Art Movements in Art History - Fauvism
Art Movements > Fauvism > The Fauve Style
The Fauve Style*
In 1908 Matisse wrote:
" Expression, to my way of thinking, does not consist of the passion mirrored upon a
human face or betrayed by a violent gesture. The whole arrangement of my picture is
expressive. The place occupied by figures or objects, the empty spaces around them,
the proportions, everything plays a part. "
So clearly stated a credo, with its unmistakable emphasis on structural values, does not
accord with the popular conception of Fauve art as being the unconsidered violent
outpourings of "wild beasts"' or the sensuous decoration of hedonists. This type of
antirationalism may, arguably, be apparent in the works of Vlaminck, but the works of Matisse and Derain seem to demonstrate an interest in evoking a sense of aesthetic order and coherence.
Furthermore, while Fauvism does to some extent belong to the tradition of impressionism and Postimpressionism by its insistence on the importance of nature (ie the use of a perceived subject matter rather than a reliance on invention or memory), both Matisse and Derain placed emphasis on the importance of translating those perceptions into a unified aesthetic form. Derain, for instance, distinguished between his approach and that of Monet:
"For myself, I am looking for something else: that which ... has something stable about
it, something eternal and complex."
A difference between Fauvism and Impressionism can be discerned, for instance
through an examination of the treatment of brush marks by the two groups. Fauvist works
produced during 1905 are characterised by what Elderfield calls a "mixed technique
Fauvism". This style, initiated by Matisse and Derain, consisted of rendering the subject in a
variety of broken paint marks. Whereas the broken brush marks in Impressionist paintings
evoke a sense of changing light conditions which affect perception of the subject, the
separate dabs of pigment in Fauvist paintings are responses to the subject and not to the
changing conditions through which the subject is perceived. In the works of Matisse and
Derain, for example, shifting perceptual data seem to be stabilised through a consciousness
of aesthetic criteria; the painted mark becomes, in a sense, the point of intersection between
a visual perception and an aesthetic conception of the subject.
The Fauvists' treatment of colour also differs from that of the Impressionists. The
Fauves, like the Impressionists, tend to use pure colours. However, as Elderfield
notes, in Impressionism:
"Shifts of colour read ... coincidentally as shifts of value and tone, and this provides an
illusion of atmospheric light and space, an illusion maintained by the balance of warm
and cool colours."
Fauvism differs in that the artists tend to use complementary or contrasting colours.
The brightness of such colour justapositions tends to prevent an illusion of atmospheric light
and space. This quality is particularly evident after 1905 when larger patches of colour tend
to replace the use of small dabs of paint. There are of course exceptions; the palettes of
Marquet, Manguin and Camoin, for instance, are often subdued and the contours of their
motifs are sometimes blurred. This can evoke a sense that the subject is being viewed
through changing light conditions.
Most writers cite the influence of Cezanne as a factor that led to the demise of Fauvism.
What many fail to mention, however, is that an admiration for Cezanne was a component of
Fauvism from the beginning. It was a reevaluation of Cezanne's work in 1907 - at the time
of a major Cezanne retrospective -- that led Fauvism into a Cezannist phase in which
structure and rationality were of paramount concern.
* Drawn from notes compiled by B. Schmahmann for the University of South Africa