When we re asked to think about the origins of modern art, our minds are often drawn to names such as Picasso and Matisse. Talented male artists are rightfully taught and talked about as instrumental figures in the evolution of today’s flourishing art scene. With big characters such as Vincent Van Gogh and Salvador Dali strutting their works in the major consciousness, the women of the time are often over-looked. A historical chauvinism and male-centred storytelling style has caused the imbalance in our understanding of the history behind our favourite movements and collections.
“Matisse, Derain, and Friends” is a new exhibition that aims to disrupt this half-blind public image. The Fauvist art style was made popular in the early 20th Century and involved the use of vivid colour and emotionally charged, expressive images. Often obscure, and with a casual twist of the abstract, fauvist images are easy to remember and usually become amplified talking points. On display at the Kunstmuseum in Basel, Switzerland, the exhibition opened on September 2nd and will remain open until January next year.
Women painters and female subjects often made their mark on this movement at the time, and many were highly influential on the style. The public memory is being challenged with the show as the display concentrates on these elements rather than the more famous male works. What is also sometimes misunderstood is that the artists often employed sex workers to be the model in their paintings. These people had stories of their own and brought a darker and more dangerous side to the culture.
Emilie Charmy is perhaps the most well-known example of a female fauvist. Her tumultuous upbringing saw the orphaned child taken in and given lessons in art. She was a headstrong individual and shunned many of the socially expected learning on offer for young women of the day. Choosing to take up an occupation normally associated with men, her contributions to the style gave a unique and priceless aspect to the larger body of work.
Also on display are works by the mythologically inspired Marie Laurencin. She moved in the same circles as greats such as Georges Braques and Guillaume Apollinaire. Having studied her craft at the world-renowned Academie Humbert, Laurencin quickly gained the nickname, “The doe among the wild beasts”. Like her stylistic counterpart, Emilie Charmy, her works were often compared to her male compatriots of the scene. Charmy was once described as “The woman who paints like a man”.
Making it clear that these female artists held as much talent and were just as instrumental in the evolution of the style is the aim of this latest exhibition. The celebration of female fauvists is clearly necessary as their works were highly influential in the progression of trends that led to today’s eclectic and varied market. The public consciousness is rich with images of the style and when we look at works made by these lesser-known heroes we can quickly see how much of their influence we already recognise. Rebalancing the books and putting women artists of the past in their rightful place next to the men on equal footing is a noble and necessary activity, and with the quality and adventurousness of the works on offer, it’s also a rewarding one.
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