The Art of the Steal (2009)

THE ART OF THE STEAL (2009)
The Barnes Foundation and Art Collecting

The story of how the world-famous Barnes Collection was moved from its long-time home in Merion, Pennsylvania to downtown Philadelphia is told in tones of indignation as a vast conspiracy of moneyed interests who “stole” the art in the name of the people. This film, The Art of the Steal, has a couple of lessons to teach. First, if you want to convince people of your perspective, present only one side, and second, if you are asked to present your side—the other side—give an account of yourself, otherwise your silence will indict you. I have no doubt the people who fought to keep the Collection in its original site were as well-meaning as they were passionate, but their insistence presences hide the fact that many people was simply not present to defend their perspectives. The absence of many important art world figures, who surely have opinions about this “steal” is notable and is explained away as not wanting to get on the wrong side of the Pew Foundation, presented as one of the thieving parties. Still the silence of art historians and curators who specialize in Modernist art or in Impressionism is strange. Not one Cézanne scholar, not one Matisse specialist, not one specialist from other museums, no authorities who specialize in modern art were presented in this film. This absence is very strange.

As interesting as this film is, it is also profoundly manipulative and uneven and disjointed. The Art of the Steal begins with a statement made by Alfred Barnes himself, stating that his purpose is to “attack” the art establishment. Not that there was much to attack. The Museum of Modern Art was not in existence when the Barnes Foundation was established in 1922. The interest in Modernist art in America was small and confined mostly to a couple of groups in New York City, with Walter and Louise Arensberg and Alfred Stieglitz as the centers. Alfred Barnes was able to amass the huge collection of French art, from Impressionism to Post-Impressionism to Fauvism, because the French didn’t like these movements either. The avant-garde dealers in Paris had learned to depend upon American collections, who, since the days of the Impressionists, had been happy to buy anything “French.” Duncan Phillips, whose home in Washington D. C., is a case in point. Incidentally his art filled home is now a museum, just like the original intent of Barnes and his collection.

But to stick to the point and try to understand why Barnes went on the “attack:” when Barnes showed his collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, he was mercilessly “attacked.” Barnes must have been either naïve or self-destructive to not foresee that the conservatives of a conservative town would not understand his art. Back in Paris, the public was just getting its first glimpse of the collages of Braque and Picasso from the sequestered collection of their dealer, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. The Parisian artists were horrified at the mere sight of revolutionary multi-media work when the collection, including collages, was auctioned off. Even Barnes did not like Cubism, so it is inconceivable that he did not expect an art public that still worshipped Thomas Eakins to reject the Impressionists.

Barnes may have been an insightful collector, but he overdid it in his collecting of Renoir—almost 200 Renoirs and less than a half dozen Monets?—and, as a result, the collection is more a personal response to modern art and less a historical overview. But more of Barnes and art history later. According to the film, he was so distraught over the reception of his collection, he withdrew his art from the ignorant and provincial art world and sequestered it in a carefully constructed private museum. Barnes lacked the courage of his convictions and was not as brave as the artists he collected. His retreat had a cowardly air about it and the atmosphere of being hostile to the public and to the established art world surrounded the collection.

The construction of the Foundation and its disposition in his later wills was built on a foundation of spleen. The entire idea of secreting the art was to keep it from the public. All information about the collection was as controlled as the access. Only those who were willing to be taught by Barnes himself were allowed in. By the time I was in graduate school, Barnes was long dead and the fearsome Violette de Mazia, who guarded the Foundation with the ferocity of a lioness. The inaccessibility of the famous paintings was legendary. One needed special permission, almost impossible to obtain, to study the collection.

Art historians exchanged war stories of their adventures, of trying and failing to see the fabled art. One such urban legend involved two of the most famous people in the world: Alfred Einstein, the physicist, and Erwin Panofsky, a Renaissance scholar. Both men were German refugees at Princeton, but Einstein the scientist, as The Art of the Steal points out, was a friend of Barnes. Panofsky, however, was only a revered art historian and did not count. He begged Einstein to get him inside the Barnes Collection so he could see the art. The only solution Einstein could come up with was to smuggle Panofsky, disguised as his chauffeur, through the gates of the estate. Innocently, Einstein asked Barnes if his “driver” could have lunch in the kitchen while he was waiting for his “boss” to visit the famous collector. Barnes agreed, not knowing he was allowing an art historian to enter his domain. Panofsky sneaked around the rooms, gazed upon the legendary art and then drove Einstein back to Princeton.

