1/12/20 The Wild Beast

Matisse is such a beast…[and not in a good way]. What was he thinking just throwing color around?That’s what a novice does. It’s as if he weren’t trained at all...He’s a savage. He’s a fauve… I don’t like that Matisse art. Those are the sorts of things the public would say about Henri Matisse.

Olive Trees at Collioure, Matisse

But Matisse’s choice of colors didn’t rest on any scientific theory, he said. It is based on observation, on feeling, on the very nature of each experience. If he wanted to paint a sky yellow or the grass blue, he did.

The subject of the painting might be a normal thing, an object, a portrait, a landscape, but his color choice depended on his mood, his interpretation of it that day. 

Marie-José II, Matisse

The viewer almost always felt a disconnect. That is wrong, they tell themselves. That is childish. My two-year-old could do that…or my favorite, A pot of paint has been flung in the face of the public. 

Matisse’s paintings were a shock to the culture as well as the eye. Color was no longer determined by form. It seemed unprofessional, childish. 

But he wanted to evoke a response. He wanted to convey sensation, rather than correct imagery. It also gave his pictures an intensity that might not have been achieved had he used the “right” colors. Matisse used his intuition, not reality to determine his colors. So the colors were always right. 

Pansies, Matisse

As Matisse put it, “When I put a green, it is not grass. When I put a blue, it is not the sky.”

Many liked it, even though the formal art crowd took such offense to it. Matisse joined a group of artists,  André DerainAlbert MarquetMaurice de VlaminckKees van DongenCharles Camoin, and Jean Puy at the  Salon d’Automne of 1905, where art critic,  Louis Vauxcelles dismissed them as fauves, giving them their name.

The Fauves would exhibit as a group at the 1905 Salon d’Automne.  Vauxcelles would describe their show with the phrase “Donatello chez les fauves” (Donatello among the wild beasts).

Fauvism paved the way for Cubism shortly after. You can definitely see the influence. It proved to be an almost equal assault to the eye.

What I take from this history is that not everyone is your audience. You are always going to offend people, but for the hundreds who disparagingly call you a wild beast, there are going to be millions who think you are a genius. In fact, they might even change the meaning of the word “beast.” 


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