An art movement is a trend or style in art carried out by a group of artists having a particular vision and purpose (typically a few months, years, or decades), or, at the very least, within many weeks of the apex of the movement. In modern art, art trends were essential because each succeeding style was considered a distinct avant-garde revolution. One of those art movements was Fauvism.

Fauvism is an art movement that flourished in France at the beginning of the twentieth century. Fauvism as a movement originated in 1904 and extended until 1910. This movement lasted for a few years (1905 – 1908) and featured three exhibitions. To generate the effect of an explosion on the canvas, Fauve painters used pure, brilliant colors that were applied vigorously directly from the paint tubes. Les Fauves (the French word for “Wild Beasts”) is a group of early twentieth-century modern artists that prioritized expressive elements and brilliant colors above representational or realistic characteristics.

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Fauvism edging on abstraction _©

Origins of Fauvism

Gustave Moreau was a symbolist painter and professor at Paris’ Ecole des Beaux-Arts. In the 1890s, he mentored Matisse, Marquet, Manguin, Rouault, and Camoin, and critics recognized him as the group’s intellectual head. His students were inspired by his open-mindedness, inventiveness, and appreciation of the expressive power of pure color. Avant-garde artists included Van Gogh, Gauguin, Seurat, and Cézanne. Fauvism arose as a result of their experimenting with paint application, subject matter, expressive line, and pure color. Symbolism, with its emphasis on the artist’s internal vision, was another key influence. As a result of understanding African sculpture as art rather than an anthropological curiosity, European modernists were introduced to new concepts of form and representation.

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Henri Matisse’s, Woman with a Hat _© –

Henri Matisse is widely regarded as the founder of Fauvism. Moreau’s belief that personal expression was one of the most essential qualities of a great painter greatly influenced Matisse. The methods and systematic visual language of Pointillism, pioneered by his fellow countrymen Georges Seurat, Paul Signac, and Henri-Edmond Cross, were very important to the young Matisse. Although Matisse did not directly apply Pointillist philosophy to his work, the use of small dots of paint in varied hues to produce a harmonious aesthetic tone captivated him. His study of this method inspired him to create “color structure,” which generated a deliberate, artistic effect and also a sense of mood. He was also familiar with the Post-impressionist work of Paul Gauguin, Pierre Bonnard, and Édouard Vuillard, whose integration of solid color and design differed from the flickering, fleeting effect of impressionist painting. Matisse, synthesizing all of these concepts, abandoned the use of delicate colors of blended paints and began working with vivid color, directly from the tube, as a means of portraying emotion. He had been working outdoors since the mid-1890s, and his trips to Corsica and the south of France piqued his interest in capturing the effect of intense natural light.

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Henri Matisse’s, Luxe Calme et Volupte _© –

Henri Matisse visited John Russell, an artist on the island of Belle Île off the coast of Brittany, in 1896. He returned the next year as Russell’s student, abandoning his earth-toned palette in favor of vibrant impressionist colors. In 1901, Maurice de Vlaminck found Vincent van Gogh’s art for the first time and said that he loved him more than his father. Parallel to the emergence of modern avant-garde art, a desire for pre-renaissance French painting developed, which was displayed in a 1904 exhibition. African sculpture was another artistic influence, and Matisse and Derain were early collectors. Matisse’s picture, Luxe, Calme et Volupte, was the first to use Fauve elements (“Luxury, Calm and Pleasure”). Fauvism incorporates many of the former art movements, ranging from German Expressionism to Neo-Impressionism.

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Paul Serusier’s, The Talisman _© –

Fauvists and their Style

The movement was led by Andre Derain and Henri Matisse. Other fauvist artists include Robert Deborne, Albert Marquet, Charles Camoin, Louis Valtat, Jean Puy, Maurice de Vlaminck, Henri Manguin, Raoul Dufy, Othon Friesz, Georges Rouault, Jean Metzinger, Kees van Dongen, and Georges Braque. Fauvism was a transitional phase and learning for the majority of these artists.

Even though their contents were typically basic and abstract, the Fauves’ paintings were defined by powerful brushstrokes and vibrant colors. Fauvism combines Van Gogh‘s Post-impressionism with the pointillism of Seurat and other neo-impressionist artists, notably Paul Signac. Other important inspirations were Paul Cézanne and Paul Gauguin. Both of them used vibrant colors in their paintings. In 1888, Paul Serusier got a letter from Gauguin- “What are your thoughts on these trees? They have yellow in them. So, what’s with the yellow, the ultramarine blue shadow, and the red leaves? Vermilion should be used to fill in the blanks.” Fauvism was associated with expressionism because of its use of pure color and free-flowing brushwork. Many Fauves were among the first avant-garde artists to study and analyze African, Oceanic, and other non-Western and folk art, which influenced Cubism.

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Fauvism is a colorful emotion_© –

Exhibition of Fauvism Art 

The salon is an annual art show held in Paris, France. The salon’s goals were to foster the growth of the fine arts, to give a place for young artists of all nationalities, and to transmit impressionism and its extensions to a larger audience. Fauvism was the subject of three exhibitions. 

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Salon d’Automne _© –

The inaugural Salon d’Automne was organised in 1903 by Henri Matisse, André Derain, Albert Marquet, Maurice de Vlaminck, Kees van Dongen, Charles Camoin, Robert Deborne, and Jean Puy. The artists first exhibited together at the Salon d’Automne in 1904. The movement was named after critic Louis Vauxcelles, who insulted them labeling them “Fauves” (wild animals). Camille Mauclair categorized Matisse’s Woman with a Hat (1904) and Rousseau’s Hungry Lion Throwing Itself on the Antelope (1905) as Fauves, which translates to “public-facing paintings.” On October 17, 1905, Vauxcelles’ comment was published in Gil Blas, a daily newspaper, and instantly went viral. Luxe, Calme et Volupte, a landscape by Matisse, had previously been shown at the Salon des Independents in the spring of 1905. Both criticism and praise were heaped upon the paintings.