The story may be apocryphal but it is indicative of the reputation of “The Barnes,” as the collection was known. The film insists that the goal of the collector was to teach, but, in fact, teachers of art history were not allowed to have color photographs of the art in the collection. There is a legend of an art historian who managed to take a bad color photo of one of the Matisses, possibly Bonheur de Vivre, and smuggled it out of the institution; but the collection could literally not be taught in an art history class. There were no images and no reliable eye witness testimony.

All of that secrecy changed when it was discovered that the building was in bad shape and that the art as suffering from mold and mildew. The Art of the Steal does not mention that the main problem with the art was the non-archival way in which it was displayed—on burlap-covered walls. Much is made of how the collection is shown in a home-like setting, but Barnes did not know how to conserve art. Burlap was used, for example, in Stieglitz’s famous gallery, 291, where the burlap hung as curtains below the painting rail, not where the art was hung. Take an old house, a damp climate, and moist walls covered with a fabric that collected all kinds of bacteria and mold, now combine those conditions with paintings on canvas pressed against the burlap and you have a perfect recipe for disaster.

The paintings were in actual danger until The National Gallery in Washington, D. C. restored them. In return, the Gallery was the first place to exhibit selected paintings from the Collection so that the broader public could see them. Excitement in the art history world was great. In the summer of 1992 the Chicago Tribune announced that the Barnes Collection was “freed.” At last the famous paintings could be seen! And in color! I was in awe of Bonheur de Vivre—-those wonderful pinks and yellows. I must confess that a friend of mine, now deceased, who worked at the Gallery, sent me a color slide taken directly off the actual painting. He was not supposed to slip me the extra copy and I was not supposed to receive somewhat stolen goods. But I was then and probably still am the only person on the West Coast with such a possession. There is a great deal to be said of a pristine collection that has not been handled, for the restored art that I saw at the National Gallery exhibition was in perfect condition. But the art was not shown in the way that Barnes had designed his installation.

The Art of the Steal implied that the new building in Philadelphia will recreate the original design of how Barnes hung the paintings, salon style. The concept that ruled the installation is problematic today: Barnes dispersed African masks and Native American blankets among the Modernist paintings to point to the connections between tribal art and modern art. Today we would called this arrangement colonialism or eurocentricism. Although in 1905, artists thought nothing of appropriating tribal art (they called it “primitive” art) as the inspiration for their own work, today such acts are considered politically suspect, or, as Robert Hughes called it, “cultural imperialism.” In making the tribal connection, Barnes was certainly correct, for certain artists, such as Matisse and Modigliani, who were directly inspired by tribal artifacts; but the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists knew nothing of African art.

Ever since the Primitivism and Modern Art exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1984, the formalist comparison between modern and tribal art has been discredited. Today we flinch at the term “primitivism.” Certainly European artists at the beginning of the 20th century used African art to infuse modernist painting and sculpture with something new and “exotic,” but for a contemporary museum to be complicit with cultural requisitioning, unless the historical context is fully explained, is unthinkable today. The question of whether or not the colonialist approach as followed by Barnes for the installation of his art will be replicated remains a question.

The film does not discuss the link between the collection and African art, even though the fact that Barnes left his collection to a black university–Lincoln University–is staring them in the face. Also passed over rather lightly is the fact that a group of rich white people stand accused of stealing a valuable ($25 billion and counting) art collection, which was whisked away from poor black people who were too ignorant to know what they owned. Complicating matters are the black men who were complicit in transferring the property of Lincoln University—the Barnes Collection—over to the city of Philadelphia. No one seemed to feel any ethical qualms of violating the terms of a will or show any particular interest in helping the now-impoverished school.

In the art world, Richard Glanton was a well-known villain, not because he managed to pry the paintings from the dubious burlap walls of the Foundation, but because he mismanaged the money and left the Foundation in apparently dire straits. Whatever money the Foundation made from the tours of the Collection, the profit was apparently handed over to lawyers who had to defend “The Barnes” from neighbors who were rightfully resentful of the steady stream of art lovers coming to pay homage to the paintings. As anyone who watched the battle between another private museum, The Getty, and another powerful and wealthy public community, Brentwood, can tell you, the museum will lose. The Art of the Steal interviews some of the Merion-dwellers, who wisely told their side of the story, and it is clear that these were people with deep pockets. When the neighbors eventually relented, it was too late and Glanton had put the Foundation in a vulnerable place, ripe for the picking.

