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Fauvism; five modern art masters

Fauvism grew from the symbolist movement, and was a short-lived but essential moment along the way to modern art breaking entirely from the traditions of the past, and diving into wildly experimental use of colour and form.

Gustave Moreau, a father of fauvism

A relatively little known name beyond the art world, Gustave Moreau was amongst the most important fauvist artists, even though he was never a fauvist painter. Moreau was an essential part of the symbolist movement, exhibiting at major art galleries and exhibitions throughout his career, and exploring many traditional subjects but finding very original ways to represent them. Late in his life in 1891 he agreed to take up a teaching position at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and excelled in the role.

He was open minded, and even considered controversial in encouraging his students towards an expressive use of colour, particularly simple and pure colours. Many of them would go on to become part of the fauvist movement, most significant amongst them Henri Matisse, who would ultimately become the philosophical leader of the movement. He described Moreau’s influence such; “He did not set us on the right roads, but off the roads. He disturbed our complacency.”

Henri Matisse

Matisse began his career as a traditional painter of still life and landscapes, but his work radically evolved through years of teachings from Gustave Moreau to experiment with colour, and from impressionist John Russell, who taught him colour theory and introduced him to the work of van Gogh. Shifting dramatically to a brightly coloured palette, and diving into the study of other artists, Matisse found more inspiration in the work of Cézanne and rapidly developed his artistic style.

He was soon being considered alongside André Derain as a leader of the new fauvist movement, and he pushed even further into bright, simple colours, flat shapes and careful lines. His original artworks met considerable criticism, as did many of the fauvist artists, but he continued in his style which often incorporated new and original ideas. He progressed to collage, sculpture, and art prints as he grew older, before passing away in his 80s from a heart attack.

André Durain

Considered a co-founder of the fauvist movement alongside Matisse, Derain was a French painter and sculptor, who met Matisse at art classes and became friends with Maurice de Vlaminck, both of which helped to convince him to abandon his engineering career and paint as a profession. He began developing a fauvist style of vivid colour palettes and spent time in London, UK, capturing the city through a series of 30 original paintings which incorporated elements of pointillism and divisionism with simple, pure colours.

As he aged he experimented in other styles, showing elements of cubism and primitivism, as well as a more muted range of colours, and would eventually be noted for renewing interest in classicism, and exhibited at art galleries from London to New York. Accused of Nazi sympathising and collaborating for attending a Nazi-organised art exhibition during the war, he lived his last years quietly, passing away from illness in his 70s.

Maurice de Vlaminck

Something of a hobbyist painter through his teens and early twenties, de Vlaminck met André Derain by chance on a train one day, and before long they shared an art studio together, developing their own takes on fauvism’s bold colours and painterly strokes. Included in the infamous Salon d’Automne art exhibition which brought Fauvism to wider attention, he was immediately considered one of the leading fauvist artists.

He spent time painting artworks in London, Marseille and Martigues, eventually settling in Paris and producing a body of original work drawing inspirations from van Gogh, Cézanne, and even Toulouse-Lautrec. He was always a fauvist though, concerned only with an opportunity to express moods through colour and brushwork, and despairing at the “dead end” which cubism drove art into.

Georges Braque’s fauvism

A creator of paintings, collage, sculpture and art prints, Braque studied as both a house painter and an artist, developing an impressionist style, which soon gave way to fauvism when he saw the work of artists like Matisse and Derain. He explored a more subdued take on fauvism and began to be inspired by the work of Cézanne, fascinated by geometry and perspective.

Gradually simplifying his original art to simplistic shapes and forms, what began to emerge was cubism, and this only intensified after he and Picasso met and both went on to lay the foundations and evolution of the cubist style. For a long time his work and Picasso’s was almost indistinguishable, though Braque was always the less known of the two, and in later life diverged to explore more brilliant colours and other forms such as sculpture and lithographic art prints.

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