Week 4 / February 20: Fauvism (and review Met Museum assignment)

Oil on canvas painting of a sailor by Henri Matisse (French, 1869 - 1954)

Henri Matisse (French, 1869 – 1954), Young Sailor II, 1906, oil on canvas. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Fauvism and German Expressionism

This week, you will read about Fauvism and in two weeks, you will read about German Expressionism. These were the first modern movements in art to develop in the 20th Century. Both movements use abstraction and build upon the developments of the Post-Impressionists in form and content.

While Fauvism is largely considered a ‘formalist’ movement, the German Expressionists use formal characteristics in increasingly ‘expressionistic’ ways with their choice of subject matter providing commentary on contemporary society through which we can utilize a historical approach and a Marxist and/or a psychological approach to understand the meaning of the artworks.

Review the terms and concepts material from week #1 to review the information related to formal characteristics, and the meaning of expressionistic.


Henri Matisse and Andre Derain were two of the leading painters associated with the style known as Fauvism with their work showing the abstract direction in modern art that grew out of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism at the beginning of the twentieth century. While the subject matter they preferred – landscapes, still-lives and portraits – was conventional, their style was anything but traditional as they explored the use of bold, arbitrary colors and crudely simplified forms with the name Fauvism, meaning ‘wild beasts,’ given to them as a criticism for their unorthodox treatment of form and color when their work was exhibited in 1905.

Read the Khan Academy introductory essay on Fauvism: Link: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-1010/early-abstraction/fauvism-matisse/a/a-beginners-guide-to-fauvism

Then, read and/or view the videos for the 4 Matisse artworks listed below the essay in the menu bar to the left: Luxe, calme et volupte; Bonheur de Vivre (Joy of Life); Dance I; and The Red Studio

WRITING / NOTE-TAKING EXERCISE: The Khan Academy Fauvism essay is 8-10 short paragraphs of text with images. For each paragraph, pull out the essential terms and concepts and define them in your own words to gather and synthesize this information.

If meaning hinges on understanding a specific vocabulary word, use www.dictionary.com to look up its meaning!

Here is how my notes would look for the first and last paragraphs:

Fauvism – French, first new style of 20th Century – modern

Bright and vivid colors / abstract forms

Bold distinctive brushwork, including obvious visible brushstrokes

Cheerful landscapes and/or figural images, experiments in color and form – does not seem to be the same type of content as Symbolism – not as concerned with narrative

Final Paragraph – my outline would include:

Fauve artists interested in ‘primitivism’

It confirmed their identity as ‘wild’ and showed they were open to new, non-Western forms and objects that were bold and abstract

Read the Met’s summary of Fauvism (adding new information to your notes): LINK: https://www.nga.gov/features/slideshows/the-fauves.html

Read another account of Fauvism, from the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. As you read this essay, add to your growing notes for Fauvism with any/all new information. Link: http://www.nga.gov/feature/artnation/fauve/index.shtm

Navigating this essay: Below the text on each page, use the > forward arrow to navigate through the entire essay, which will explain Fauvism, Matisse, Derain, and end with a brief introduction to Braque, who goes on to form Cubism with Picasso, and then late-Matisse. This essay may have many vocabulary words that are new to you.


The concept of primitivism is related to Western colonialism. As modern artists sought new directions in their work, they began to look at the non-Western objects from colonial territories that were for sale in Europe and exhibited in ethnographic museums. These objects, removed from their context within the communities and cultures that created them, were important sources of visual influence for many artists in the beginning of the 20th Century, just as japonisme was during the mid-to-late 19th Century. Matisse, Picasso and the German Expressionists will have each found different things to appreciate or incorporate from these non-Western African sources.

To fully understand what is meant by ‘primitivism’ as discussed in the Fauvism essays, read the Met Museum essay “African Influence in Modern Art”. Link: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/aima/hd_aima.htm

Keep thorough notes about this material as well. What visual characteristics did modern artists use from these African sculptures and objects in the development of their own individual styles and visual languages of form? What visual elements did Matisse take from African sculpture to incorporate in his newly developing style of Fauvist painting as seen in the painting above?

See slides related to primitivism in the week #4 and 5 powerpoint.

For class next week – summary of the 2 required things to do:

  1. Read and take notes on Fauvism and Primitivism.
  2. Familiarize yourself with the Met Museum Assignment #1 (Word). We will discuss this assignment in our next class. Also, view the museum’s website to begin to plan your visit: metmuseum.org

Remember / FYI:

The powerpoint is on Blackboard.