Culture and Recreation

Fine Art

Why were Matisse’s paintings considered so shocking when they were debuted?

Even if they seem commonplace to art today, the color and style of the paintings of French expressionist Henri Matisse (1869–1954) were revolutionary in their day.

In 1905 Matisse, along with several other artists, exhibited works at Paris’s Salon d’Automne. The wildly colorful paintings on display there are said to have prompted an art critic to exclaim that they were fauves, or “wild beasts.” The name stuck: Matisse and his contemporaries who were using brilliant colors in an arbitrary fashion became known as the fauves. His famous work Madame Matisse, or Green Stripe (1905), showed his wife with blue hair and a green stripe running down the middle of her face, which was colored pink on one side of her nose and yellow on the other. Matisse was at the forefront of a movement that was building new artistic values. The fauves were not using color in a scientific manner (as Georges Seurat had done), nor were they using it in the nondescriptive manner of Paul Gaugin (1848–1903) and Vincent Van Gogh (1853–1890). The fauves were developing the concept of abstraction.

Throughout his career, Matisse continued to experiment with various art forms—painting, paper cutouts, and sculptures. All of his works indicate a progressive elimination of detail and simplification of line and color. So influential was his style on modern art that some 70 years later one art critic commented that it was as if Matisse belonged to a later generation—and a different world.


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