Fauvism, based on the exaltation of pure colour, was the first art revolution of the twentieth century. It was not a school, complete with programme and theory, but the result of the temporary conjunction of a number of painters, actuated by the same motives and brought together the kind of chance meetings that so often create highly productive movements. In the famous Salon d'Automne of 1905 twelve colourists, grouped around Matisse and conscious of the similarity of their views, exhibited together. The explosive forces of their work provoked a scandal. They came together again for the Salon des Indépendants of 1906. Louis Vauxcelles, the art critic, noticing a small bronze in the Florentine manner by the sculptor Marque n the middle of the hall full of the riotous colours of those who were still called the 'Incoherents' or 'Invertebrates', exclaimed: 'Donatello parmi les Fauves!' ( Donatello among the wild beasts). The name Fauves caught on, and by the time of the Salon d'Automne of the same year it was in general use. The history of Fauvism is a brief one, beginning in 1905 and reaching its full development in 1907. It may be useful to go over briefly the succession of exchanges and contacts that assisted in its creation and crystallized around the dominant personality of Matisse, the oldest in experience and undisputed leader of the movements. Three main groups of different origin (joined by Van Dongen, an independent) came under his sway, and rallied to his principles during those heroic years: the group of the Atelier Gustave Moreau and the Académie Carrière ( Marquet, Manguin, Camoin, Puy), the Chatou group ( Derain, Vlaminck) and, lastly, the Havre group ( Friesz, Dufy, Braque).
Matisse entered the École Nationale des BeauxArts in 1892 as a pupil of Gustave Moreau. Rouault was already there. Marquet joined them in 1894, and Camoin in 1897. Moreau's enthusiastic and liberal teaching permitted the strong temperaments of the Fauves-to-be, who had become close friends, to develop without restraint. 'I am the bridge', he told them, 'over which some of you will pass.' When he died, his pupils dispersed, Matisse, who already had considerable authority over his comrades, spent a year in Toulouse and in Corsica, and brought back from these two places, in 1899, a series of small landscapes violently sketched in pure tones with a Pointillist technique. On his return to Paris he rented a studio at No. 9 Quai SaintMichel, in the same building as his close friend Marquet, and stayed there until 1907 -- that is to say, for the whole period of Fauvism. He painted figures in pure blue, still lifes radiant with scarlet and orange, with the same audacious treatment as his Southern landscapes. In his researches he was closely followed by Marquet and, though more warily, by Manguin and Camoin. In 1899, at the Académie Carrière, he met Jean Puy, Laprade, Chabaud and Derain. Over all of them, and Derain in particular, he exercised a strong influence. He exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants in 1901, together with Marquet. 'We were the only two painters to express ourselves in pure tones', Marquet later said, adding: 'Already in 1898 Matisse and I were working in what was to be called the Fauve manner.' Derain and the self-taught Vlaminck, who shared a studio at Chatou, outside Paris, tried similar experiments, in an even more violent manner. it was at the first Salon des Indépendants, in 1901, in the midst of the famous Van Gogh retrospective, that Derain introduced his friend Vlaminck to Matisse. The years 18991901 marked, therefore, the first Fauve 'push', one part of it led by Matisse and Marquet, under the structural influence of Cézanne, the other by Vlaminck and Derain, under the Expressionist influence of Van Gogh. This period was different from the period of happy, free expansion, between 1905 and 1907 dominated by the decorative influence of Gauguin.
In 1902-1903Matisse and Marquet painted interiors and views of Paris, going back to the sombre workmanship of the early Manets. Derain went on military service, and Vlaminck, on his own, surrendered himself to his passion for colour. A small gallery run by Berthe Weil gave some preliminary exhibitions of the works of the future Fauves from 1902 to 1904: Matisse, Marquet, Manguin, Flandrin, Camoin; then the childhood friends from Havre, Friesz and Dufy; and, later, Van Dongen, a Montmartre bohemian of Dutch origin. They exhibited again as a group at the Salon des Indépendants of 1903 ( Matisse, Marquet, Puy, Manguin, Camoin, Friesz and Dufy), still without attracting public attention. Matisse had his first one-man show in the shop of the art dealer Ambroise Vollard, in June 1904, and spent the rest of the summer at Saint-Tropez, on the Riviera, painting in the company of Signac and, particularly, Cross, whose Pointillist technique he adopted, intensifying its force and luminosity. At the Salon d'Automne he showed thirteen pictures done in this manner, which were a revelation to Friesz. In the Salon des Indépendants of 1905, where Matisse exhibited his Luxe, Calme et Volupté, it was Dufy's turn to experience a decisive shock when he saw 'this miracle of the imagination at play in drawing and in colour'. He and Friesz abandoned Impressionism, the tradition in which they were trained, to follow the 'pictorial mechanics' of Matisse. Derain came back from military service, and there were some very active exchanges between Matisse and the reconstituted Chatou group, who manipulated colours like 'sticks of dynamite'. During the summer Derain joined Matisse at Collioure, and from the stimulating contact between these two lucid and lively natures there, beneath the brilliant southern skies, the first real Fauvist canvases were born. They were to create a sensation at the historic Salon d'Automne of 1905, together with those of Marquet, Manguin, Puy, Valtat, Vlaminck, Friesz and Rouault, the latter exhibiting with his friends but remaining on the frigne of the movement with his sombre colours and moral passion. The year 1905 also saw the formation of a parallel movement in Germany, the Brücke, which, however, soon turned to Expressionism.
The Salon des Indépendants of 1906, in which Braque (the last of the three men from Havre to be won over) participated, and the Salon retrospective), when Van Dongen came to complete the group, mark the peak of Fauvism. Its principles can be summed up in a few words: uniformity of light, space-construction by colour, illumination of the flat surface without illusionist modelling or chiaroscuro, purity and simplification of means, absolute correspondence between expression (emotive suggestion) and decoration (internal organization) by composition. 'Composition', said Matisse, 'is the art of arranging in a decorative manner the diverse elements through which the painter expresses his feelings.' Form and content coincide, and are modified by mutual reaction, for 'expression comes from the coloured surface which the observer takes in as a whole'. In short, it is dynamic sensualism ('the shock to the senses of what the eye beholds') disciplined by synthesis ('condensation of sensations'), and subject to the economy of the picture ('whatever is useless is consequently harmful'). This unity of transposition distinguishes the Fauves from their immediate successors, who superimposed colour on a conventional framework, and from the Expressionists with their illustrative tendency. No doubt such a balance between order an passion, fire and restraint, could not be maintained at such a high level for long. At the end of 1907 the collective paroxysm of Fauvism had already given way to incipient Cubism, which Matisse and Derain, as well as Braque, helped to create. Each went his own way; some, misunderstanding the message of Cézanne, went back to a sort of neo-classicism, while Matisse alone (perhaps Dufy too, though in a different mood) kept to the end the eternal youth of Fauvism. but for all of them this heroic exaltation remained, to quote Derain, the 'trial by fire' which has purified painting, and revealed the best in themselves to a number of highly gifted temperaments.