Lesson 28: Fauvist Art 

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What You Will Learn:

  • Explore All Art Movements and Periods

    You will learn about all the leading art movements and periods, such as primitive art, ancient Greek art, the Renaissance, Romanticism, Impressionism, Modernism, and contemporary art. There is also a lot of attention to non-Western art, such as Islamic Art, Hindu Art, Chinese Art, Oceanic Art and African Art, and the globalization of the art world.

  • All Famous Artists and Their Masterpieces

    The course covers important artists like Sultan Muhammad, Fan Kuan, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Utagawa Hiroshige, Vincent van Gogh, Ilya Repin, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Banksy and many more, and discusses their most influential works.

  • Cultural and Historical Context

    Our courses also focus on the study of the cultural, social, political, and economic contexts in which artworks are created.

  • Various Media and Techniques

    You will explore different art forms and techniques, such as painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, and digital art.

Introduction to this course:


Things can change: to be insulted by an art critic as ‘wild animals’ – les fauves – during an exhibition in 1905 at the Paris Salon d’Automne (the Autumn Salon) and then adopt this name as the badge of honor for a new style in painting, fauvism (1898-1910). The exhibition space where the colorful paintings of Henri Matisse, André Derain (1880-1954), and Maurice Vlaminck (1876-1958) hung was mockingly referred to by the art critic as ‘the cage of wild animals.’ They were called barbarians who had accidentally gotten hold of paint. What was remarkable was that these young French painters immediately stood out due to their expressive use of color, applied directly from the paint tubes, without mixing, onto the canvas with brushes. They deliberately introduced bright color contrasts into their artworks, which became characteristic of fauvist art. Soon, other painters embraced fauvism, including the French artists Henri Manguin (1874-1949), Georges Rouault (1871-1958), Albert Marquet (1875-1947), Othon Friesz (1879-1949), Robert Delaunay (1885-1941), the Belgian Charles Dehoy (1872-1940), and the Russian Alexej Jawlensky (1864-1941).

Schokko met de rode hoed, van Alexej Jawlensky uit 1909. Het hangt in het Columbus Museum of Art.Image: “Schokko with the Red Hat” by the Russian painter Alexej Jawlensky (1864-1941), from 1909. The vibrant color contrasts of undiluted paint, so characteristic of Fauvism, burst from the canvas. Furthermore, Fauvists often used relatively thick lines to separate objects on the canvas, as Alexej Jawlensky demonstrates on this painting.
Location: This Fauvist painting by Alexej Jawlensky is housed in the Columbus Museum of Art, located at 480 E. Broad Street in downtown Columbus, Ohio (USA). The art museum received the painting as a gift from Howard D. and Babette L. Sirak. Another excellent place to view Jawlensky’s work is the Museum Wiesbaden. This art museum is situated on Wilhelmstraße in the German city of Wiesbaden. They have 90 works by Alexej Jawlensky in their collection.

The use of colors by the Fauvists may have seemed arbitrary, with many colors clashing on the canvas and eliciting the reactions described earlier. However, there was still a unique harmony between colors and forms on their canvases. These were no longer natural colors, but the use of intense colors became an end in itself for them, without losing focus on form. Not only the use of color was characteristic for them, but they were also impressed by primitive African art. In African masks, they discovered a purity that they wanted to convey in their artworks as well.

Stilleven met appels, van de fauvistische kunstschilder Henri MatisseImage: “Still Life with Apples” from the year 1916 by the Fauvist painter Henri Matisse. Henri Matisse’s admiration for Cézanne’s artworks can be seen in this painting, both in terms of subject matter and how he manipulated space. The perspective appears to be off, and the depicted objects seem to have little relationship to their surroundings.
What’s remarkable are the cracks in the paint on his paintings, which can also be seen in the background of this artwork. The reason for this is that Henri Matisse repeatedly changed the colors of the backgrounds, especially in the (red) brown background color of this work. Matisse didn’t have the patience to wait for a paint layer to dry properly but painted over it immediately, resulting in the current grooves.
Location: This “Still Life with Apples” by Henri Matisse is displayed at the Fogg Art Museum of Harvard University. This museum is part of the Harvard Art Museums, located at 32 Quincy Street in Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts (USA).

You could still see the influence of Vincent van Gogh in the way the Fauvists chose their colors and used their paint, especially in the way the French Fauvists painted. The works of the German Fauvist artists were somewhat heavier in style. In Germany, Fauvism had many similarities with Expressionism, which was blossoming at the same time.
A well-known Dutch Fauvist is Kees van Dongen (1877-1968). He spent a significant part of his life in France, where he met Pablo Picasso. Women often took center stage in his compositions.

Henri Matisse, the founder of Fauvism

The painter Henri Matisse (1869-1954) was – and still is – considered by many as the founder of Fauvism and, in turn, one of the founders of modern art. The vivid, disharmonious colors on flat surfaces, without regard for natural colors and forms, made an increasing impact in the art world. He painted colorful fabrics in primary colors, placed Oriental women naked in his interiors, sometimes used the color black as the color of light, and departed from the path of correct perspective by merging the front and back in his paintings. It’s no wonder that journalists of that time, who looked at the paintings from the existing tradition, found it a rather comical display. Henri Matisse’s paintings were influenced by several trips to the French colonies of Morocco, Algeria, and Tahiti. His painted areas became more even in color, and the lines more rounded, often delimited by black lines, as is clearly seen in his painting “The Dance” from 1909-1910, of which there are two versions.

Stilleven met de dans, uit 1909 van Henri MatisseImage: “Still Life with Dance” from 1909-1910 by the French painter Henri Matisse. In this painting, Matisse included a recent painting in the background, “Dance I,” which now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The outstretched hands in the upper left corner refer to Michelangelo’s creation of Adam. Historians conclude that the theme of Matisse in this artwork is the creation of life and note that there is both real and “painted” fruit on the table. The table on which the fruit lies symbolizes Matisse’s palette, connecting it to the painting “inside” the background. The yellow flowers connect the foreground to the background painting, appearing as if they are emerging from the green ground in the distant painting. The flowers in the right flowerpot seem to make contact with the naked figures in the background painting.
Location: The painting is housed in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. Occasionally, it has been lent to other museums. The Hermitage Museum is located in the Winter Palace on the banks of the Neva River.

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