Despite the rear-guard and last minute efforts of the last of the die-hard supporters of the wishes of Alfred Barnes, the Collection will be housed in a new building and will be open to the public in 2012. Barnes set up his Foundation nearly one hundred years ago, when it may have made sense to try to teach a ignorant public about modern art, albeit in small and exclusionary groups. But one hundred years later, the public loves Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Matisse, et al. One can imagine that the mean old man would be delighted that so many people love his art so much. He would say, “I told you so.” He would have the last laugh. Much of made of how his will was slowly dismantled and written off, but the times that inspired the writing of such a mean-spirited document are in the past.

In its own time the Barnes Collection was an anachronism, an enlarged version of the secret cabinet of a Renaissance prince, who opened the doors only to the select few. Presumably, the French Revolution ended the private and exclusive nature of art and museums became public. Salon exhibitions were open to the people. Artists learned to take public criticism and to enjoy public adulation. We came to believe that art was for the public; that culture belonged to the people. While The Art of the Steal exposed political chicanery and suggested collusion between political power and money, but we learned nothing new, expect that Barnes made his money from a cure for venereal disease and that these profits, well-deserved, no doubt, were used to buy art. Art, power and money have always been cultural triplets. At least the politicians and the power mongers are giving the art to the public, or should I say, they have “stolen” the art only to give it away…to us. Thank you. I am planning my trip to Philadelphia.

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The “Primitivism” of the Fauves

The Question of “Primitivism” and the Fauves

Today, “primitivism” is considered a derogatory term, connoting the Twentieth Century Western attitude towards the presumed “inferiority” of non-Western art. “Primitivism” refers to the abiding belief that non-Western cultures and peoples of color were, by definition, “primitive” and uncivilized and in need of the civilizing influences of European powers. “Primitivism” has become equated with imperialism and colonialism and the exploitation of the Other by the West. A more polite term has replaced primitivism: “Tribal Art,” indicating an indigenous art by non-Western people. However, it is important to note two little discussed facts: first, that the so-called “native” art came from colonized peoples and second, this art was often made expressly for the tourist trade and/or had been altered by Western influences. The tribal art so admired by Parisian artists was likely to be both “African” and inauthentic. By the beginning of the Twentieth Century, fully eighty-five percent of the world was dominated by a tiny group of European nations.

Art critic, Robert Hughes, called the aesthetic pillaging of non-Western art by Western artists “cultural imperialism”—an apt phrase, given that the artistic looting was paralleled by wholesale colonization of the globe. The artists were riveted by the freedom with which the African artists treated the human body. Instead of an anatomically idealized Classical ideal, the African body was not perceptual but conceptual or symbolic in form. The huge mask like faces, the generalized bodies and the stunted arms and legs suggested anything but beauty and beauty and art had long been co-dependent in Western art. The idea that the body could be stylistically and expressively deformed and that the face could be grotesque and morphologically transformed inspired artists in Paris to re-conceptualize the human form.

The early writings on “primitivism,” such as Primitivism and Modern Art (1938) by Robert Goldwater, equated non-Western art with the art making of “undeveloped” people, such as children. But Goldwater valiantly attempted to point out that this equation was made by the art world of pre-War Paris and that the art of Africans was sophisticated and beautifully crafted. “Primitivism” was, instead, a state of mind or a mindset on the part of certain artists, looking for new ideas. African art was “discovered” in Paris around 1904 by the Fauve artists, notably André Derain, and by Pablo Picasso. The sources and sightings included the Musée de l’Homme and artifacts purchased by travelers. Henri Matisse purchased some examples of African tribal art, and the inspiration of these objects appears in his Green Stripe with his wife’s mask-like face. The interest in tribal art caused these artists to shift their attention from the bright colors of Fauvism to the “darker” aspects of the “primitive.” Derain painted a series of clumsy nudes, Bathers, lumbering through a dark jungle and Matisse painted a subdued Blue Nude by 1907. It is highly unlikely that any of these artists knew or cared about the original (and probably lost) meanings of the tribal works or about how the art might have functioned in tribal societies. Fauve “primitivism” consisted of seizing upon new ideas and absorbing the concepts and adapting the tribal for the avant-garde.

