History of Fauvism

The Beginning: Inspirations

Henri Matisse, who was considered the leader of Les Fauves, rejected the traditional renditions of three-dimensional space promoted by the Impressionists before him, and instead discovered a new way to portray it with image layers and colour movements. He developed the style after experimenting with various Post-Impressionistic approaches shown by Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh, as well as Neo-Impressionistic techniques shown by Georges Seurat. Dynamic swirls of colours seen in Van Gogh's later works in combination with Seurat's and Signac's pointillism technique can be seen in most of Les Fauves' paintings.

André Derain, who had attended school with Matisse in 1898–1899, and Maurice de Vlaminck, who was Derain’s friend, shared Matisse’s interest in the expressive nature of colours. Vlaminck further embraced Fauve style after seeing Van Gogh's works at  the Salon des Indépendants in the spring of 1905 in Collioure, alongside Fauvist paintings produced by Derain and Matisse. 

First Exhibition: The 1905 Salon d'Automne

Matisse, Derain, and Vlaminck exhibited together later in 1905 at the annual Salon d’Automne. Derain’s Fauvist paintings translated every tone of a landscape into pure colour, which he applied with short, forceful brushstrokes, whilst the agitated swirls of intense colour in Vlaminck’s works were heavily inspired by the expressive power of Vincent van Gogh (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2016).

Art critic Louis Vauxcelles was one of the attendees to the exhibition and it was him who coined the movement's term as it is known today, when he called the painters Les Fauves, meaning wild beasts, due to the expressive and according to him violent nature of the paintings. Some of the paintings exhibited by The Fauves during Salon d’Automne are featured here on USEUM, such as Matisse's Woman with a Hat, and Derain's The Drying Sails.

Post Fauvism

For many artists who adopted similar approach, Fauvism became a stepping stone for future developments in their style. By 1908 most of the main artists in the group had moved away from the expressive nature of fauvism.

One of fauvism’s founders, André Derain, adopted a more conventional neoclassical style seen in his work titled The Table. Others who were also part of The Fauves enjoyed further success with their style developments. Georges Braque went on to develop cubism with Pablo Picasso, whilst Henri Matisse continued to use the distinctive fauvist traits of bright emotive colours, with simpler shapes and more symbolist approach throughout his career.