June 24, 2023

From Van Gogh to Matisse – The Roots and Rise of Fauvism

1. Introduction

Brief Introduction to Fauvism

Fauvism, a groundbreaking art movement in the early 20th century, was characterised by an unprecedented use of intense, vibrant colours. The term “Fauvism” comes from the French word “fauve,” which means “wild beast,” and was used to describe the wild brushwork and choice of colours by the artists of this movement. The movement, though short-lived (circa 1904-1908), had a profound influence on the evolution of modern art. Learn more about Fauvism.

Historical Context: Late 19th and Early 20th Century Art Movements

At the turn of the 20th century, the art world was undergoing seismic shifts. The late 19th century had seen the rise of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, movements that emphasised colour and texture over form. Artists were rebelling against academic traditions and there was a sense of experimentation in the air. Europe was abuzz with different avant-garde movements, including Cubism, Expressionism, and, of course, Fauvism. These movements emerged in a society that was rapidly changing due to industrialisation and urbanisation. Many artists sought new ways to capture the essence and spirit of the modern age. Explore the avant-garde movements.

Setting the Scene: Van Gogh’s Influence

Vincent Van Gogh, a prominent Post-Impressionist artist, was one of the key figures who influenced the Fauvists with his daring and expressive use of colour. Van Gogh employed colour not just as a means to depict the world but as a powerful tool to convey emotions and moods. His use of bold and impasto brushwork, along with swirling patterns, paved the way for the Fauvist movement. Henri Matisse, who is often considered the leading figure of Fauvism, was especially influenced by Van Gogh. He admired how Van Gogh could transform ordinary scenes into emotive landscapes through the application and manipulation of colour. Discover Van Gogh’s work and influence.

In this guide, we will delve further into how Fauvism built upon the groundwork laid by the likes of Van Gogh and how it carved out its own unique identity and style through its innovative use of colour.


Vincent Van Gogh’s The Bedroom (1889).

2. Vincent Van Gogh: A Forerunner of Fauvism

Biography of Van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh was born in the Netherlands in 1853. Although he is now hailed as one of the most influential figures in Western art, he struggled throughout his life with mental illness and remained largely unrecognised during his lifetime. He started painting in his late twenties, and in a brief career spanning a little over a decade, he produced over 2,100 artworks, including around 860 oil paintings. Tragically, Van Gogh took his own life at the age of 37. Today, he is celebrated for his innovative use of colour and the emotive power of his brushwork. Learn more about Van Gogh’s life.

Key Elements of Van Gogh’s Style

Van Gogh’s style evolved through his career, and some key elements included thick application of paint (impasto), swirling brushstrokes, and bold colours. He was also known for his dramatic, impulsive, and expressive brushwork, which was used to convey emotion. His subjects ranged from everyday scenes, self-portraits, landscapes, and still lifes. A notable characteristic of his style is his use of the painterly qualities of colour and texture to evoke emotions rather than rendering subjects in a realistic manner. Explore Van Gogh’s Artworks.

Van Gogh’s Use of Colour and Its Impact on Fauvism

Van Gogh’s bold use of vibrant colours was revolutionary. He used colours to express emotions and used contrasting hues to enhance the intensity. His approach was not just to depict the physical world but to convey his emotional responses to it. This was an essential impact on the Fauvists, who adopted and extended his use of colour, taking it to even more abstract and expressive levels. His impact on Matisse and other Fauvist artists lies in his liberation of colour from purely descriptive purposes. Understand Van Gogh’s Impact on Fauvism.

3. The Birth of Fauvism

Defining Characteristics of Fauvism

Fauvism emerged in France in the early 20th century. Like Van Gogh, the Fauvists used bold, vibrant, and sometimes non-naturalistic colours. They emphasised painterly qualities and strong colour over the representational values retained by Impressionism. Their brushwork was often simplified, and they used bold delineation in their work. Fauvism can be seen as a form of expressionism focused predominantly on the power of colour. Discover the Characteristics of Fauvism.

The First Fauvist Exhibition and Public Reaction

Fauvism was officially introduced to the public in 1905 at the annual Salon d’Automne in Paris. The Fauvist paintings were hung in the same room as a classical sculpture, and the contrast between the works led art critic Louis Vauxcelles to describe the painters as “fauves” or “wild beasts.” The term stuck and thus Fauvism was born. The reaction to this new movement was mixed; while some were appalled by the audacious use of colour, others were excited by the freshness and boldness of the approach. Read About The First Fauvist Exhibition.

Key Fauvist Artists

Henri Matisse is often cited as the leading figure of Fauvism, but the movement also included André Derain, Raoul Dufy, Charles Camoin, and Jean Puy, among others. These artists, although varied in style, were united in their emphasis on raw, unadulterated colour and simplified forms. Matisse, in particular, is known for works like “The Woman with the Hat” and “The Joy of Life”. Learn More About Key Fauvist Artists.


Henri Matisse, 1909, Still Life with Dance

4.Henri Matisse: The Leading Figure of Fauvism

Biography of Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse, born in 1869 in northern France, was one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. Initially studying law, Matisse discovered painting while recovering from an illness and eventually pursued art as his career. He was initially associated with the Impressionists but later broke away to develop a style that embraced more simplified forms and a bold use of colour. Matisse was one of the leading figures of Fauvism and continued to evolve as an artist throughout his career. He passed away in 1954, leaving behind a legacy that continues to inspire artists today. Learn more about Henri Matisse’s life.

