then demonstrates a power, an organic and analytical sense of form, far removed from the frenzy of Vlaminck, the decorative effects of Derain or the atmospheric sensitivity and humor of Marquet or Dufy. Thus, from 1906-1907, one can speak more of fauve painters than of fauve painting: each artist gradually moves in a different direction from the coloristic fever that had brought them together. At the same time, the movement took on a European scale with Die Brücke in Dresden, then developed in an expressionist direction which, through Vlaminck and Van Dongen, constituted one of its components; and finally, with Der Blaue Reiter, it led to abstractionism (1911). Although it was not based on a real theory, nor on clearly formulated intentions, fauvisme responded perfectly to the sensibility of the early twentieth century.

To the new and everyday poetry of electricity, speed, intensity and modern dynamism correspond in Fauve painting the exaltation of pure color and the violence of touch, as well as the rapidity of execution; to the new universalism of the era in which exotic civilizations aroused a new interest, no longer merely ethnographic or picturesque, corresponded the discovery of Negro art by Derain, Matisse, Picasso and Vlaminck, and that of Muslim art by Matisse.

This new style around 1905, simplified, sensual and exuberant, did not take long to cause, often in those same painters who had participated in the movement, an ascetic reaction; which was synthetic in Matisse, neoclassical in Derain, Cubist in Braque. But fauvisme still corresponds to the prophecy that Gustave Moreau had formulated for Matisse alone: “You will simplify painting”.

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