Art Guides · French · Modernism

A Guide to Fauvism

Le Marche de Pont Audemer by Robert Antoine Pinchon
Robert Antoine Pinchon, Le Marche de Pont Audemer Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
The Style Is Best Known For
  • Frolicking nudes by Henri Matisse
  • Landscapes, still lives, and human figures in surprising colors
What, Where, and When?

Paintings and drawings, France, 1905-1908. (Yes, it’s really that simple.)

How to Recognize It
  • Lots of bright colors – mainly primaries and secondaries.
  • The colors used aren’t what you would expect – an apple might be blue or the sky might be orange.
  • The paint is thick and textured.
  • Some paintings may have some sense of depth; others don’t.
  • Three dimensionality (when it appears) is shown through patches of different colors placed next to each other.

Fauvism grew out of Post Impressionism, particularly the work of Vincent van Gogh. Artists were inspired by van Gogh’s brilliant and surprising colors, thick paint, and unique point of view. They set out to do something similar, playing around with color for color’s sake. Fauvism was a very brief movement, and most of its artists practiced several different styles during their careers.

Fun Fact: The name Fauvism comes from a French word meaning “wild beasts”. That’s what a critic called these unconventional and uninhibited paintings at their first exhibition in 1905.

Underlying Ideas
  • Color, not shape, is the artist’s most important tool.
  • Artists shouldn’t limit themselves to using colors the way nature does.
  • Art should be personal instead of having a moral or narrative message to send.
  • Effective paintings are spontaneous rather than carefully planned.
Key Artists
  • Henri Matisse
  • Andre Derain
  • Georges Rouault
  • Georges Braque
Don’t Confuse It With

Cubism: After artists abandoned Fauvism, many of them took up Cubism. Like Fauvism, Cubism was directly inspired by Post Impressionism. However, it championed form and intellect instead of color and intuition. Cubist paintings are much more subdued in color than Fauvist works, and they most typically feature strong geometric shapes with hard edges. The two styles are aesthetically very different, but it’s easy to get confused because some of the same artists participated in both.

Expressionism: Expressionism, an early-20th century movement based in Germany, shares Fauvism bright colors, uninhibited brushwork, and a lack of regard for conventional rules. It’s mood, however, is quite different. Expressionism has strong – sometimes unsettling – emotional and psychological components that distinguish it from cheerful Fauvism.


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