Our Team Assistant Cat explores the influence of ‘Les Fauves’, or the ‘wild beasts’, in the University Art Collection, through paintings which are currently on display in The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery.  


Fauvism is an early 20th century art movement characterised by bright, vivid colours and bold, distinctive brushwork. Leading figures of the movement include Henri Matisse and André Derain. During a summer together in Collioure in the South of France, they experimented with bold, non-naturalistic colour, often applied from the tube, and wild loose dabs of paint. They exhibited their work at the 1905 Salon d’Automne in Paris, where art critic Louis Vauxcelles described the artists as ‘Les Fauves’, meaning ‘wild beasts,’ which came to define the movement. Other Fauvist artists include Georges Braque, Raoul Dufy, Georges Roualt, and Maurice de Vlaminck.  

Fauvism drew from the post-impressionist work of Van Gogh and the neo-impressionism of Seurat, leading to a rejection of three-dimensional space in favour of flat areas of colour. The Fauvists were also influenced by scientific complementary colour theories which developed during the 19th century. Complementary colours are opposite pairs of colours on the colour wheel which appear brighter when used side by side.  

The Fauves used spontaneous brushwork and non-naturalistic colour to enhance the emotion of their work, rather than accurately depicting their subjects. Although the movement was short-lived, lasting from 1905-1910, it acted as a steppingstone for many artists to other movements such as Cubism and Expressionism. Matisse, however, continued to embrace the bright colour and flat, painterly mark making of Fauvism. 

Fauvism in the Galleries 

Arthur Kitching 

An abstract painting of a nude reclining woman on a white wall in The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery.
Arthur Kitching, ‘The Reader’ (n.d) and ‘2 versions of Wrestlers’ (n.d) on display in The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery. Image credit: Leeds University Library Galleries.

Arthur Kitching was born in Sheffield in 1912, and though he spent a year at Sheffield College of Art, he was largely a self-taught artist. He made art in his spare time whilst working as a draughtsman and was influenced by the bold contrasting colours of the Fauvists. ‘The Reader’ uses lots of vivid colour in thick brush strokes and creates a flattening of space through the busy patterns surrounding the figure. The vibrant blues and greens clash against the reds, creating a very bright and busy scene.  

Kitching flattens space even more in ‘2 versions of Wrestlers’ with flat expanses of colour in a limited, contrasting colour palette. The thick, deliberate brush strokes capture the movement of the wrestlers and, paired with the vibrant colours, evoke the excitement and vigour of the match. 

Alfred Wolmark 

A series of paintings on a white gallery wall. The central painting is of
Alfred Wolmark, ‘Fishing boats’ (c.1910) on display in The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery. Image credit: Leeds University Library Galleries.

Although Alfred Wolmark originally created more realistic work depicting Jewish life in the east end of London, his work took a dramatic change after visiting the First Post-Impressionist exhibition in 1910, organised by Roger Fry. The exhibition showcased the work of artists including Seurat, Van Gogh, Gaugin and Cezanne. Wolmark was heavily inspired by the exhibition and began to adopt flattened forms, heavy impasto, and bright colours, which earnt him the title ‘The Colour King’. These three key Fauvist techniques can be seen in his painting ‘Fishing boats’. The bright colours give the painting a joyful mood and are beautifully reflected in the water with thick, distinct brushstrokes. 

Maurice de Vlaminck 

A row of paintings on a white gallery wall. The nearest painting shows a vase of flowers.
Maurice de Vlaminck, ‘Vase de fleurs’ (n.d) on display in The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery. Lent by Marks and Spencer Group plc for the benefit of the City of Leeds. Image credit: Leeds University Library Galleries.

Parisian artist Maurice de Vlaminck was great friends with André Derain and was among the artists who presented at the controversial 1905 Salon d’Automne exhibition which marked the beginning of Fauvism. He became resentful of Cubism overtaking Fauvism and published a tirade against Picasso and Cubism in 1942.  

Although his painting ‘Vase de fleurs’ is not as clearly Fauvist as some of his other works, such as ‘The River Seine at Chatou’, it still features bright clashing colours and flattening of space. The bold red poppies sharply contrast with the green foliage, and the background comprises of flat swathes of colour. 

I chose Fauvism as I love its use of non-naturalistic colour to create striking compositions and find the movement really fun and eye-catching. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about the Fauves too! 

All the paintings featured here are currently on display in The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, so come and find the Fauvist influences in the gallery yourself