of the status quo gave rise to the notion of an artistic avant-garde. !e term, which means “front guard,” derives from 19th-century French military usage. !e avant-garde were the troops sent ahead of the army’s main body to scout the enemy’s position and strength. Politicians who deemed themselves visionary and forward thinking subsequently adopted the term. It then migrated to the art world in the 1880s, when artists and critics used it to refer to the Realists, Impressionists, and Post-Impressionists—artists who were ahead of their time and who transgressed the limits of established art forms. Today, art historians generally use the term to describe more nar- rowly the modernist art movements of the opening decades of the 20th century.
FAUVISM In 1905, at the third Salon d’Automne (Autumn Salon) in Paris, a group of young painters exhibited canvases so simpli”ed in design and so shockingly bright in color that a startled critic, Louis Vaux- celles (1870–1943), described the artists as Fauves (“wild beasts”). !e Fauves were totally independent of the French Academy and the “o#cial” Salon (see “Academic Salons and Independent Art Exhibitions,” page 853). !eir aim was to develop an art having the directness of Impressionism but employing intense color juxtaposi- tions for expressive ends. Building on the legacy of artists such as Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, the Fauves went even further in liberating color from its descriptive function and exploring the e$ects that di$erent colors have on emotions. !e Fauves produced portraits, landscapes, still lifes, and nudes of spontaneity and verve, with rich surface textures, lively linear patterns, and, above all, bold colors. In an e$ort to release internal feelings, they employed star- tling contrasts of vermilion and emerald green and of cerulean blue and vivid orange held together by sweeping brushstrokes and bold patterns.
!e Fauve painters never o#cially organized, and within “ve years, most of the artists had departed from a strict adherence to Fauve principles and developed their own more personal styles. During its brief existence, however, Fauvism made a signi”cant contribution to the direction of art by demonstrating color’s struc- tural, expressive, and aesthetic capabilities.
Henri Matisse !e dominant Fauve artist was H%&'( M)*(++% (1869–1954), who believed that color could play a primary role in conveying meaning, and consequently focused his e$orts on developing this notion. In an early painting, Woman with the Hat (,(-. 29-2), Matisse depicted his wife, Amélie, in a rather conventional manner compositionally, but the seemingly arbitrary colors immediately startle the viewer, as does the sketchiness of the forms. !e entire image—the wom- an’s face, clothes, hat, and background—consists of patches and splotches of color juxtaposed in ways that sometimes pro- duce jarring contrasts. Matisse explained his approach in this painting and his contemporary Le Bonheur de Vivre (,(-. 29-2A): “What characterized Fauvism was that we rejected imitative colors, and that with pure colors we obtained stronger reactions.”1
For Matisse and the Fauves, therefore, color became the formal element most responsible for pictorial coherence and the primary conveyor of meaning (see “Henri Matisse on Color,” page 890).
Harmony in Red. !ese color discoveries reached maturity in Matisse’s Red Room (Harmony in Red; ,(-. 29-3). !e subject is the interior of a comfortable, prosperous household with a maid plac- ing fruit and wine on the table, but Matisse’s canvas is radically dif- ferent from traditional paintings of domestic interiors (for example, ,(-+. 25-19 and 25-19A). !e Fauve painter depicted objects in simpli”ed and schematized fashion and .attened out the forms. For example, Matisse eliminated the front edge of the table, rendering the table, with its identical patterning, as .at as the wall behind it. !e window at the upper le/ could also be a painting on the wall, further .attening the space. Everywhere, the colors contrast richly and intensely. Matisse’s process of overpainting reveals the impor- tance of color for striking the right chord in the viewer. Initially, this work was predominantly green. !en Matisse repainted it blue, but blue also did not seem appropriate to him. Not until he repainted the canvas red did Matisse feel that he had found the right color for the “harmony” he wished to compose.
29-2A MATISSE, Le Bonheur de Vivre, 1905–1906.
29-2 H!”#$ M%&$”!, Woman with the Hat, 1905. Oil on canvas, 29 7 34 0 ( 19 11
1 2 0. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco
(bequest of Elise S. Haas).
Matisse’s portrayal of his wife, Amélie, features patches and splotches of seemingly arbitrary colors. He and the other Fauve painters used color not to imitate nature but to produce a reaction in the viewer.
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