Documenting the fleeting power of Matisse’s movement

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Documenting the fleeting power of Matisse’s movement

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In the course of western art history, there might be no movement that was as powerful and as brief as fauvism.
Fauvism lasted only five years, from 1904 to 1908, but it exerted tremendous influence on succeding generations of artists.
The term fauvism, which literally means “wild beasts” in French, was first coined by a Parisian art critic named Louis Vauxcelles. The nickname was given to a group of painters led by Henri Matisse in a review of the 1905 show at the Salon d’Automne, titled “Donatello au milieu des fauves!” or “Donatello among the wild beasts!” It referred to a room in the salon in which a Grecian statue by Albert Marquet was surrounded by paintings by Matisse and other fauvists, such as Derain and Braque.
“Matisse and the Fauves: Color of the Century,” which begins tomorrow at the Seoul Museum of Art, focuses on the first art movement in the 20th century and its subsequent palette revolution throughout much of Europe. Some of the movement’s pioneers from the Salon d’Automne are also on display.
The public response to the d’Automne exhibit in 1905 was one of pure astonishment, mainly because it pursued a new style opposed to traditional art and based on realism.
In the center of the movement, of course, was Mattisse, who developed a new style of art using simple colors and paper cutouts dyed in gouache, inspired largely from his trip to the Mediterranean, or the “land of light.”
The use of bold color was a unifying element among the Fauves. The basic idea of fauvism, though, was mainly characterized by the works’ expressionistic style, based on the distortion of forms and exuberant colors applied onto a canvas. The movement essentially took back the basic principles originally derived from Impressionism, stretching the idea into Cubism.
Indeed, after 1908, when Matisse continued to explore its possibilities, the remaining fauvists immediately moved on to Cubism.
To celebrate a centennial anniversary of the birth of fauvism, many exhibits of the Fauves have been or are being held this year in and outside of southern France, the birthplace of Fauvism and Matisse’s hometown.
One of these is the Seoul exhibit, which gathers 120 works from 23 European museums. Its theme, which focuses on fauvinists who sought to define space by the movement of color, was mostly motivated by “Eclat du Fauvisme” in the Saint Tropez Museum ― one of the main exhibits of the Fauves earlier this year.
The exhibit at the Seoul Museum of Art begins with Matisse’s works, including his “Paysage Corse” (Landscape of Corsica) and “Oceanie, la Mer.” It also has prints, sketches and paintings by Maurice de Vlaminck, Kees Van Dongen and Raoul Dufy, who were some of Matisse’s closest artist friends and who exhibited their works at Salon d’Automne in 1905.
Perhaps the stylistic challenge the Fauvinists made is best described by Matisse, who once said, “I would like to create art so that people will think ‘this is easy to draw’.”


by Park Soo-mee

“Matisse and the Fauves: Color of the Century” runs through March 5 at the Seoul Museum of Art. Tickets are 10,000 won ($9) for adults. For more information, call (02) 2124-8800.
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