the fauves or wild beasts were known for their garishly colored paintings. their artwork was rooted in primitivism, which was apparent in the crude application of paint and the incorporation of unpainted or unprimed areas and also in the idea of an exotic, geographically far removed paradise (similar to gauguin’s quest for pleasure and plenitude embodied by distance and otherness). their artistic impetuosity, anarchism and focus on joie de vivre marched in lockstep with literary movements including nietzsche’s individualism and andre gide’s naturalism. on top of the existing categories of paysage historique and paysage champetre, the fauves invented a third category of paysage decoratif. this type of landscape was less representative of a certain location, it was more abstracted – more barbare, more naif.
matisse was considered le fauve des fauves. his work was thought to be the closest to pure art. his originality added another dimension to fauvism. for example, his painting “bonheur de vivre” was not just a paysage decoratif, it also distorted scale and perspective. similarly, matisse’s “blue nude, souvenir of biskra” speaks the language of primitivism’s colonial pillaging and decontextualization, but at the same time it refuses to subscribe to the classic representation of the odalisque in western art. matisse’s nude is hardly a seductress. even though her body is obviously inspired by african statuettes, it is distorted and exaggerated, not eroticized. it is clear that matisse is more concerned with the tools of representation. his technique includes modeling, simplification of form, spatial ambiguity, and experimenting with contrapposto (an undulating s-curve pose).
taken to an extreme “decorative” can become a pejorative term, signifying superficiality and ornamentation associated with handicrafts. however, in the case of the fauves “decorative deformations” emphasized the surface of the painting and the inner meanings or “resonances” that distortions could elicit in order to reveal some basic truth. matisse was more concerned with surface and the smooth blending of diverse painterly elements, i.e. the arrangement of objects or figures, their proportions and passage. critics have characterized matisse’s “decorative” approach as being primarily about flattening, generalizing, and abstracting to achieve purity.