Matisse, Fauvism and Twentieth Century Art

Until he reached the age of twenty, Henry Matisse showed very little interest in art and when he did become a professional artist in 1891, he was very different from the typical Parisian art students who populated the Left Bank area of the River Seine. He had grown up with a typical northern French, middle class upbringing and his attitudes towards work were not the same of as those of most of the struggling artists around him.

Even his dress and general appearance were different from other artists who formed the Parisian avant-garde at this time. His painting was very much influenced by well known artists of the era like Poussin, Manet, Cezanne, van Gogh and Gaugin. In fact he bought paintings from those whose work he admired and surrounded himself with their style and color. This soon got him into debt.

Notre Dame Matisse

Notre Dame, 1902.    Source: Wikipedia Creative Commons.

At first his style of painting and tastes reflected his provincial background and were old-fashioned in a Paris which was moving towards the post impressionism work of Cezanne, Gaugin and van Gogh, but he moved more and more into the circles where modern art was being talked about and produced.

Woman With A Hat Matisse

Woman With A Hat 1905.    Source: Wikipedia Creative Commons.

After a summer spent on the Mediterranean during 1905, Matisse underwent a major change in his style of painting and use of color. His attempts at producing realistic colors in his work exploded into an amazing and dazzling display of complementary colors. Paint was applied direct from the tube with short unblended brush strokes, and reds, blues and yellows used to give vibrancy to landscapes. Color was used to give his work form.

A popular Parisian art critic named Louis Vauxcelles called the artists ‘wild beasts’, or ‘Les Fauves’ and so the name of one the most short-lived but most influential art movements of the twentieth century was named.

The Hermitage Matisse

The Hermitage, St Petersburg.  Source:  Wikipedia Creative Commons.

Along with Andre Derain, Matisse soon became the leading artist of Fauvism which actually means ‘the wild beast’.

Fauvism used bright, often garish colors which did not mimic the natural ones at all. Shapes and landscapes were distorted and out of perspective. The first Paris exhibition of Fauvism was held in 1905 at the Salon D’Automne, and expressionism made its impact into the art world of the Left Bank. The movement only lasted for three short years and involved respected artists like Matisse, Rouault, Derain, Vlaminck, and Braque.

This exhibition led to ridicule, mockery and even shock, among those who ‘knew’ about art and the general public, but after Gertrude Stein, a major art buyer, and others accepted the new style, this attitude changed and Fauvism went on to have a major influence on twentieth century art and artists .

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Posted on Apr 20, 2010