“Wild Beasts” Painting Inspired by the Fauves

Henri Matisse  "The Green Stripe"
Henri Matisse “The Green Stripe” 1905

Who were the Fauves?
Fauvism was a French art movement, led by Henri Matisse, spanning from 1869-1954. Fauves is French for “Wild Beasts”. This name was used because the artists used intense, almost violent colors in an unnatural way.

Historical Context:
In the early 1900s there were several major exhibitions in Paris of Post Impressionist artwork. These included the works of Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, and Paul Cezanne. These artworks were radically different from previous work displayed. They had loose brush strokes and bright, free use of color. These exhibitions inspired many artists who were looking to liberate their own style.

The Fauves took the free use of color even further by using arbitrary and unnatural colors. They might paint a sky bright red or a person’s face green. Complementary or Analogous color schemes were often used.

Arbitrary Color:
Colour that has no realistic or natural relation to the object that is depicted, as in a blue horse, or a purple cow, but which may have emotional or expressive significance.

Project Inspiration:

Create an acrylic painting using arbitrary, expressive colours.


  1. Draw 2 thumbnail sketches from a still life or found image(s). Try viewing from different angles. Try zooming in or cropping.
  2. Colour your thumbnails with coloured pencil – consider your arbitrary and complementary colours
  3. Choose your best thumbnail and draw that view on the watercolour paper. You should still be looking at the still life/found image, not just your thumbnail sketch.
  4. Using what you know about complementary colours, practice mixing and blending the complementary colours that you will need in your sketchbook.
  5. Paint your project using acrylic paint. As a starting point, each object can be coloured with the COMPLEMENT of the actual colour. For example: yellow flowers are painted purple, green stems are painted red.
  6. You may change or add a few colours where you like to UNIFY the composition.