At the turn of the 20th century, a new art movement began among the French avant-garde (modern, experimental and innovative) artists. This group embraced a vibrant style of painting with vivid colors and bold, expressive brush- strokes. The two main leaders of the movement were Henri Matisse and André Derain.

They drew much of their inspiration from the Post-Impressionist artists’ innovative use of color – the way Vincent van Gogh used it to express powerful emotions, or how Paul Gauguin (pronunciation) used color as a tool for spiritual expression. However, unlike some Post-Impressionists such as Paul Cézanne and Georges Seurat, these young artists didn’t choose color based on scientific theory.

Instead, like the Impressionists, they adopted a freer, more spontaneous painting technique and began simplifying their drawings while incorporating intense color palettes. Their brushstrokes were daring and dramatic – sometimes they even applied their paint directly from the tube to the canvas.

André Derain said of this group,

“We were intoxicated with color, with the sun that makes color live.”

Even after the “shock” of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism at the end of the 19th century, to the art establishment at the Paris Salon, this modern style of painting was extremely radical.

At the Salon d’Automne in 1905, art critic Louis Vauxcelles saw their artwork displayed around a Renaissance sculpture and proclaimed, “Donatello chez les fauves”, which translated is, “Donatello among the wild beasts.” The group of artists confidently adopted the name “Les Fauves,” making Matisse the king of the “wild beasts.” From then on, the movement was known as Fauvism.

The Fauvists continued to receive harsh censure, being called “barbaric children,” and “mad men.” Another critic wrote, “A pot of paint has been flung in the face of the public.”

And wealthy American art collector, Leo Stein, called Matisse’s painting, Woman with a Hat, “the nastiest smear of paint I have ever seen.” Incidentally, Stein’s sister, Gertrude, purchased the painting.

Although Matisse refused to be discouraged by the criticism, the Fauvism movement declined, lasting only about ten years – from 1900 to around 1910, as the artists moved on to creating different styles of art.

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Besides Henri Matisse and André Derain, other artists in the Fauvism movement were: Maurice de Vlaminck, Albert Marquet, Louis Valtat, Charles Camoin, Georges Braque (co-founder of Cubism with Pablo Picasso), and others.


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