As the book, Primitivism, cubism, abstraction: The Early Twentieth Century, put it,

The appeal of African and Oceanic objects for the Fauves as rooted in those same interests and assumptions, which underpinned the appeal of Gauguin’s work for the group. They signified the exotic or the ‘primitive’ redefined according to a Western avant-garde artistic code. Moreover, the absence of an accessible iconography or history to these objects allowed them to be easily absorbed into a modern artistic culture.

In their own time, the Fauves inherited the Nineteenth Century’s fear of anarchism and political chaos and were called barbarians (or wild beasts), indicating a baleful anti-authoritarian attitude. The Fauves may have been seeking new artistic ideas but they had no intention of overthrowing any governments. To the establishment mind, any feints, no matter how remote, against the prevailing powers, was a threat and had to be countered with cries of childishness, youthfulness, and dangerous waywardness. The possible Dionysian attitudes of the Fauves and their rollicking colors seemed quite possible compared to the regal and serene murals of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, painted in cool cerebral colors. But the Fauves were more interested in stripping modern art of tradition and in finding new ways to draw and new reasons to paint than in importing tribal art into their art world. What drew them to African art was the powerful urge to withdraw from an over industrialized landscape into something more simple, hence “primitive,” and primal: the lost atavistic golden age.

The “Primitivism” of the Fauves could be found in their choice of subjects—the nudes bathing in landscape with a new treatment of the human body. Compared to Emile Bernard’s painting of nudes in a landscape in 1097 in which the artist expressly contrasted the women to nature, the Fauve nude is part of landscape and is co-extensive with nature. The nude and the landscape are drawn and colored and painted without hierarchy, with equality. There is no humanistic center, only a reduction of the painting to a mood. There is no unified action and there is no exterior determinant or reason for the picture to exits other that the figures that fill the frame. The forms are psychologically unrelated to each other and the figures are rendered unimportant by the random cutting of the edges by Derain and Vlaminck. In the fantasy world of Matisse, nudity accepted as being a signifier of harmony between humans and bucolic nature in a pastoral landscape.

The Fauve artists simplified their lines, often leaving them unfinished or forgotten about, as if a child had been distracted by another task. Also child-like (in the sense that Friedrich Schiller meant it) is the use of large areas of pure and undifferentiated color, floating unanchored by perspective. In addition to their appreciation of children’s art and the naïve art of Henri Rousseau, the Fauves were not concerned about the traditional subtleties of drawing and attempted to find simplicity (primitivism). The artists wanted to communicate directly with the spectator by replacing the world of objects with basic human emotions (considered “primitive” by authoritarian regimes). Some of the more immature artists, such as Vlaminck were dependent upon violent effects of color and upon the sensationalism of deliberate dissonance, but Fauvism sought merely a return and renewal of a more direct way of living and of self-expression. The “primitivism” of Fauvism was a means to an end, not the end itself.

In fact, the Fauve turn towards the “primitive” was brief, a mere glitch on the way to the end of the movement. The same was true of Picasso who used “primitivism”—Iberian and African influences—to start but never finish Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) on the way to Cubism. The whole concept of “primitivism” and the influence of tribal art on Modern Art was revived after the two world wars and was reordered as a kind of formal affinity. The last gasp of “affinity” was the 1984 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, “Primitivism” in Twentieth Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern,” curated by William Rubin. Rubin came under a barrage of criticism by a younger generation of art critics, such as Thomas McEvilley, for equating modernism with the universal and for viewing tribal art as a kind of raw material for Western artists to elevate into transcendence. As McEvilley charged, the curators wanted to present modern art as a creative process, not as an art of appropriation (in the sense of colonialism). More tellingly, in “Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief,” McEvilley pointed out that Rubin’s so-called affinity was based upon a morphological resemblance without establishing any connection between selected examples of non-Western art and modern art.

In the end, after a few short eventful years, the imfluence of Fauvism far outweighed its duration. Although the art of Matisse suggested that the logic of form or reality could be created thru color, this liberation of color did not immediately affect Twentieth Century art, due to the monochrome of Cubism. But for the more mainstream art world, lagging behind the avant-garde, there were educational consequences. The bright colors helped painters to leave Impressionism and to come to terms with Post-Impressionism. The late Cézannist period of Fauvism combined a Western structure and geometricism with “primitivism” by 1907.

