MFAH Opens Fauvism’s Vibrant ‘Vertigo of Color’ Exhibition – The Colorful Worlds of Matisse and Derain

February 24, 2024

"Mountains at Collioure" by André Derain, an exuberant Fauvist landscape featuring rolling hills and trees in a riot of bright colors, with blue, green, yellow, and red dominating the canvas.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH), in a landmark collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, proudly unveils "Vertigo of Color: Matisse, Derain, and the Origins of Fauvism." This pivotal exhibition, open from February 25 to May 27, 2024, provides a rare insight into the vibrant heart of Fauvism, a movement that radically transformed the use of color in art.

Henri Matisse, View of Collioure, 1907, oil on canvas, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection, 1998. © 2023 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The Birth of Fauvism

In the transformative summer of 1905, Henri Matisse and André Derain, two trailblazing painters, ventured into the then-uncharted realms of color and expression in Collioure, a picturesque village. Their daring explorations in color, form, and structure birthed Fauvism, marked by its unrestrained, bold color usage. Their groundbreaking work culminated in several paintings being exhibited at the Salon d'Automne in Paris in November 1905. The exhibition stirred the art world, puzzling and controversial among audiences and critics alike, yet it also galvanized a group of contemporary artists to embrace this new, radical path in European art that diverged sharply from conventional norms.

“Vertigo of Color” brings together sixty-five of these revolutionary pieces, including paintings, drawings, and watercolors, in the first comprehensive showcase in the United States. It was during this now-legendary Salon exhibition that a prominent French journalist coined the term "les Fauves" (literally "wild beasts") in response to their work, highlighting the ravishing palette that became a hallmark of the evolving modernist dialogue. This exhibition, therefore, not only showcases the birth of Fauvism but also the moment their canvas colors were first acknowledged as Fauvist.

An Artistic Revolution

Guided by Gary Tinterow, MFAH's Director, the exhibition not only commemorates Matisse and Derain's artistic breakthroughs but also delves into their profound influence on modernist painting. Their shift from traditional color representation to a more liberated palette heralded a new artistic era. In this era, color emerged as an independent element, capable of expressing emotions and experiences beyond the literal interpretations.

The exhibition also explores a personal story. Matisse arrived first in Collioure with his wife Amélie and two sons, and later urged the younger Derain to join him for a few weeks to sketch and paint along the beaches and forests in the foothills of the Pyrénées. While the exhibition foregrounds the marvelous partnership of the two artists, it also traces their divergent paths on canvas and paper: Derain was determined to finish his canvases in Collioure, while Matisse thought otherwise, choosing instead to gather inspiration and source material for his Paris studio. "Vertigo of Color" will include several of Matisse’s pen and ink sketches and watercolors, demonstrating Matisse’s immense influence on modernism in the early years of the twentieth century.

Henri Matisse, Open Window, Collioure, 1905, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, collection of Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney. © 2023 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Tinterow highlights the transformative nature of their work, stating, "The work that Matisse and Derain created over the summer they spent experimenting together, in 1905, liberated color from its traditional, representational role. This innovation freed them, and the artists who followed, to use color as color, radically changing modernist painting. 'Vertigo of Color' tells this story through an unprecedented selection of loans from a host of public and private collections. We are very pleased to partner with the Metropolitan Museum in bringing this revelatory exhibition to Houston.”

André Derain, Henri Matisse, 1905, oil on canvas, Tate, purchased 1958. © 2023 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

The Essence of Collioure

"Vertigo of Color" captures the essence of Matisse and Derain's creative journey in Collioure. It highlights how the artists drew inspiration from their surroundings, from the bustling port to the tranquil landscapes, translating these sensory experiences into a vibrant visual language. This period of intense collaboration and innovation is vividly depicted in the exhibition, offering visitors a glimpse into Fauvism's genesis.

A Legacy of Color

Beyond showcasing iconic Fauvist works, the exhibition also illuminates the personal stories and artistic evolution of Matisse and Derain. It features several masterpieces, making their first U.S. appearance in decades, a rare treat for art enthusiasts, offering an unmatched opportunity to witness the mastery and impact of these avant-garde artists.

André Derain, Woman with a Shawl, Madame Matisse in a Kimono, 1905, oil on canvas, private collection, courtesy of Nevill Keating Pictures, London. © 2023 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Celebrating Color and Innovation

The MFAH invites art lovers and the curious to immerse themselves in the lush, vivid world of Matisse, Derain, and Fauvism's origins. "Vertigo of Color" is a celebration of color's transformative power and its ability to challenge artistic conventions. Through this meticulously curated collection, the MFAH continues to enrich Houston's cultural landscape, bringing groundbreaking art to the forefront.

"Vertigo of Color: Matisse, Derain, and the Origins of Fauvism" stands as a poignant reminder to Fauvism's lasting legacy and its pivotal role in shaping modern art. Step into the revolutionary spirit of Matisse and Derain at the MFAH; let their bold use of color awaken your senses and inspire your imagination.