I acquired Fauvism by Denis Mathews over 34 years ago as an unwanted donation to the Central Library, back when it was on 110 Dundas Street West, so this short book has seen three different homes before I decided to read it. It is a small hardcover, with dust jacket, published in 1957. After an introductory essay on Fauvism, the author included 24 colour images of Fauvist works with a paragraph about each.

In grade thirteen I took an art class, and part of the curriculum covered art history, where we learned about the Fauve movement. I loved the vibrant splashes of colour in Fauve paintings, and I reproduce some of the most important parts of the essay below:

“Youth was as much one of their characteristics as was the brilliant colour of their paintings. Ultramarine, Emerald, Vermillion and Madder, all the brightest colours, flashed from their canvases: oil paint straight from the tube, which shone with the brilliance of mosaic glass. Their aim, in fact, was a transmutation of the natural scene into terms of colour, not light and shade. They wanted to create a new reality which would live within the picture frame and convey the painter’s zest for the world with an array of colour unburdened by the representation of shadow or highlight.”

“[T]he pictures of this period are painted with the verve and confidence of youth and a complete abandonment to passionate feeling, to the naturalistic world or to the beholder. The sensuous exultation in life which makes these paintings so attractive is perhaps their peculiar characteristic–and it offers no excuses or explanations.”

“The Fauve painters indulged their intuitive sense to the full. Indeed they were ‘wild’–not just in the handling of their pigment, or the abandon with which they slapped the paint on the canvas, but wild with the exultation of what they were making and what they were seeing and experiencing of the world around them. They were uninhibited by conventions which begin by stipulating a series of rules for picture-making. They looked, felt, and painted, and the pictures produced took on an animation of their own.”

Of the 24 paintings discussed, my favourite was Paddock by Raoul Dufy (below). The social scene is populated with figures whose outlines are blurred with colour swatches, such that the single solid colours escape the lines and bleed onto the grass. Warhol would do this with his silk screens yet Dufy’s work reminded me more of comic strips whose colour was offset by a wonky printer. The cover painting, by the way, is Christ Mocked by the Soldiers by Georges Rouault.

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