After Ernst Ludwig Kirchner saw Fauve paintings in Berlin in 1908, Die Brücke in northern Germany took up this route of structured “primitivism,” or sharp edged figures. Although Matisse’s work in Berlin in 1908 was badly reviewed, Die Brücke artists began heightening their palettes and simplifying their forms. Both the Fauves and Die Brücke were impacted by tribal art, with the German artists finding or “discovering” the new forms in the ethnographic museum in Dresdent. Both groups were actively seeking a return to nature and saw “primitivism” as a means to accomplish a more simple way of life. In contrast, the Munich group, Der Blaue Reiter, led by Kandinsky and Jawlensky, saw Fauvism at Salon d’automne in 1905 and were inspired by the formal innovations. By 1908, Kandinsky at Murnau, near Munich, mixed the Fauve technique of high color and flat planes with Post-Impressionist exaggerated broken brushstrokes. Interestd in Bavarian folk art, Jawlensky used high pitched colors, harsh bright outlining, complementary shadows, all borrowed from the Fauves to create a kind of raw modern folk art in the frontal aspect of his painted mask like faces.

Formally speaking, “primitivism” led the Fauves and those influenced by them to find an all-over construction through color. Reductiveness and simplicity, directness of means and a search for the basic elements of art, stripped of conventions—-all were hallmarks of Fauvism. The desire to return and to renew suggested a reliance on instinct, indicated through intense color and free form that indicated a primal wildness. In Fauvism, imagination and feeling ruled, but being French, their formal dislocations were tempered and tamed by a devotion to the decorative. To the art intellectuals, this frankly decorative tendency, especially on the part of Matisse, was an excursion into the exotic, the “primitive,” the alien Other to the civilized European. The “primitivism” of Fauvism, like Fauvism itself, waned. Derain and Vlaminck became virulently conservative, especially after the Great War and Braque became a controlled Cubist and Matisse became a cultural lion, a giant of the Twentieth Century. Fauvism was tamed and the Fauves grew up.

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Defining Fauvism

Characteristics of Fauvism

Although all of the future Fauves were in Paris by 1900, Fauvism, as style, emerged—or was created—at Collioure in the spring of 1905. In a series of paintings by Henri Matisse (1869-1954) and André Derain (1880-1954), completed in the small town outside of Paris, there is a new conception of light that separated colors, allowing the white canvas to glow through. Clearly borrowed from Paul Cézanne, the unexpected source of light was combined with a renewal of subjectivity after the “objectivity” of Impressionism and from what Matisse understood to be the “agitation” of Impressionist surfaces. From Impressionism, the Fauve artists borrowed the negation of shadows by substituting intense color for darkness. The resulting luminous shadows, that were non-shadows, eliminated the academic division of tones. Although Edouard Manet had long since done away with demi-teints, the Fauve artists presented a new and purified form of color painting, based on a light created through contrasts of hue, not of tone. Formally speaking, the result was a highly colored assertive surface, organized as a graphic design with strongly contrasting areas of color. The artists established areas and zones of sometime dissonant color which was, suddenly, newly important.

As Derain, who was at Collioure with Matisse stated in a letter to Vlaminck,

We are about to embark on a new phase. Without partaking of the abstraction apparent in van gogh’s canvases, abstraction which I don’t dispute, I believe that lines and colors are intimately related and enjoy a parallel existence from the very start, allowing us to embark on a great independent and unbounded existence…Thus we may find a field, not novel, but more real, and, above all, simpler in its synthesis…

Impressionist harmonies and the uniformity of facture, or the artist’s touch and the texture of the surface, were eliminated in favor of deliberate disharmonies of style and color. Local color was rejected in favor of arbitrary color: tree trunks were red, outlined in dark purple, the sky is yellow and green, and the background heaves upward with undulating shapes. Descriptive line was freed from mimesis and, like the colors, became expressionistic. The emphasis on color and graphic line was a simplification or a preoccupation with fundamentals. Line, which outlined forms were filled in with intense colors. The Fauves introduced a new kind of “free” purity, a reduction of painting to its most basic and most powerful elements, drawing and color. As Matisse said, “This is the starting point of Fauvism, the courage to return to the purity of means.” He also explained,

…that is only the surface: what characterized Fauvism was that we rejected imitative colors, and that with pure colors we obtained stronger reactions—more striking reactions; and there was also the luminosity of our colors.