Matisse’s Artistic Evolution

Matisse’s work evolved from relatively sombre tones in his early career to an explosion of colour that defined Fauvism. His painting style was characterised by flat, vivid colours, and simplified forms. He often used colour as an independent element to play with space and structure. Even after Fauvism declined, Matisse continued to experiment, exploring using revolutionary paper cutouts and collage in his later years. Explore Matisse’s Artistic Evolution.

Notable Works and Their Contribution to Fauvism

Some of Matisse’s most notable Fauvist works include “The Woman with the Hat” and “The Joy of Life.” These paintings are characterised by an audacious use of colour and non-naturalistic depiction of forms. His work was fundamental in the establishment of Fauvism as a revolutionary art movement. Discover Matisse’s Notable Works.

5. The Fauvist Approach to Colour and Form

The Philosophy Behind Fauvism’s Bold Use of Colour

Fauvism’s use of colour was bold and unrestrained. For Fauvists, colour had a life and emotional intensity of its own, free from the need to represent the world faithfully. This use of colour was partly a reaction against the restrained palettes of Realism and Impressionism and was an attempt to create art that was more expressive and visceral. Understand the Philosophy of Fauvism.

The Simplification of Form in Fauvist Paintings

In Fauvism, form is often reduced to its simplest essence. There is a liberation from the constraints of realism and often an embrace of more abstract or semi-abstract representations. Simplification allows colour to become the primary conveyor of meaning and emotion in the paintings. Explore the Simplification of Form in Fauvism.

Contrast to Other Contemporary Movements

Fauvism was somewhat radical compared to other contemporary movements like Impressionism and Cubism. While Impressionism sought to capture the fleeting effects of light and colour in the natural world, and Cubism deconstructed forms into geometric shapes, Fauvism used colour and form more expressively and emotionally. Fauvism’s embrace of raw colour was a unique and influential chapter in the development of modern art. Compare Fauvism with Other Art Movements.

6. The Decline and Legacy of Fauvism

The Short-Lived Nature of Fauvism

Fauvism was a remarkably short-lived movement, lasting only a few years between 1905 and 1910. Its audacious use of colour and form was groundbreaking, but as the art world rapidly evolved, other movements began to take centre stage. Cubism, in particular, with its geometric abstraction and exploration of form, became increasingly prominent. Learn more about the brief life of Fauvism.

Transition to Other Art Movements

Many of the artists associated with Fauvism, including Matisse, began to explore new avenues as the movement waned. Some, like Georges Braque, were instrumental in the development of Cubism. The artists took with them the lessons and experiences of Fauvism, which had a lasting impact on their work and the wider art world. Discover the Transition from Fauvism to Cubism.

The Enduring Influence of Fauvism on Modern Art

Though short-lived, the impact of Fauvism was profound. The movement’s bold use of colour and simplified forms had a lasting influence, particularly in the realms of expressionism and abstract art. Contemporary artists continue to draw on Fauvism’s legacy, as its principles remain relevant in the exploration of emotion through colour. Explore the Legacy of Fauvism in Modern Art.

7. The Connection Between Van Gogh and Matisse

Analysing the Artistic Link

There’s a significant artistic connection between Vincent Van Gogh and Henri Matisse, particularly in their use of colour. Both artists used bold, often non-naturalistic colours to convey emotion. Van Gogh’s approach to colour and brushwork is considered one of the foundational influences on the Fauvist movement, which Matisse later championed. Analyse the Artistic Connections Between Van Gogh and Matisse.

Matisse’s Admiration for Van Gogh

Matisse held a great admiration for Van Gogh’s work. He was particularly inspired by Van Gogh’s fearless use of colour and expressive brushstrokes. This inspiration is evident in the way Matisse’s work evolved, especially in the Fauvist period, where the influence of Van Gogh is most apparent. Read About Matisse’s Admiration for Van Gogh.

The Legacy They Created Through Fauvism

Together, through the legacy of Van Gogh’s pioneering techniques and Matisse’s role as a leader in Fauvism, they created a lasting impact on the world of art. Their fearless approach to colour and form paved the way for a more expressive and emotionally charged use of these elements in art, which continues to inspire artists to this day. Explore the Joint Legacy of Van Gogh and Matisse in Fauvism.

8. Conclusion

Summary of Van Gogh’s Influence and the Rise of Fauvism

In conclusion, Vincent Van Gogh’s bold approach to colour and expressive brushwork played a pivotal role in paving the way for the Fauvist movement. Fauvism, spearheaded by artists like Henri Matisse, embraced a radical use of colour and simplified forms to express emotions. This movement, though short-lived, marked an important transition in modern art and changed the way artists use colour and form to evoke emotions and ideas. Review the timeline of Fauvism’s development.

Reflection on Fauvism’s Place in Art History

Fauvism holds a unique and important place in art history. As one of the first avant-garde movements of the 20th century, it helped to liberate colour from its traditional role and allowed for greater expression. The influence of Fauvism can still be seen in contemporary art today, as artists continue to explore bold and innovative uses of colour and form. Reflect on Fauvism’s contribution to modern art.

9. Further Reading and Resources

Books and Articles on Van Gogh, Matisse, and Fauvism

For those who are interested in delving deeper into the lives and works of Van Gogh, Matisse, and the Fauvist movement, here are some recommended books and articles:

Recommendations for Art Exhibitions and Museums to Explore Fauvism

For a firsthand experience of Fauvist art, the following museums house some of the most significant works of the movement:

  • The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York City
  • The Tate Modern, London
  • The Musée d’Orsay, Paris
  • The Art Institute of Chicago

Additionally, keep an eye on local galleries and museums for temporary exhibitions featuring Fauvist art. Find art exhibitions near you.