Fauvism: Definition, Art & Characteristics

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Keefe

Jennifer Keefe has taught college-level Humanities and has a Master's in Liberal Studies.

In this lesson, learn about the Fauvists, the 'wild beasts' of the early 20th-century French art scene. Learn about Fauvism, its artists, and the characteristics that define the movement. Then, take a short quiz to test your knowledge.

A Movement to Change the Definition of Art

If you're old enough to remember the turn of the 21st century, you probably remember it was a time when a lot of people felt great change in the air. The world focused on technology, and since then, cell phones evolved into smart phones, the Internet brought the world closer together, and videos became high definition.

The start of the 2000s wasn't the first time radical change overtook the world. At the dawn of the 20th century, the definition of art was changing worldwide. Even France, which had long set the standard for what art was throughout Europe, was forced to reconsider its values and to embrace new, more abstract art forms. But can a group of painters known as wild beasts create paintings you would ever call art?

The movement in painting that led the charge toward well-known 20th-century painting styles, such as Cubism and Expressionism, was Fauvism. Fauve is French for 'wild beasts,' a name which stuck among the critics who viewed their work. Fauvism was inspired by Post-Impressionism, a 19th-century movement back toward form in painting, and away from the optical realism created by Impressionism. Fauvism was started as a group of loosely associated painters who sought to bring personal expression into their paintings.

One of the greatest inspirations for the Fauvists was the Post-Impressionist artist Paul Gauguin (1848-1903). Take a look at Gauguin's The Spirit of the Dead Keeps Watch (1892). Do you see how the artist uses color and form to define the woman in the bed? Gauguin believed color could be used to translate emotions beyond words and into objects in paintings.

Paul Gauguin, The Spirit of the Dead Keeps Watch, 1892
Gauguin The Spirit of the Dead Keeps Watch

Other influences on Fauvism include Post-Impressionist artists Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne.

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  • 0:00 A Movement To Change…
  • 1:45 Defining Fauvism
  • 2:50 Examples Of Fauvism
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Defining Fauvism

The use of color and form in works such as Gauguin's became the inspiration for Fauvism, which lasted from 1903 to 1908. It was started by French painters Henri Matisse and André Derain. Maurice de Vlaminck, Albert Marquet, and Henri Manguin also later joined the movement. The characteristics of Fauvism include:

  • A radical use of unnatural colors that separated color from its usual representational and realistic role, giving new, emotional meaning to the colors
  • Creating a strong, unified work that appears flat on the canvas
  • Showing the individual expressions and emotions of the painter instead of creating paintings based on theories of what paintings should look like with objects represented as they appear in nature
  • Bold brush strokes using paint straight from the tube instead of preparing and mixing it

Imagine trees that don't have to be green and brown, people who are blue and green, and red skies in paintings. All of these ideas, which express the feelings of the artist through a somewhat irrational use of color, create the Fauvist style.

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