Fauvism is often considered the first truly modernistic movement in art of the 20th cent. It had comparatively short period of organized existence – if we can talk about such stage in the development of fauvism at all, as there was no stable fauvist group or any particular theoretical program. History of fauvism started near 1902, it got its name in 1905 and declined by 1908. But that’s exactly the case, when a pre- and after-history of a phenomenon is grander then the phenomenon itself.
Fauvism was the movement that absorbed all most important tendencies of then-contemporary art. Its name “fauvism” (from French fauves – wild), like with many other artistic movements and styles was thought up by the critics. Louis Vauxcelles in Gil Blas newspaper (17th of October, 1905) published his review of the Salon d’Automne, in which he used the term “fauvism” for the first time to define a certain group of the artists. It included Henri Matisse, Maurice de Vlaminck, Andre Derain, Otto Fries, Henri Manguin, Jean Puy and Louis Valtat. This exhibition of 1905 is considered a starting point of the movement. However, some of its members thought differently, as Vlaminck, who competed for the leadership with Matisse, claimed fauvism was born in 1900, when he had acquainted with Derain. Young painters met in the native for them town of Chatou (near Paris). They found out a lot of common things in their tastes, and first of all that both artists believed Van Gogh legacy crucial for the future destiny of art. There were also some differences, as Vlaminck asserted visiting museums ruined personality of an artist and showed off his ignorance of Louvre exposition, Derain thought lack of knowledge in history of culture gave no benefits. In Chatou together with other future fauvists Camoin and Puy they formed “School of Chatou”.
Henri Matisse and Albert Marquet came to fauvism their own way. They studied in School of Applied arts in 1890s, then – in the studio of the symbolist Gustave Moreau. There they became friends with Rouault, Manguin and Puy. Later Matisse used to state repeatedly that he had started working in a new (i.e. fauvistic) manner as early as in 1898 after a few years of creative experiments, and that stylistic of Vlaminck’s and Derain’s paintings hadn’t surprised him.
Apart from already mentioned artists, such masters Raoul Dufy, Georges Braque, Kees van Dongen and others, less famous ones, took part in the group exhibitions of fauvists between 1902 and 1907.
In the middle of the 1890s Henri Matisse voiced his belief that realistic art, that had given a tremendous material, had already completed its positive historical role and its progressive stage was approaching towards the end. Some fauvists were even more radical in their opinions. For instance, Derain thought realistic art was only preparation for the emergence of a true painting, which was embodied (at least in its most characteristic traits) by fauvism.
Future fauvists appreciated Impressionism for its desire to show the beauty of painting itself, aesthetic value of texture, harmonious coloring. Subject range of fauvism inherited lots of features from impressionism, as love to landscape painting, portraits, scene from life of artists, actors, dancers, bars and cabarets, bohemian lifestyle.
Anyway, between these two movements some significant contradictions were also present. Impressionism, apart from the specifics of its visual language, saw depicting of the reality as its main target. So it remained in the circle of replicating, imitating art trends. Fauvism had no other tasks but creating art itself and investigating its influence on people. It followed the way of Post-impressionists, who believed a picture shouldn’t be an illusionistic “trompe l’oeil” or a symbol of a socially important virtue, or an expression of an artist’s attitude to the world anymore. Fauvistic targets of art became more narrow and specific, and, consequently, deeper. New art, according to them, should explore itself, its forms, power of visual means and their effect.
Postimpressionism was the closest to fauvism, practically in all aspects. Oeuvre and theoretical principles of Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Paul Cezanne and symbolists Odilon Redon and some of the “Nabis” group (like Maurice Denis) were fully accepted by fauvists, without serious criticism. Conceptions of the “Nabis” about the perception of a canvas as a self-sufficient “painted surface” inspired followers of the new movement to reject copying nature, so painting now would get rid of its secondariness.
Paul Gauiguin, whose postmortal exhibition was held in 1904, attracted the attention of fauvists with exoticism and decorativeness of forms. It were fauvists again, who gave recognition to Paul Cezanne as “father of contemporary art”. His painting for them was a sample of modeling and coloring integrity, unity of compositional rhythms and independency of dense, pastose brushstrokes.
But the key personality in pre-history of fauvism belongs to Vincent van Gogh. As a matter of fact, he was the “prophet”, who had foreseen the fauvisitic line in painting. At the beginning of his short but bright artistic career, he wrote “The painter of the future will be a colorist in a way no one has been before”. For the next generation of artists his curvy, expressive brushstrokes, confrontation of contrasting colors, impetuous exaltation and free shaping of forms they saw on the paintings of this Dutch genius, became a true revelation.
Almost all fauvists went through obsession of mosaic-like painting of Pointillism. Evidence of its influence were present in early works of Matisse, Marquet, Dufy and Vlaminck. But in opposition to highly rationalistic, scientific-based notions of pointillists, fauvists, saw color spots as absolutely independent way of affecting human emotions and feelings. It comes as no surprise that no one of abovementioned artists lingered on small-scaled technique of Pointillism and gradually started working in larger color patches, making them a core element of composition. Sometimes they even contoured those color patches with thick lines that resembled a little the style of Art Nouveau. If for pointillists, color was meant to represent a synthesis of paint, light and space, for fauvists it was an synonym of expressiveness, equivalent of emotions rather than reality.
Like post-impressionists, fauvist artists didn’t set the primitive culture (in its broadest sense) aside. Many of them (like Derain) collected African sculpture, fascinated by simplicity of its forms, laconic coloring and ability to represent most characteristic features. Fauvists were one of the first to show their interest in children’s drawing. Vlaminck in his “Autobiography” urged to see the world with the eyes of a kid. Similar thoughts Matisse had. Roughly saying, they started one of the main features of contemporary culture, as since the end of the 20th cent. some philosophers started talking about “childness” as a peculiarity of a new epoch. This way it was contrasted to the “mature” traditional culture.
For fauvists the problem of working en plein air or in a studio wasn’t a fundamental one. Everyone followed his own way in this case. They saw achieving maximum energetic of color as their main mission. Painting for them was a kind of spectacle with tints and hues playing first parts.
They divested of imitative function of color. They wanted to see it lightful, instinctive, uncomplicated with mimesis or artists reflections. Matisse and his adherents were searching for the “most” red, yellow, green, blue or white, so their palette was really intense. Extreme generalization of shapes allowed to avoid chiaroscuro characteristics, so the question of representing space-depth and aerial perspective was minot for fauvists. They were sometimes more preoccupied with a sudden, uncommon foreshortening or fade-in of some spaces on others, which amplified brightness of colors and emotional acuteness of forms.
Braques and Derain liked showing sunrises and sunsets. But unlike impressionists, fauvistic landscape was decorative. The latter was created by applying together consonances of “additional colors” – red and green, yellow and violet, etc., especially in shadows and reflections. Sometimes artists used numerous grades of one tinit – from red to purple or from lilac to dark-violet (it was replaced black).
Formally, the development of fauvism finished in 1908. At this time many of the artists, like Braques, Dufy, Derain, and Vlaminck, sputtered themselves out in this movement, and shifted to cubism that seemed more rational, balanced and systematic. By and large, Henri Matisse was the only one to preserve principle of fauvism in his further works.
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