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Those Fabulous Fauves : Art: Landmark landscapes by turn-of-the-century French artists once dubbed 'wild beasts' go on view at LACMA.

October 03, 1990|WILLIAM WILSON | TIMES ART CRITIC

But Matisse went from strength to strength in a style that was a logical extension of Fauve beginnings, so history stuck him with a reputation as its leader. As a result of Matisse's professorial mien, the critics stuck Fauvism with the accusation of being the heartless application of a theoretical idea lacking real response to nature.

If the show proves anything, it is that the Fauves were out there looking and reacting to the particular qualities of place. There's a funky unease about the "Chatou" of Vlaminck and Derain, but when Derain goes to London, the pictures change.

There must be something visually fussy and overdone about Antwerp, because when Braque and Emile Othon Friesz went there they both picked it up. But when they got back to Paris after les grandes vacances , the winter city of lights was as gloomy as ever.

Matisse sparkled at St. Tropez. In Normandy, artists as unlike as Braque and Dufy mirrored the populism of this commercial and industrial center in stolid buildings and squatty figures.

The Fauves prove the Gallic cliche, reculer pour mieux sauter , which can be taken to mean, "be sure of your ground before you jump." Fauvism was a centrist staging-ground style delightful and tough at best. It consolidated art's foundations in a way rarely seen today, making it solid for styles that seem more radical. The German Expressionists misinterpreted Fauvism to our profit. Both Jawlensky and Kandinsky were in contact with it in Paris. It certainly contributed to Jawlensky's iconic heads and Kandinsky's spiritual abstract art.

In the end, Fauvism was an exercise in traditional French compromise. Aside from the somehow predictable scandal, almost everything about it is dull, except the pictures.

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