Meet the “wild beasts” of the early-20th-century art world.

Henri Matisse and André Derain studied with the same teachers, shared friendships with other artists, traveled together, and sometimes worked in the same studio. Both admired and collected African sculptures—especially Matisse, who traveled to North Africa in 1906—whose aesthetic influence can be seen in each painter’s stylized treatment of the human figure, pictorial flatness, and fragmented shapes and planes. To make their paintings, they applied thick brushstrokes of vibrant colors, often unmixed from commercially produced tubes of paint. These colors did not correspond to the way things appeared in real life. “My choice of colors does not rest on any scientific theory,” said Matisse. “It is based on observation, on feeling, on the very nature of each experience.”1

In 1905 Matisse and Derain exhibited together at the Salon d’Automne (Fall Salon)—an alternative to the state-sponsored juried Salon—and their work caused a scandal. Viewers and critics alike were shocked by their use of bright, non-naturalistic colors in their landscapes and portraits. One art critic went so far as to call the artists “fauves” or “wild beasts,”2 and the label stuck. Since then, the term Fauvism has been applied to work by Matisse, Derain, and a small band of early-20th-century painters who used similarly expressive colors applied in planes and with broad brushstrokes.

To explore more, click on each artwork thumbnail, then click again on the larger image that appears in the box above.

Fichner-Rathnus, Lois. Understanding Art. (Wadsworth: Cengage Learning: 2012), 477.
Elderfeld, John. Matisse in the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1978), 46.

To represent in or make conform to a particular style, especially when highly conventionalized or artistic rather than naturalistic.

One who applies paint to canvas, wood, paper, or another support to produce a picture.

A three-dimensional work of art made by a variety of means, including carving wood, chiseling stone, casting or welding metal, molding clay or wax, or assembling materials.

A flat or level surface.

A work of art made from paint applied to canvas, wood, paper, or another support (noun).

Faithful adherence to nature; factual or realistic representation.

A representation of a human or animal form in a work of art.

A combination of pigment, binder, and solvent (noun); the act of producing a picture using paint (verb, gerund).

The form or condition in which an object exists or appears.

A representation of a particular individual, usually intended to capture their likeness or personality.

The natural landforms of a region; also, an image that has natural scenery as its primary focus.

The perceived hue of an object, produced by the manner in which it reflects or emits light into the eye. Also, a substance, such as a dye, pigment, or paint, that imparts a hue.

Relating to or characterized by a concern with beauty or good taste (adjective); a particular taste or approach to the visual qualities of an object (noun).

Related Artists: André Derain, Henri Matisse

Questions & Activities

  1. Wild Words

    Research. Explore connections with writers who were active at this time, for example, Henryk Sienkiewicz, Gertrude Stein, Mark Twain, Arthur Conan Doyle, Edith Wharton, and W.E.B. Du Bois. Can you see how their work might have influenced the Fauves?

    Compare. Choose a passage from one of these writers to pair with one of these works of art.