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Henri Rousseau, The Hungry Lion Throws Itself at the Antelope_© –
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Robert Delaunay’s, L’homme à la tulipe _© –

The Salon des Independents in 1906 was the first time all of the Fauves would appear together after the Salon d’Automne in 1905, which marked the start of Fauvism. The exhibition’s highlight was Matisse’s gigantic Le Bonheur de Vivre (The Joy of Life). The flatness, brilliant colors, diverse design, and mixed craftsmanship astounded critics. The triangular arrangement is reminiscent of Paul Cézanne’s Bathers series, which served as a source of inspiration for Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Among those voted to the hanging committee were Matisse, Signac, and Metzinger. The Fauves staged their third group exhibition at the Salon d’Automne in 1906, which ran from October to November. Metzinger displayed his Fauvist Portrait of M. L’homme à la tulipe, by Robert Delaunay, was on display. Matisse’s works on display were Liseuse, two still figures, flowers, and a landscape. Prairies inondées (Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, Prés de Rouen) by Robert Antoine Pinchon was painted in the Fauvist style, with vibrant yellows, incandescent blues, rich impasto, and bolder brushstrokes.

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Henri Matisse’s, Bonheur de Vivre (Joy of Life) _© –

Concept & Color Palette of Fauvism 

Fauvists were less concerned with the originality of their subject matter because of their shared interest in expressiveness through color and shape. The Fauves began with more conventional subjects, unlike the impressionists and Post-impressionists, who painted images of modern urban life such as promenades, cafés, and music halls in France. Their subjects included portraits, landscapes, natural scenery, and humans, but the aesthetic impact of the color combination took priority above any conceivable narrative or symbolism. Instead, they used their topics as instruments for observation and painting, drawing the spectator into their inner, creative experiences with forceful brushwork and non-naturalistic color.

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An example of fauvism colors _© –

The Fauves were all obsessed with color as a way of self-expression. A sky may be orange, a tree could be blue, and a person’s face could be a rainbow of hues. Color placement, instead of perspectives or brushwork, was used to build up compositional components. Fauvism is recognized for bold colors and ferocious brushwork. According to Matisse, there is a distinction between the portrayal of shapes and the representation of color. He adds, “When I put a green in, it’s not grass. It’s not the sky when I add a blue.” Colors are subjective and do not match reality, thus Fauvists and post-impressionists abstracted shapes after realism. If we omit the color information from a fauvist painting, we can observe that the brightness is more realistic than the hue. Andre Derain uses a Triad palette in this illustration. The primary color (highest saturation) is blue, which is used for roads, automobiles, and buildings. Matisse even used a four-color palette (Tetrad). Blue for the hair and brows, magenta and green for the shadows, yellow for the cheeks, and orange for the lips stand out in this situation.

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Matisse’s Green Stripe is a famous Fauvism painting_© –

Fauvism’s Development

One of the most important contributions of Fauvism was the objective of liberating color from its descriptive, representational purpose and allowing it to exist as an individual element on the canvas. Color can create a mood and form a framework inside a piece of art without needing to be accurate to nature. The Fauvists’ basic forms and vivid colors brought attention to the canvas or paper’s inherent flatness; each item had a specific purpose within that visual space. The art of the Fauves has a powerful and coherent visual impact. Fauvism valued the artist’s direct contact with his subjects, emotional connection to nature, and intuition over theoretical or elevated content. All painting elements were used to achieve the objective of individual expression. Individual expression was valued in Fauvism.

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Maurice de Vlaminck, The River Seine at Chatou_© –

The Fauvist movement paved the way for other highly significant forms of the twentieth century and is frequently seen as a pivotal and transitional period in the creation of contemporary art. Derain later developed a neoclassical style, while Georges Braque, a former Fauvist, collaborated with Pablo Picasso to create Cubism. Fauvism’s distinguishing characteristics are its capacity to appear both ageless and creative at the same time. Artists nowadays continue to create colorful works of art with bold colors and forceful brushwork. Fauvism’s ideas can be observed in modern art through bold expressive brushstrokes, bright colors, or a new look at perspective.

Influences of Fauvism in modern art _© –

Aftermath of Fauvism

In contrast to becoming an entirely new school, the Fauves came together and played a pivotal role. Many of their shared concerns and goals, such as their commitment to personal expression and individual instinct, their use of color as a completely separate visual element with an emotional effect, and their reconsideration of composition as a visual surface, were formalized in Matisse’s “Notes of a Painter,” written in 1908. Fauvism’s concepts and iconic works would continue to influence art for decades after the movement dissolved, almost as quickly as it earned its infamous title. It was the first modern art movement of the 20th century. Like the impressionists before them, the Fauves painted straight from nature, but their works were imbued with a powerful emotive reaction to the themes depicted. To produce the sensation of an explosion on the canvas, Fauve painters employed pure, vivid color that was vigorously applied straight from the paint tubes. Fauvism was a forerunner of Cubism and Expressionism, as well as a model for future abstractions.

  • The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica (2019). Fauvism | Definition, Art, & Facts. In: Encyclopædia Britannica. [online] Available at:
  • (2012). MoMA | Fauvism. [online] Available at:
  • The Art Story. (n.d.). Fauvism Movement Overview. [online] Available at:

Subhashinee is an Architect, Researcher, and Stereotype breaker. Deeply passionate about sustainability and environmental psychology. She is curious to learn new things in life that enhance her. An avid observer, she prefers writing over speaking. She believes that architectural journalism is as important as architectural design, as it binds knowledge providers with seekers.

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