The works of the Fauve, or `Wild Beast', artists, produced between 1904-08, still divide the attitudes of the general public because of its eccentric colouring. One contemporary critic encapsulated this by writing that their work represented a "pot of paint....thrown in the face of the public".
In 1990-91, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art organised an exhibition to celebrate one aspect of Fauve painting, "The Fauve Landscape: Matisse, Derain, Braque and Their Circle, 1904-1908", that also visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art and, with a smaller number of works, the Royal Academy of Arts. As mentioned in the Foreword, and first essay, it was the largest exhibition ever mounted on the subject and it reflected a period of intense artistic activity, "a final immersion in colour before the early 20th century fascination with form - manifested by Cubism - dominated all other interests of the avant-garde".
After a Foreword by Earl A. Powell, Director of the organizing museum, this book offers 6 essays: "Surveying the Terrain: The Fauves and the Landscape", by Judi Freeman, which is extensively sourced from little-known correspondence in private French collections; "New Lessons from the School at Chatou: Derain and Vlaminck in the Paris Suburbs", John Klein; "Painters and Tourists: Matisse sand Derain on the Mediterranean Shore", James D. Herbert; "Far from the Earth of France: The Fauves Abroad", Freeman; "The Distant Cousins in Normandy: Braque, Dufy and Friesz", Alvin Martin and Freeman, and "Fauves in the Landscape of Criticism: Metaphor and Scandal at the Salon", Roger Benjamin. Given the size of the exhibition, there are 345 plates of various sizes 210 illustrated in colour, contemporary photographs and postcards, it is sensible for the exhibited works to be grouped within the above essays. In addition to the artists mentioned in the essay titles, works by Charles Camoin, Kees van Dongen, Henri Manguin, Albert Marquet and Louis Valtat are included, whist Jean Puy is also mentioned in the Biographies section - it is a pity that room could not be found for even one of his works.
It was Puy's brother, Michel, who in late 1907 wrote the first article that was unequivocally supportive of Fauvism and described their debt owed to Cezanne and Gauguin. This led to greater artistic and public recognition for members of the group, that was translated into commercial success, although only within the rather specialised and largely non-French art market.
In 1907, the Fauves effectively disbanded and went their separate ways, so that a year later many of them could be described `former-Fauves'. By late 1908, a much larger and more influential group emerged that would influence all of the Fauve painters except Matisse - Cubism, formulated by Braque and Picasso.
There are Biographies of the artists in the exhibition, supported by photographs, and an Exhibition Checklist, a very comprehensive "Documentary Chronology", from the beginning of 1904 until the end of 1908, compiled by Freeman and profusely illustrated, Selected Bibliography, List of Lenders to the Exhibition and an Index. The cover illustration is a detail from "l'Estaque, Route tournante", painted in 1906 by Derain.
The Fauves, who were linked more by friendship than any other coherent aesthetic programme, shared a preference for high-keyed colour and simplified forms. The landscapes exhibited include views of the sea, rivers, towns and cities that may include figures or not. In many cases, Fauve painters painted the same motifs so that one can compare the works of different artists painting the same scene over the same period. Given the climatic and weather conditions of the UK, it is surprising that there are so many colourful scenes of the river, the bridges and the architecture in London. However, there is no evidence to suggest that the British artistic establishment and collectors had a different opinion to the work of the Fauves than their French contemporaries.
At one level this is a necessity for lovers of art of this period since the works are unlikely to come together again. The essays are characterised by very straightforward language and by up-to-date and comprehensive scholarship and so it is easy to recommend this book to all interested in the rapidly-changing artistic scene in Paris at the beginning of the 20th century.