modernism in art

late impressionism through surrealism



• SH video, Henri Matisse, The Red Studio

• SH essay, Fauve landscapes and city views

• SH essay, Formalism 1: Formal Harmony

• SH essay, Formalism 2: Truth to Materials

• SH essay, André Derain, The Dance

• SH essay, Henri Matisse, Bonheur de vivre

• SH essay, Henri Matisse, Open Window, Collioure

• SH essay, Henri Matisse, Goldfish

• SH essay, Henri Matisse, The PIano Lesson

• selection from Matisse, Notes of a Painter (primary source)

key terms and concepts: Fauvism, fauve, decorative color (versus expressive color and mimetic color), formalism (both as formal harmonies and as 'truth to materials'), the ‘flatness of the picture plane’

The word fauve means 'wild beast.' Why were the Fauves given this name? Is the name appropriate to the movement? Think about Matisse's description of his aims in this famous quote:

     "What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or disturbing

     subject matter, an art which might be for every mental worker, be he businessman or writer,

     like an appeasing influence, like a mental soother, something like a good armchair in which

     to rest from physical fatigue." -- Matisse, Notes of a Painter, 1908

Think also about Matisse's working process as revealed in these quotes:

     "If upon a white canvas I jot down sensations of blue, of green, of red -- every new brushstroke

     diminishes the importance of the preceding ones ... The relation between tones must be so established

     that they will sustain one another."

     "Order, above all, in color. Put three or four touches of color, [those] which you have understood,

     on the canvas; add another if you can -- if you can't, set the canvas aside and begin again."

     "Every additional color changes the tone of other colors and the overall harmony of the work."

How do these quotes reveal Matisse to be primarily a formalist in the same vein as Whistler?  

How do Matisse's interests in music and Islamic culture relate to formalism and his artistic aims?

What are the differences between these three ways of using color:  mimetic color use, expressive color use, and decorative color use?  How do these three terms broadly distinguish the different artistic aims of the Neo-Impressionists, the Symbolists, and the Fauvists?

Although Fauvism is primarily seen as a ‘decorative’ formalist movement, how can we connect it also to a sense of social agency?  Think again about Matisse’s “armchair” quote above.  What is the relationship between Fauvism and ‘modernity’ (industry, cities, etc)?

Matisse is also a formalist in another way that we began to examine in relation to Cézanne:  he wanted his works present themselves as unequivocally flat, as two-dimensional, rather than giving an illusion of three-dimensional depth through techniques such as linear perspective and chiaroscuro.  How do the works below insistently demonstrate their own flatness?  Why is this conformity to the flatness of the picture plane important to Matisse?  The idea that a painting should conform to its own inherent flatness (and, more broadly, that all works of art should be true to their materials) becomes a major theme in Modernist art and art criticism, as we will see.

Derain, The Pool of London, Fauvism, 1906

Matisse, Harmony in Red (The Dessert), Fauvism, 1908

Matisse, The Pink Nude, Fauvism, 1935