Crushing on the first European avant-gardists of the 20th century: The Fauves.

As with a number of other avant-garde movements and isms, Fauvism garnered its name from an insult that became a badge of honour for its adherents.

Paris, 1905.

In the central gallery of the Grand Palais, on The Avenue des Champs-Élysées, a group of canvases by a collective of emerging artists would pave the way for the evolution of modernism as we know it today.

Then still relatively new on the scene Henri Matisse and André Derain had studied with the same teachers, shared mutual friendships with other artists, travelled together and sometimes even worked in the same studio.

They both admired and collected African sculptures and were experimenting with thickly loaded brushstrokes of vibrant colours, often unmixed and applied straight out of their commercially bought tubes.

“My choice of colours does not rest on any scientific theory … It is based on observation, on feeling, on the very nature of each experience.” Matisse

Just six months earlier Matisse, the most senior painter within the group made up of himself, Derain, Maurice de Vlamick, Charles Camoin and Georges Roualt had spearheaded them all showing their work at the Salon des Indépendents. There however, their canvases were spread out among the other six-hundred or so works on show and failed to ignite any excitement.

This time around, for the Salon d’Automne—the annual, independent showcase of progressive art—Monsieur Matise, despite being ‘advised’ by the exhibition committee to not show his more ‘unnatural’ paintings, arranged with the co-founder of the salon—a friend of his—to group the work of him and his posse together, which would heighten their collective impact.

Well-known art critic Louis Vauxcelles when reviewing the show for his newspaper column found the brushwork and colours of the group’s canvases hanging in the central gallery so coarse, so unruly, and such an ‘orgy of colors’ he quipped to Matisse, “un Donatello parmi les fauves” (Donatello among the wild animals) as a friendly aside.

He then went on to publish the remark in his review of the show, birthing the term ‘Fauvism’ and igniting an art scandal that would make them famous.

The earnest yet intentional experiments to push Impressionism further was for even art sophisticates and connoisseurs a bridge too far.

Critics were shocked, collectors weren’t sure, and some of Paris’s cultured class visited the show just to laugh and sneer at ‘the preposterous pieces’ on display.

Why? Because Matisse and his mates broke the rules of natural representation that had been in place since the renaissance and intentionally set out to be provocative.

With the scandal that followed other artists were attracted to the fold.

Matisse began selling work to the influential collectors Gertrude and Leo Stein and Derain would befriend Picasso contributing to the emergence of Cubism.

So scandalous. So good.

image attribution: Henri Matisse Woman With a Hat, 1905

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *