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Fauvism, the first twentieth-century movement in modern art, was a very short lived movement between 1905-1907 that was the product of a rapidly and radically changing culture. Innovation and experimentation were becoming fundamentals in the art world as a break from traditionalism meant that art constantly had to entertain the ever-evolving idea of what art was, and what it was becoming. Fauvism was just one of the many cogs in the machine of innovation, which powered towards Modernism, Futurism, Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, just to give a few examples. All of these art movements have been scrutinized over, yet Fauvism is one that is less easily defined, as Sarah Whitfield said, Fauvism “was the most transient and possible the least definable”. The lack of “any kind of doctrine”, as Van Dongen put it, means that it is hard to attribute a specific person or place as responsible for Fauvism. Fauvism was simply a group of painters who reacted more or less alike to the climate of the times and who shared common aspirations and ideals about art, such ideals included the use of bright artificial colours, often contrasting, complimentary colours as well as creating a strong, unified work that appears flat on the canvas and a general push towards abstraction. Yet how did this temporary phase of art develop? Jean Leymarie states that “Collioure was the birth of Fauvism”, this essay will seek to come to a conclusion about who, where or what was responsible for the development of Fauvism.
One line of argument that Collioure was the birthplace of Fauvism is that the key attributes of Fauvism were founded in Collioure, giving reason for us and Leymarie to consider the significance of Collioure on Fauvism. A number of characteristics that are primarily considered Fauvist were founded in Collioure and the two Fauvist artists, Derain and Matisse, who spent time in Collioure, developed their styles there. Collioure is a small fishing village in the South of France with Spanish influence and the landscapes and colours that Matisse and Derain experienced there were incorporated, and in turn, developed their art style. For example, at the beginning of the summer, when Derain had just arrived, he painted ‘Boats at Collioure’ (1905), in this painting he used very think brushstrokes and a lot of paint to demonstrate texture (which is a characteristic influenced from Post-Impressionism, from artists like Van Gogh), such as the ripples on the water, however as his style developed towards characteristics which are now considered Fauvist he moved away from divisionism and started to use more blocks of colour, Derain himself said, “I must eradicate everything that the division of tones involves”. The development away from divisionism is a key movement in the development of Fauvism and Collioure can be seen as responsible for this development and thus Leymarie is justified in saying Collioure was the birth of Fauvism.
A second development in the Fauvist movement that took place while Matisse and Derain were in Collioure was their use colours. They discovered light and how to reflect temperature in their paintings; expressing warmth through bright colours and the lack of shadows. One could argue that they were already using non-naturalistic colour, but it was how they used colour that Collioure influenced. Bright, vivid colours were used all around, “a blond, golden light that does away with shadows”, and if they were going to paint shadows then the shadows would be painted in equally vibrant colours, “every shadow is a whole world of luminosity”. A great example of this is Derain’s ‘View of Collioure’ (1905) where the colours are explosive, both light and the few shadows that are painted.
Colour was also used to express warmth; colour became more than just an expression of the emotion of the painter, but as a way to allow the viewer to experience the landscape, not just emotionally, but almost physically, the heat and the brightness. Colour was made even more important to the Fauves in Collioure. Other developments to Fauvism that were established in Collioure was the use of the canvas as a colour, to tie the whole painting together as a strong, unified work that is flat across the canvas. The idea of flatness was also shown through the lack of perspective or depth. Both Matisse and Derain used continuous texture of colours to eradicate any sense of depth, for example, in Matisse’s ‘The open window’ (1905) he uses similar colours in the foreground and background so that the inside and outside mirror each other and appear to be at the same depth. So we see that the many characteristics of Fauvism that were developed in Collioure by two of the leading Fauvism artists seem to justify Leymarie’s statement that Collioure was the birth of Fauvism.
However, there is also reason to believe that Collioure and the developments that took pace there are in fact not responsible for the development of Fauvism. Collioure is seen as a place of innovation for Matisse and Derain, but one could argue that the elements of Fauvism that we attribute to Collioure were already present in their art. For example, in 1904, a year before Matisse went to Collioure he painted ‘Luxury, Calm, and Desire’, where we see many of the characteristics we credit with being created in Collioure present, such as the uses of colour to create the sense of warmth and vibrant colour acting as shadow as well as a lack of depth. Another characteristic credited to Collioure is the use of the canvas in the painting, but again we see this being used in 1899 in the ‘Study of a Nude’. Of course there are certain characteristics that were developed predominantly in Collioure, mainly how colour was used, but it could be argued that these characteristics developed in Collioure are no more important to Fauvism than those developed elsewhere. There were a number of other influences on Fauvism developed outside of Collioure. The first of these influences is Vlaminck, who was not present in Collioure and yet is considered one of the leading artists of the movement. Vlaminck himself said, “What is Fauvism? It’s me.” He has been identified, rightly so, as an important person in developing the Fauvist style and yet he was not at Collioure, and so this seems to suggest that Collioure was not the birth of Fauvism. ‘Les Fauves’ means wild beasts, and it is Vlaminck who appears to paint in this wild style the most out of the three leading artists as he painted “instinctively, without any method” and was arguably the best at using colour to convey emotion, “we were always drunk with colour” (he was inspired by Van Gogh emotional use of colour). Vlaminck’s instinctive, wild and expressive use of colour is one that is considered key to Fauvism and was developed outside of Collioure, thus suggesting that Collioure was not the birth of Fauvism.
Alternatively, one could argue that Chatau was the birth of Fauvism. Vlaminck and Derain painted there together for 15 months and it was one of the few places, like Collioure, where Fauvist artists collaborated and it is questionable why Collioure is rated above Chatau as an influence to Fauvism as it was in Chatau where Derain and Vlaminck first started to use landscapes as their main subject and landscapes are considered the main subject of Fauvism. It is also important to note that it was in Chatau where Vlaminck and Derain fist began to seriously use non-descriptive colour and the first moves towards abstraction were made, not to mention that in the Chatau paintings the move away from divisionism was already very clear. So this begs to differ that Collioure was the birth of Fauvism as many Fauvist characteristics were already being developed in Chatau, where Vlaminck and Derain worked before Derain and Matisse did in Collioure.
For example, Vlaminck’s ‘Gardens in Chatau’ (1904) uses thick, block, non-descriptive colours (no diversionist style present) and we can see a push towards abstraction. These are all features considered developed in Collioure and yet we see them present in Vlaminck’s paintings from Chatau a year before Collioure; diminishing the great significance Leymarie places on Collioure as a key factor in developing Fauvism. Among Chatau and Vlaminck there were other factors that were also important in the development of Fauvism, one such factor is the influence of Japanese prints in prompting some of the core Fauvist characteristics. Japanese art inspired the Fauvists to paint landscapes as their main subjects and to use flat colours and simplification. Matisse said, “Colour has its own existence, it possesses a beauty of its own. It was the Japanese that revealed this to us. Then I understood that one can work with expressive colours that are not necessarily descriptive colours.” In other words it inspired Matisse’s use of non-realistic colours. So whilst Collioure may have encouraged further development in this area it was Japanese prints that prompted this in the first place. The many influences outside, before and after, Collioure that contributed to the Fauvist’s development seem to hinder the idea that Collioure was above and beyond the most important influence when it comes to the development of Fauvism.
To conclude, it cannot be said that Collioure wasn’t a massive contributor to the development of Fauvism, as the advances there made by Matisse and Derain in terms of colour, moving away from divisionism and towards abstraction and the lack of depth and use of the canvas are all very important when considering Fauvism as an art movement, however I do not believe that Collioure was the birth of Fauvism as there were so many factors that made up Fauvism and saw its development. Fauvism was not a coherent group with set goals and a manifesto; it was a temporary phase of experimentation and it is difficult to define such an aimless group of artists and say that one place or person is responsible for its development, as it puts to question what exactly was being developed. So I will finish by saying that because there are limits to how definable Fauvism is I do not believe that Collioure, or any other single person or place, can be said to be the leading factor in its development.
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