Showing posts with label fauves. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fauves. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


I've blogged before about the mysterious and aggressive quality of color, especially when it's relatively unrestrained as it is in the Nolde picture above. Lots of people wouldn't agree with that. For them color is sentimental and comforting. I envy them. My own innocence about color has been shattered by the discoveries of a painter named Emil Nolde (1867 - 1956) who's the subject of this post.

Nolde couldn't draw people. Maybe that's a good thing because his difficulties with line may have been what led him to concentrate entirely on color.

Nolde's early paintings (above) were influenced by Van Gogh. 

Later he shows the influence of Gauguin and the Nabis.

He was even influenced by Matisse. Here (above) he takes what I call the the bold, aggressive quality of color and successfully harnesses it to decoration as Matisse did. The public liked what he was doing and he might have profitably painted this way for years to come, but around this time he seems to have become interested in color for its own sake. He became obsessed with the idea that color had a life of its own which was suffocated by line.

 Nolde wasn't the only artist to dream of liberating color. Fauves like Vlaminck and Derain (that's a Derain, above) attempted it but they confined color with line and that had the effect of taming it down.

Kandinsky (above) did the same. Even in his abstract pictures he was usually afraid to remove the lines.

Bonnard got rid of the lines but still didn't liberate the color. He just confined it a different way, in this case by muting it with white. It's as if all the painters I've mentioned wanted to open the cage door to give color its freedom, but once it was on the outside they insisted on walking it on a tight leash.

Not so Nolde. He opened the door and let the tiger escape. He allowed his color, indescribably brutal and mindful of nothing but its own will to live, to leap out and grab the viewer by the jugular.

Look at this landscape (above). The liberated red comes off as a predatory beast roaming the landscape and looking for victims. I don't know about you, but I hear the strident parts of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" when I look at it.

 Nolde painted almost exclusively in watercolor during the WWII years, and therein lies a story.

According to Wikipedia, Nolde became a passionate Nazi while he was still living in Denmark in the 20s. His work became very well known and even caught the attention of Goebbels who was a fan of Expressionism and who arranged for Nolde to work on an infamous anti-semitic film. It must have seemed to Nolde that he had it made, but fate had something else in store for him.

It turns out that Hitler loathed Expressionism and he gave Nolde pride of place in his Degenerate Art show. Goebbels, being the toady that he was, not only dropped Nolde like a hot potato but claimed to have discovered that the artist had a Jewish ancestor. Nolde was given a rifle and shipped off to the army where he painted watercolors in secret. He was forbidden to work in oils.

So Nolde was not what you'd call a nice guy, and his pictures have a very disturbing, neurotic quality to them. Even so, you have to credit the man with liberating color in a way that nobody else had. It's impossible to imagine DeKooning or Hoffman or many of the Abstract Expressionists or even Mary Blair without reference to Nolde. What can I say? Nature distributes its gifts in ways not understandable by man.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


Most of the cartoonists who visit here hate the Fauves. Me, I love them. Here's (above) a 1906 Derain showing the Thames near Charing Cross bridge in London. His color seems to have poured down into the water, caught fire, then was guided toward the indigo bridge by seething bits of green energy. What's not to like?

It would be a mistake to think of this as some kind of drug-induced LSD vision. Derain uses false colors in order to make us realize that the colors we see every day are just as bizzare. We should see color the way a formerly blind man would see them on his first few minutes of sight. For such a man shadows wouldn't be subordinated to local color, they'd be independent forms. Lines would just be lines, they wouldn't define a shape and colors would battle for dominance. This is the violent, alien world Derain paints for us!

Here (above) is Vlaminck, also 1906. Red leaves on the red trees are no longer content to be decoration. They radiate and burn themselves into the blue sky behind them. Leaves seperate from the trees and gyrate in mid-air. The red and pink path carries this crazy energy to other trees. It's an alien force being unleashed, a force that was there all the time but we never noticed it.

Of course I'm only guessing that this is what Vlaminck had in mind. Artists need to have fantasies about the pictures they paint so they can see their subjects in new and exciting ways, and the same goes for viewers.

Here (above) is Matisse's famous green stripe painting, also 1906 I think. The face is both flat and three-dimensional. The colors in the backdrop refuse to be background and come forward to compete with the foreground. The face plane is stressed and appears to be in danger of splitting.

The green strip painting influenced a lot of painters in Matisse's time and continues to exert an influence today. Here (above) is a Matisse-influenced face by illustrator Phillip Burke. The surface tension is much reduced from the Matisse original but the color is still exciting.

Monday, February 05, 2007


Here they are: Derain's portrait of Vlaminck (above, left) and Vlaminck's portrait of Derain (above, right). They were at the top of their form at the start of the fauve period in, say, 1905 and by 1910 they were passe'. What happened?

Here (above) is a Derain from 1905. it's full of verve and vitality.

Here (above) is a Derain from 1909. It's OK but what a come-down! What happened? Maybe the answer is that he bought a house in the country and fatally removed himself from the influence of his friends in the city. Or maybe he acquired depressing friends out there in the country. He hung out with German friends in this period and maybe they didn't understand color the way the French did.
Here (above) is a Vlaminck from 1905. Minimal shadows, unreal color on the tree trunks, color used to contain's a really wonderfull example of the fauve style.

Here (above) is a Vlaminck from the 1920's. It's OK but the painter clearly wasn't interested in experimenting anymore. What happened? Why the precipitous decline? Historians speculate that he was demoralized by his association with Picasso. Apparently Derain felt old-fashioned in the presence of Picasso's Cubist rebellion and in 1907 he destroyed his fauve paintings when he moved to a new studio. Imagine that; fauvism starts in 1905 and one of the leading practitioners feels passe' by 1907. That's how fast things were changing in those days.
Here are photo portraits of Derain (above) and Vlaminck (below). Neither had to desert fauvism. The movement still had a lot of vitality as we know from Matisse's work. Matisse stood up to Picasso and matched him, innovation for innovation. What a pity that Derain and Vlaminck chose to capitulate rather than fight.