Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English


“Fauvism” refers to a vibrant style of painting that flourished in France among a loosely associated group of artists from about 1904 to 1908. These artists used pure vivid colors applied aggressively, often directly from the paint tubes. At the first formal exhibit, the 1905 Salon d’Automne in Paris, viewers were shocked and art critic Louis Vauxcelles called the artists “les fauves” (wild beasts). This insult was gleefully adopted by the artists.

Influenced by the Post-Impressionists (Gaugin, van Gogh, Seurat) in the commitment to painting directly from nature and, to some extent, to replace traditional three-dimensional space with the movement of color, Fauvists such as Henri Matisse (1869-1954), the leader of the group (or “king of the wild beasts”), André Derain (1880-1954), and Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958) also share Expressionist tendencies, such as the subjective reaction to their subjects. Matisse’s “Woman with the Hat,” a portrait of his wife displayed at the 1905 exhibition, offers brash strokes of green, blue, and red in an “energetic, expressive view of the woman” (Fauvism) — later called “The nastiest smear of paint I had ever seen,” by an American critic (qtd. in Dempsey 69).

Although Matisse stuck with this style, most of the other Fauvists moved on. “By 1908 a revived interest in Paul Cézanne’s vision of the order and structure of nature had led them to reject the turbulent emotionalism of Fauvism in favour of the logic of Cubism” (Fauvism).

Works Consulted

Dempsey, Amy. Art in the Modern Era: A Guide to Styles, Schools & Movements. NY: Harry N. Abrams Inc., Pub., 2002.

Fauvism. WebMuseum, Paris. http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/tl/20th/fauvism.