Hunting the Wild Beasts

I love learning new things about art and about art history. I’ve always enjoyed reading about famous artists, but it’s only been in recent years that I’ve made any serious study. I sometimes feel a bit like a hunter, tracking down artists I’ve never known before, discovering new concepts and ideas, and finding new footsteps to follow as I continue my explorations.

If you’re more familiar with art history than I am — which is quite likely — you may have already guessed where all these wild, jungle-inspired metaphors are leading. Until today I’d either not heard of Fauvism before, or if I had come across it, I’d skipped right over it without taking time to learn what it was, where it came from, or how it shaped the world of art.

Fauvism — coming from the French word fauve (meaning wild beast) — is defined as work which emphasizes painterly qualities and strong colors more than representation. And, in case you’re wondering, that term painterly refers to visible brushstrokes and the application of paint in a less-than-perfectly-controlled way. In that regard, I can definitely claim my art to be painterly in nature!

But, back to fauvism, and on to the artists who created such “wild beasts” in their work. The style began in the early years of the twentieth century, and it lasted for a fairly short time as far as art movements go. Maybe this is why I’ve overlooked it before. While I’ve had a passing familiarity with the name and art of Henri Matisse, I simply never really got to know his work and what it was all about.

Matisse was one of the leading proponents of the fauve style of painting. The term Fauvism comes from an art critic of the day who in 1905 was quite shocked by all he saw in an exhibition. One work was a statue reminiscent of the Italian masters, causing the fellow to exclaim “Donatello au milieu des fauves!” Translation: Donatello among wild beasts.

In all, there were only three exhibitions of works by the Fauves — as those artists were called. By 1908 the movement was over and artists went back to their more traditional approaches to line and color.

I came across Fauvism as part of my study on rhythm in art, and this is where I made the acquaintance, so to speak, of Andre Derain. Along with Matisse, he was the artist most closely associated with the “wild beast” style of painting.

Here is an example of his work, as well as a fascinating audio describing this “Charing Cross Bridge” painting.

Charing Cross Bridge (London) by Andre Derain

National Gallery of Art — Discussion of Charing Cross Bridge

The National Gallery site includes this brief description:

“This work is typical of the Fauvist style, which Derain developed alongside Henri Matisse, featuring vibrant and unblended colors. This scene was painted when Derain visited London and captured similar subjects to those Monet had famously painted just a few years previously, though Derain’s color palette and perspective on the scenes contrast sharply with the impressionist master’s work.”

It’s been a fun morning for me, finding the Fauves, learning about Andre Derain, and thinking more about both rhythm in art and about the use of colors. I seem to be drawn toward vibrant colors now, grateful for the opportunity to put Inktober’s black and white drawings behind me.

Will I dare go so far in my own practice paintings as to use such bold and playful colors? Will I attempt to capture any artistic wild beasts on my canvases? I don’t know. It sounds fun, especially as I learn more about color theory.

And, it’s interesting, too, to look back to my own earlier thoughts about Matisse. I wrote about him a few years ago when I was — once again — studying the concept of balance in art.

An Art of Balance – Henri Matisse

Rhythm, balance, and color seem to be inextricably linked in art, and definitely the bold,  beastly colors of Fauvism can create a sense of movement and action in painting. All in all, though, while I like learning about art styles and may even enjoy playing around with ideas, I don’t think this is quite my style when it comes to painting — either as an artist or as a viewer.

How do you feel about Fauvism? If you’re interested in seeing more, here are a few additional Fauve artists to check out:

  • Albert Marquet
  • Charles Camoin
  • Louis Valtat
  • Jean Puy
  • Maurive de Vlaminck
  • Henri Manguin
  • Raoul Dufy
  • Othon Friesz
  • Georges Rouault
  • Jean Menzinger
  • Kees van Dongen
  • George Braque

Happy hunting!




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