" Sticks and stones will break my bones..." At some point during
our childhood we have all been exposed to this adage that infers, despite the
horrible and offending names that we are called, they will never cause us any
As children, it is difficult to comprehend the wisdom behind this sage advice.
As we mature into adulthood we begin to understand the comfort that is hidden
with in this wise saying. Although we may not appreciate the spitefulness behind
the carelessly flung words we realize that we are left with little recourse.
We can either choose to let these names and their negative connotations
debilitate our ambitions and goals, or we can accept the insult, as did Henri
Matisse, or adapt it in such a way that it becomes a term of endearment.
Henri Matisse (1896-1954), after completing his formal art education at the
Ecole des Beaux, moved to Paris where he and painter Albert Marquet (1875-1947)
established an art studio next to the Seine River. It was during his tenure in
France that he became a student of artist Gustave Moreau, who unlike many
instructors at this time, not only side-lined the traditional academic values,
but encouraged his students to do the same by relying upon their imaginations
instead of imitation when creating their art.
Matisse, in search of a more expressive form of painting, carefully examined the
works of Postimpressionists Paul Gaugin (1848-1903), Vincent van Gogh
(1853-1890) and Georges Seurat (1859-1891). Once he had an understanding of
their applied principles and techniques he decided to throw aside the
traditional methods of three-dimensional space for a more carefree depiction
based on the movement of broad-brush strokes and vibrant color patches.
Fauvism, although an art movement in the sense that Matisse and his friends
Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958) and Andre Derain (1880-1954) all shared the same
ambitions and energies, would never actually become a school. As each of these
artists, along with colleagues Keens van Dongen (1877-1968), Georges Braque
(1882-1963) and Othon Friesz (1879-1949) would eventually separate to pursue
newer movements a more personal style.
Rejecting the soft tone colors of the Impressionists and the dainty stroke
applications of the Neo-Impressionists, the Fauvists were in favor of applying
their bold, untouched colors to their canvases in broad, rough strokes that on
many occasions would distort their subject.
The first of many Avent Garde movements established in twentieth-century art,
the principles of Fauvism permitted the artists the freedom to think outside of
the traditional academic structure. By permitting the artists the luxury of
freethinking they were able to create paintings of interpretations instead of an
imitation of the actual subject matter.
In addition to their new and radical techniques, The Fauvist's disregard of the
traditional principles and methods were a shock to those who came to the 1905
exhibition at the Salon d' Automne (Autumn Salon). It was during this first
exhibition that art critic Louis Vauxcelles had tossed the first "sticks and
Upon seeing many of the Fauvist's paintings displayed around a conventional
sculpture, he allegedly commented that "it was like a Donatello among the wild
beast." In an attempt to discredit the movement, Vauxcelles's comment was then
browbeaten by many other outraged critics to describe the paintings done by the
Despite the negative connotation of the word Fauvism, Matisse and his band of
artisans cheerfully accepted the term of "wild beasts" and continued to shock
the art world with their interpretations through the use of vibrant colors and a
somewhat "clumsy" and spontaneous style.
Even though Matisse and many of his followers had been tinkering with Fauvism
since early 1896 it did not become an officially accepted art movement until the
1905 Autumn Salon exhibition; as the Post Impressionism period was beginning to
By 1908, demands for the works of the somewhat radical style of the Fauvists had
begun to diminish. While many of his friends and colleagues had moved onto more
recent movements, Matisse continued to explore the possibilities of the
Fauvism's principles and methods, but would later find himself pursuing newer
avenues of self-expression.
Fauvism, despite its negative translation and its brief tenure, is today,
recognized as having been influential to both the Cubism and the Modern
Expressionism movement through its principles of disregarding natural forms and
for its love of the energetic, unmixed colors.
Had Matisse and his peers allowed Mr. Vauxcelles remark to destroy their goals
and ambitions it is within the realm of belief that both the Cubism and the
Modern Expressionism movements would have been doomed. Art is a subjective
topic. What pleases the eye of one viewer may cause another to become angry.
Regardless of the opinions of the patrons of the arts it is imperative that
artists maintain the right to express themselves through what ever media and
principles that is best suited to their current cause.
It may be true that "sticks and stones will break our bones." But as we have
seen with the Fauvist's... "names will never hurt us."
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