The Birth of Modernism: Fauvism

History is full of “avaunt-grade” movements in art and literature. Last week we discussed the entire modernist period, which lasted for nearly half a century, and for the next few weeks we will be discussing the various styles that were developed during the Modernist period. The movement began with the development of “Fauvism” which featured a shocking display of vivid, usually unnaturally exuberant colors. The style first appeared in France and was led by such artists as Paul Gauguin, Paul Cézanne, and Vincent van Gogh. Fauvism was expressionistic in essence and featured a great deal of distortion. The artists who were practicing the style originally took the name after an art critic derided the fact that their art was like a faun among the wild beasts after it had been placed with some renaissance style sculpture.

The movement, like most new art trends, was greeted by the art world with revulsion, hence the negative comment by the art critic. It did not take long however for wealthy art collectors like Gertrude Stein to recognize the genius of the new style and prices began to raise. The movement was able to stage several exhibitions between 1901 and 1906, although the first real full exhibition was not recognized until their appearance at the Salon d´Automne in 1905. The great van Gogh, unappreciated during his life, summed it up best when he said, “Instead of trying to render what I see before me, I use color in a completely arbitrary way to express myself powerfully”. These artists used vivid colors to shock their viewers out of their complacency and bringing art down to Earth with their rough, clumsy style.

Fauvism was not extremely long lived and by 1908 most of the artists had moved on to cubism, which we will address next week. When the originator of the style, Matisse, died (1869-1954), Fauvism soon followed. When the movement moved away from Fauvism and into Cubism they moved from using color to using shape to convey emotions and ideas. But while it existed this style gave us some of the world´s most extraordinary art. When Vlaminck gave us The River we were treated to an ostensibly peaceful scene but his free use of colors gives us the sense of an impending storm on the horizon.