André Derain, Bateaux à Collioure
Maurice de Vlaminck, PAYSAGE AU BOIS MORT (RAMASSEUR DE BOIS MORT), 1906. Sold for $16,669,500

Fauvism

About Fauvism

What is Fauvism?

Maurice de Vlaminck, NU COUCHÉ
Maurice de Vlaminck, NU COUCHÉ, 1905. Sold for $2,895,000

Fauvism was an early-20th century Modernist movement that drastically advanced avant-garde experimentation in France. The Fauves ascribed power to colour, but grounded it within the reality they experienced, so the intensity of colour matched the artist’s experience of the subject they painted, rather than the subject itself. Powerful colour juxtapositions were at the service of expressive ends, and painting was for its own sake, separated completely from classical or contemporary literature, presenting narrative within itself. The Fauves were the heirs to Van Gogh and Gauguin’s expressive experimentation, but they went further in liberating colour from a descriptive function and exploring effects colours have on the viewer and on their psyches. Fauvism marked a turning point in the rapidity with which artistic movements developed; in the barely five years of its existence, Fauvism left an indelible impact on the evolution of Modernism and subsequent artists across Europe.

Fauvism Characteristics and Style

Fauvism was known for bold, vibrant, almost acidic colours used in unusual juxtaposition, and an intuitive, highly gestural application of paint. The artists of Fauvism were experimenting with the ways in which colour could be liberated from subject matter. They purposefully painted recognisable imagery but with surprising chromatic dissonance; a sky could be red, or a woman’s face green, allowing for colour to convey meaning in its own right, outside of its connection to the object depicted.

The Fauvists’ unbridled use of rich colour for expressive ends marked an enormous shift toward abstraction and art for its own sake.

Their investigation of form produced enigmatic compositions that literally blurred the distinction between form and line, and in turn, questioned the nature of painting itself. The Fauves, often discussed in conjunction to their German Expressionist counterparts, were distinctly interested in formal inquiries for the sake of aesthetic ends. Thus, Fauvism was among the earliest movements of art for art’s sake.

What is the legacy of Fauvism?

André Derain, bateaux á collioure
André Derain, bateaux á collioure, 1905. Sold for £10,876,500

Some scholars refer to the end of the movement developing as a result of the rise of Cubism and a refocusing on structure and organised form; however, Cubism and Fauvism were certainly not mutually exclusive. Although Fauvism lasted from around 1904 until 1910, it is a crucial moment in the development of Western Modernism. The Fauvists’ unbridled use of rich colour for expressive ends marked an enormous shift toward abstraction and art for its own sake. Orphism, Abstract Expressionism and many other key Modernist movements developed out of the Fauvist period’s liberation of colour and experimentation.

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Timeline & History of Fauvism

  • Studio of Gustave Moreau at the École des Beaux-Arts, c.1892-98
    1890s
    Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau holds a class at the École des Beaux-Arts from which the core group of Fauvist artists sprang, including Matisse, Camoin, Marquet and Moreau’s favourite pupil, Rouault.

    (left) Studio of Gustave Moreau at the École des Beaux-Arts, c.1892–98, photographer unknown. École des Beaux-Arts, Paris (Ph 8693). Courtesy American Federation of Arts
  • 1900
    Derain and de Vlaminck share a studio at Chatou, experimenting together and turning to colour as a means of expression.

    (left) Derain and Vlaminck – former Fauve companions until circa 1912 – reconcile after many years, 1942
  • 1905
    Matisse and Derain spend the summer painting in the countryside in Collioure, producing some of the quintessential paintings of the Fauvist movement.

    (left) André Derain, Paysage à L'Estaque, 1906. Sold for $6,848,000
  • 1905
    Louis Vauxcelles refers to the works of Matisse, Derain, and Vlaminck as “fauves”, meaning “wild beasts” at the Salon d’Automne, in reference to the shocking colour and application of paint.

    (left) Press clipping from L'Illustration, Les Fauves: Exhibition at Le Salon d'Automne, 4 November 1905
  • 1906
    Most of the Fauves exhibit together at the Salon des Indépendants; Matisse’s Le Bonheur de Vie, 1905, a crucial Fauvist work, was met with shock.

    (left) C atalogue of the 22nd Société des Artistes Indépendants exhibition, 20 March–30 April 1906

Artists

Who Are the Fauves?

Matisse was without question the leader of the Fauvist movement. While his career evolved significantly past the end of Fauvism, Derain, Dufy, de Vlaminck, and many of the other artists of the movement are associated relatively exclusively with Fauvism.

Fauves at Auction

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