In spite of Fauvism’s short lifespan (1905-1907), France’s early avant-garde movement made quite a splash upon the grand history of Art – both literally in terms of its unhinged splattered tones, as well as through its strong later influence upon painters such as Henri Matisse. So called after a comment by journalist Louis Vauxcelles, whom compared the vigorous brushwork and pastel liberation of the group to ‘fauves’ (wild beasts), the genre is wild, lawless and invigorating. A style in which its painting avidly avoids anything in the way of content or message, rather far happier to cover over traditional artistic reference with luminous bands of unorthodox colour.
Personally guided to writing this piece more through an interest in the movement itself rather than an individual stylist, I found Raoul Dufy to be the most interesting of the twenty or so loosely connected Fauvist artists. His painting oddly childish, yet captivatingly different.
‘The Three Umbrellas’ – Raoul Dufy (1906)
The backs of three women look out from below their eponymous umbrellas, but the focus here seems to more on what we see than what they do. Meaning for the most part is unimportant here, Fauvism more about the force conveyed through its unique colouring, than the narrative to which it coyly suggests.
The umbrellas themselves then are starting gaze points for the viewer, signals which through their semi-abstract swirls point to a symphony of instability within Dufy’s painting. Against the right hand road of the piece we see more umbrellas shilouetted off to the canvas edge, along with a further duo in black across the way on the bridge, the two owners staring back towards our own direction.
Now whilst many praise Fauvism for its celebratory nature, I’ve always enjoyed tangling with it as more of a form of hallucinatory representation. Spirals and abstract palette choice apart, its own sense of distance is what I find so distorting. At the front of the piece for example there is some clarity, the three women fairly recognisable in their postures; down below them however figures grow stretched and odd amidst the mottled brushwork, with the aforementioned couple of the bridge facing the same fate. Positioned at the back then in such reassuring warmth then, it’s odd to see the buildings painted in such brilliance of skill. Their own representations, dare I say it, actually looking like as they actually are.
‘Venice’ – Raoul Dufy
Life doesn’t look like this. Whilst Dufy doesn’t dispense as readily with familiar colouring as is other work, there is still a cartoonish playful quality about every brush and shade. The trees for example appear in praise, there arms guided upwards by the leaves twiddling amidst themselves. The clouds too are nothing more than squiggles amid a well composed sky, which compared to Alfred Sisley (an earlier article featured) seem almost unimaginable. But, this blog isn’t about comparison. Neither is Art for that matter, it’s about movement and self-expression, the ability to disregard foreknowledge in favour of individual worth.
Which is why I really like the painting, I like the exuberance and wily tone. Everything seems brushed up against invisible curves, divided to make quick motion. At the back we have a rabble of residences all crammed staring onto each other, whilst amidst the front, trees gather in joy with armpit hair leaves.This clever juxtaposition allows a breath to be taken, both for the unique manor of portrayal Dufy uses, as well as the difference between town and city.