The emphasis on color, long rejected as untrustworthy and capricious, was almost entirely new in Western art. Although the colors were arbitrary, Fauvism was not an isolated movement but was part of an artistic development that included both Impressionism and Post-impressionism. Especially in the early works of Matisse, such as Luxe, calme, voulpté (1904-05), the Neo-Impressionist broken brushwork, separated into colors, was apparent. Later on, by 1906, the color juxtapositions were replaced with areas of flat color, similar to Gauguin. Authoritarian regimes were perhaps correct to link color to political and social rebellion, for Fauvism could be said to be fully informed by the new spirit of individuality and artistic freedom, developing since the Romantic Movement.

The artist and writer, Maurice Denis, responded to Fauvism,

…It is painting outside every contingency, painting in itself, the act of pure painting…Here is, in fact, a search for the absolute. Yet, strange contradiction, this absolute is limited by one of the things that is most relative! individual emotion..

Aside from Henri Matisse’s Notes of a Painter in 1908, the Fauve artists did not issue individual statements, nor did Fauvism coalesce into a movement that issued manifestos. Although Matisse was the center of Fauvism, the members of the group were concerned with a directness of expression that was a belief in individual and pictorial autonomy. Fauvism was, above all, a balance between the purely visual sensation and a personal and internal emotion, conveyed through mixed technique and formal dislocations. The artists sought to express personal feelings and move away from traditional academic techniques and conventions in painting. That said, Matisse, in particular, rediscovered tradition of high decorative art in Italy and Morocco and fused the classical and the exotic and the avant-garde into a highly personal style. Unlike Vlaminck, who wanted to burn down museums and wore a wooden necktie, Matisse, an older artist, was fundamentally a conservative.

What I dream of, he famously said in Notes of a Painter, is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter, an art which could be for every mental worker, for the businessman as well as the man of letters, for example, a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from Physical fatigue.

The new avant-garde in the Twentieth Century was based not in socially charged subject matter but in the radicalization of formal elements. But Fauvism is interesting despite the apparently traditional content of landscape painting. Certainly there is evidence of the lessons of Impressionism—landscapes appeal to collectors and art audiences alike—but there is a retreat in Fauvism, a nostalgic longing for something more pastoral and nostalgic. Industrialization and urbanization was fully developed and technology and mechanization was beginning to dominate modern life and dictate the future. For André Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958), escapist landscape had a distinctly vacation, suburban look, as though the environs outside of Paris had become a new Arcadia. But Matisse’s landscapes shifted from the modern pastoral of Luxe, calme, voulpté (1904-05) and its contemporary sailboat to the timelessness of Bonheur de vivre (1906). While the vacation is local and vernacular, the primal drawing of Bonheur de vivre and the later Dance and Music series suggested a return to a kind of “ur” mark making.

Matisse rendered his painting with the direct clarity of a child, re-learning how to draw. He drew his marks, finding the form as if by a physical feel, equating vision with touch, tentatively, hesitantly, re-discovering art for the first time. The “primitivism” of Fauvism is not just the artists’ interest in African tribal art, but with Matisse, the primal urge for an ideal, a golden age, long lost and re-found in the imagination. It is with these ideal landscapes that the impact of the Arcadian murals Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898) entered into the unlikely world of radical avant-garde painting. Matisse took Puvis and propelled the classical fantasy, borrowed from the older artist, of a harmony between humans and nature, dreamed of since Titian’s Fête Campetre, back to mythic origins. The fantasy of Arcadia and a timeless world of beauty and peace would inform Matisse’s luxurious and decorative art long after its beginnings in Fauvism. In ten years, Europe would be plunged into a Great War, and Fauvism ceased to be thought of as a radical style and became one of the last moments in the nostalgic Belle Époque.

See also, Primitivism in Fauvism

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Podcast 37 Painting 3: The Pre-War Avant-Garde

The Avant-Garde Before the Great War

The decades of the fin-de-siècle period in Europe were fruitful ones, years of innovation and experimentation in painting. “Ism” followed “ism:” Fauvism, Cubism, Futurism, German Expressionism, ended only by the Great War. New independent Salons and the burgeoning artist-dealer system provided new opportunities for cutting edged artists to show their work. Working experimentally, these artists developed a new language for a new art for a new century.

 

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