The first of the major avant-garde movements in European 20th century art, Fauvism was characterised by paintings that used intensely vivid, non-naturalistic and exuberant colours. The style was essentially expressionist, and generally featured landscapes in which forms were sometimes distorted.
The Fauves first exhibited together in 1905 in Paris. They found their name when a critic pointed to a renaissance-like sculpture in the middle of the same gallery as the exhibition and exclaimed derisively 'Donatello au milieu des fauves!' ('Donatello among the wild beasts!'). The name caught on, and was gleefully accepted by the artists themselves.
Landscape in Provence (Paysage de Provence) by André Derain
Charing Cross Bridge, London André Derain
The movement was subjected to more mockery and abuse as it developed, but began to gain respect when major art buyers, such as Gertrude Stein, took an interest. The leading artists involved were Henri Matisse, Rouault, Andre Derain, Vlaminck,Georges Braque and Raoul Dufy. Although short-lived (1905-8), Fauvism was extremely influential in the evolution of 20th century art.
Bonheur de vivre by Henri Matisse
Green Stripe by Henri Matisse
✔ Intense Colours
The first characteristic a viewer will notice on fauvist works is the intense colours used throughout the painting, which is what scared the audience back in 1905. Fauvists used pure and unblended colours in a way that has nothing to do with how the human eye views an object, person or a landscape. As Sabine Rewald from the Metropolitan Museum of Art puts it, fauvists' colours came "directly from the tube." The already "wild" colours were also intensified with the use of thick daubs and smears.
✔ Bold Strokes
Another deviation from the predominant movement of the late 19th century, impressionism, was the absence of small and thin brush strokes. Instead, fauve art paintings are dominated by bold, undisguised brushstrokes. Therefore, if one pays attention to a fauvist painting, he can clearly see the strokes painters used to apply colour to the painting. As a result, transition between adjacent colours is quite abrupt, as it is evident on Andre Derain's portrait of Henri Matisse from 1905.
✔ Lack of 3D
Disregard of three-dimensionality does not refer to disregard of perspective, as fauvist painters made use of the technique to depict depth in objects and landscapes. Instead, the issues that weakened the perception of depth on fauvist paintings were the seemingly autonomous bold strokes and the lack of subtle shading. This characteristic derives from the fact that fauvists' priority was not the accurate representation of a surface's appearance.
✔ Emotional Response
As described above, contrary to impressionism, realism was not in the agenda of fauvist artists. Instead, as the Art Story Foundation suggests, fauvists used unnatural colour combinations in their works to elicit a variety of emotional responses. Therefore, the use of colour did not abide by any laws, but it was more a way for fauvists to depict their own emotions on the canvas. In this respect, Tate suggests that fauve art can also be seen as a form of expressionism.
Thanks so much for reading!