Fauvism is the name applied to the work produced by a group of artists (which included Henri Matisse and André Derain) from around 1905 to 1910, which is characterised by strong colours and fierce brushwork


The name les fauves (‘the wild beasts’) was coined by the critic Louis Vauxcelles when he saw the work of Henri Matisse and André Derain in an exhibition, the salon d’automne in Paris, in 1905. The paintings Derain and Matisse exhibited were the result of a summer spent working together in Collioure in the South of France and were made using bold, non-naturalistic colours (often applied directly from the tube), and wild loose dabs of paint. The forms of the subjects were also simplified making their work appear quite abstract.

Other like-minded artists associated with the fauvism included Georges Braque, Raoul Dufy, Georges Rouault, and Maurice de Vlaminck.

Fauvism and colour theory

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  • André Derain, 'Henri Matisse' 1905
    André Derain
    Henri Matisse 1905
    Oil on canvas
    support: 460 x 349 mm
    frame: 710 x 595 x 112 mm
    Purchased 1958© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2002
  • Henri Matisse, 'André Derain' 1905
    Henri Matisse
    André Derain 1905
    Oil on canvas
    support: 394 x 289 mm
    frame: 550 x 471 x 75 mm
    Purchased with assistance from the Knapping Fund, the Art Fund and the Contemporary Art Society and private subscribers 1954© Succession Henri Matisse/DACS 2002

The fauvists were interested in the scientific colour theories developed in the nineteenth century – particularly those relating to complementary colours. Complementary colours are pairs of colours appear opposite each other on scientific models such as the colour wheel, and when used side-by-side in a painting make each other look brighter.

What inspired fauvism? (And what happened to it?)

Fauvism can be seen as an extreme extension of the post-impressionism of Van Gogh combined with the neo-impressionism of Seurat. The influences of these earlier movements inspired Matisee and his followers to reject traditional three-dimensional space and instead use flat areas or patches of colour to create a new pictorial space. Fauvism can also be seen as a form of expressionism in its use of brilliant colors and spontaneous brushwork. It has often been compared to German expressionism, which emerged at around the same time and was also inspired by the developments of post-impressionism.

Although one of the first avant-garde modernist movements of the twentieth century and one of the first styles to make a move towards abstraction, for many of the artists who adopted a fauvist approach it became a transitional stepping stone for future developments in their style. By 1908 most of the main artists in the group had moved away from the expressive emotionalism of fauvism. A renewed interest in post-impressionist artist Paul Cézanne and the analytical approach he took to painting landscapes, people and objects inspired many artists to embrace order and structure instead. One–time fauvist Georges Braque went on to develop cubism along with Pablo Picasso while one of fauvism’s founders André Derain adopted a more conventional neoclassical style. Henri Matisse however continued to use the distinctive fauvist traits of bright emotive colours, simple shapes and painterly mark-making throughout his career.

Further reading

How to spin the colour wheel
Find out more about colour theory and how artists through the ages – including the fauvists – have used it

Fauvists in focus

Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs
Matisse’s early use of bright colours, simplified shapes and expressive marks as seen in his fauvist works, was something he pursued throughout his career. This Tate Modern exhibition explores his cutouts, collaged colour paper pictures made towards the end of his life.

Find out about the man behind the bright colours and simple shapes in these TateShots videos:

Matisse biographer Hilary Spurling provides some fascinating insights into the artist and how his experiences informed his art.

Françoise Gilot, who was Picasso’s lover, discusses her friendship with Matisse and his ‘desire for finding the strongest and most simple way of expressing form and character.’

Thomas Demand on Matisse
Artist Thomas Demand describes what it is about Matisse that he finds so inspiring, in this Tate Etc. article.

The sound of Matisse playlist
The rhythms of Matisse’s work are musically interpreted for us by Alan Scholefield, who finds ‘a score of sorts for the dance of Matisse’s ‘carving into colour ’, with Honest Jon’s Records.

André Derain

André Derain, 'The Pool of London' 1906
André Derain
The Pool of London 1906
Oil on canvas
support: 657 x 991 mm
frame: 794 x 1130 x 76 mm
Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1951© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2002

André Derain: The Pool of London Work of the Week
Find out how the bustle of the River Thames inspired Derain’s fauvist work Pool of London, painted while the artist was on a trip to London in 1906.

André Derain in Tate’s collection
See artworks by the artist

Tate Worlds: The Pool of London
Step out of the art gallery and embark on an adventure of a different kind. Tate has teamed up with some of Minecraft’s best known mapmakers to create this virtual environment based on Derain’s painting The Pool of London, offering a unique combination of art, history and adventure.

Related glossary terms

Post-impressionism, cubism, expressionism, complementary colours, brushwork