1869 – 1954
Exactitude is not truth. Henri Matisse
Matisse started out as a law clerk. He had no interest in art at all. Then, when he was twenty, he got appendicitis. His mother gave him some art supplies to pass the time during recuperation. He found in them “a kind of paradise.”
His father was deeply disappointed, but he abandoned law for art school. He was a quick study:
Then in 1897-98 he was introduced to Van Gogh, Cezanne, Gauguin and Signac. He was enthralled by their simplification of subject matter, and especially with their use of color:
Artists are always pushing the limits. This is his wife:
Can you guess what color her dress really was?
When an art critic saw this painting – and others like it – hung around a conventional Renaissance style statue he declared that the statue was “Donatello among wild beasts (fauves).” The name stuck, and we call these wildly colored paintings from this period “Fauvist paintings,” and the artists themselves “fauves.”
One critic, Camile Mauclair wrote that A pot of paint has been flung in the face of the public, and this painting was burned in effigy in New York, at the Armory Show (we’ll get to that later):
What made people so angry?
One of my favorite art critics, Robert Hughes, in his book The Shock of the New, says of Matisse:
Time and time again, Matisse set down an image of a pre-civilized world, Eden before the Fall, inhabited by men and women with no history, languid as plants or energetic as animals.
Why would this be appealing? Threatening?
Robert Hughes also tells us that:
Matisse loved pattern, and pattern within pattern: not only the suave and decorative forms of his own compositions but also the reproduction of tapestries, embroideries, silks, striped awnings, curlicues, mottles, dots and spots, the bright clutter of over-furnished rooms, within the paintings. In particular he loved Islamic art…Islamic pattern offers the illusion of a completely full world, where everything from far to near is pressed with equal urgency against the eye.
The Red Room started out all in blue. What does the change in color do? Why would he prefer it?
A friend stopped by the studio and was amazed; the walls and floor weren’t really red. Why did Matisse paint them that way then?
This is a very brave painting, both in composition and color choice. What’s with that stripe of light in the middle? Why those colors?
How do these colors make you feel?
These are both goldfish paintings. What is he reaching for?:
Does this help?
I don’t paint things. I only paint the difference between things.
Or maybe he said it better like this:
There is nothing more difficult for a truly creative painter than to paint a rose, because before he can do so he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted.
Or to paint a woman, or music or anything, for that matter. It’s all been done. Or has it?:
Is he interested in the “real world?”
In the 1940s his health declined and he was confined to a wheelchair. He was unable to paint at an easel, but he could still use scissors, and with the aid of assistants made paper collages:
He even designed a chapel:
Picasso and Matisse were friends as well as rivals and are interesting to compare:
- Who was a more intellectual painter?
- Who was more sensual?
- Both painted women: Who was afraid of them? Who celebrated them?
- They had very different beginnings, and very different endings, but in many ways they had similar goals. What were they?
- Who do you like better and why?