Fauvism and Cubism
At the Autumn Salon in 1905, the art critic Louis Vauxcelles described canvases by Matisse, Camoin, Derain, Manguin, Marquet and Vlaminck as “fauve” or like wild beasts. Although they did not constitute a movement as such, these artists based their use of pure colour on the experiments carried out by the Impressionists and more particularly those developed by the Post-Impressionists drawing inspiration from Chevreul’s “laws of simultaneous contrasts”. Going beyond the object, figure or landscape it describes, colour is now used for its ability to compose a picture.
In 1900, Vlaminck shared a studio with Derain in Chatou. They both drew inspiration from the work of Van Gogh, with its predominantly blue, green and red palette and sinuous lines. Derain met up with Matisse in Collioure in the summer of 1906 and the two men began a protracted artistic dialogue. In an attempt to reproduce the colourful sensations of Mediterranean light, Derain abandoned the principles of divisionism. He produced a system of touches of colour and spots based on contrasts between hot and cold tones. Influenced by Gauguin, he soon returned to a style of painting composed of large blocks of flat colour outlined in black. As a former student of the Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau, Matisse, however, remained faithful to traditional subjects, but subverted them with his often dissonant use of colour and the variety of his pictorial vocabulary. He pursued his work on volume and line in his sculptures, whilst harking back to Cézanne and statuary of the ancient world. Although the use of saturated colour became widespread among painters, only three artists from Le Havre - Braque, Friesz and Dufy - took up and pursued the experiments of this first generation from 1906. Several Fauvists tried their hand at painting on ceramic, encouraged by the dealer Ambroise Vollard.
Forms of Cubism
In 1907, Braque abandoned his Fauvist palette in favour of dull tones. After seeing the Cézanne retrospective at the Autumn Salon, he devoted himself to experimenting with representing the volume of a subject (landscapes, then portraits and still lives). Pursuing a parallel line of enquiry, Picasso integrated different types of figurative representation into his painting inspired by Iberian sculpture, the art of Oceania and African masks..
The two artists began to work in tandem from 1908, resulting in the deconstruction of the main theme into simple geometric shapes observed from different viewpoints.
Two years later, the degree of deconstruction was such that the subject seemed to vanish totally into a series of interlocking planes. Colour was restricted to tonal hues (ochre and grey) and the touches representing the effect of light were conceptual rather than actually observed, thus contributing to this hermeticism. The introduction of letters and then, post 1912, stuck-on paper and assorted materials and colours allowed artists to bring their work back into the representational fold. In The Grey Book (1913), the realistic frame of reference is constituted by the fragment of an object (a glued page), a sign (motifs are reduced to their outlines) and trompe l’œil (simulated wood).
Although Braque and Picasso’s experiments were only familiar to a small group of initiates, this new visual language was a highly controversial success at the Salon des Indépendants in 1911, where works by Metzinger, Gleizes, Delaunay, Léger, Le Fauconnier and La Fresnaye were exhibited in two galleries. While applying the lessons of Cézanne, i.e. constructing the subject geometrically, these painters favoured literary or allegorical subjects in their major compositions destined for the Salons. The term “Cubism”, allegedly invented by Matisse or the art critic Louis Vauxcelles, gradually became the norm in the writings of Apollinaire or in theoretical works devoted to this trend, notably by Gleizes and Metzinger. The exhibition The Golden Section in 1912 set the seal of approval on this “tortured cubism” (Apollinaire) of Metzinger, Duchamp, Delaunay and Kupka. The artists exhibited set themselves apart from Braque and Picasso by their concerns: movement, colour and simultaneity.
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