11 April 2009 till 06 September 2009

More than colour

Fauvism and expressionism in the collection of the Triton Foundation

It started in the late nineteenth century: an unprecedented explosion of colour used in a completely innovative way. In France, the artists, who included Henri Matisse and Kees van Dongen, were scornfully known as fauves – wild animals. In Germany, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Wassily Kandinsky and their associates became known as the expressionists, champions of the idea that colour conveys emotion. This seventh joint presentation of leading works from the Triton Collection and the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag’s collection is all about colour, emotion and expression.

Neo-impressionists, fauvists and expressionists took up where the impressionists left off, attempting to heighten the emotion portrayed in their paintings with colour experiments that went beyond those of their predecessors. In their work, colour rather than form became the conveyor of emotion. Pointillist painters like Paul Signac based their work on detailed theories of colour whereby different colours were mixed by the eye to form a new one. They sought to achieve this effect by constructing images of different coloured dots.

Fauvism, on the other hand, whose leading exponents were Henri Matisse, André Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck, was an ecstatic homage to colour such as had never been seen before. The vibrant colours also elicited extreme responses from the public. One critic remarked that it looked like a group of wild animals – fauves – had been unleashed at the Salon d’Automne featuring works by Matisse, Dérain and De Vlaminck. Their quest for true vibrant colours led the Fauvists to folk art and primitive peoples: wild animals in search of innocence and originality.

The Fauvists shared this interest in primitive art forms with the German expressionists, the best known of whom belonged to one of two groups: Die Brücke and Der Blaue Reiter. The leading representative of the former was Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Inspired by the ideas of Nietzsche, the group sought to act as a bridge (Brücke) that would allow people to escape mundane decadence and achieve a state of freedom. This resulted in very powerful paintings, with a use of colour that was almost more violent that that of the fauvists, in which perspective and proportions were highly distorted. The best known members of Der Blaue Reiter were Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc. They both held the same views on the role of colour and form in art. However, the expressionism of Der Blaue Reiter was more lyrical than that of their fellow expressionists, less raw and angular, more a forerunner of the complete abstraction that Kandinsky would later achieve, in which colour and form were engaged in a harmonious dialogue.

The Triton Collection is a private collection of leading works from the period 1860-1970 which in many ways is a perfect addition to the Gemeentemuseum’s collection. This is the seventh joint presentation of pieces from the two collections to be staged in the museum’s Triton Room. The themes of the earlier exhibitions have included portraiture and the Russian avant-garde. Waanders Uitgevers is publishing the seventh in the Triton Cahier series to accompany the exhibition (€ 9.95).

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