Sunday, January 27, 2013

What I Learned About Matisse

Bowl of Apples on a Table 1916

I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC yesterday to see the exhibition: Matisse In Search of True Painting.  Matisse has always been one of my favorite artists, but of the two complimentary exhibitions in New York this winter, Picasso: Black and White, and this one, I surprised myself in preferring the Picasso.  Still the best Matisse exhibit I have ever seen is the permanent exhibit at the MOMA.  This current show didn't seem to have anything terribly new to say about Matisse.

The most interesting part of the exhibition was the room where they had presented three finished paintings of Matisse's alongside photographs of those same paintings at different stages of being completed.  I remember watching a documentary on Matisse and Picasso several years ago. One difference between the two artists is that while Picasso would paint over work that he did not like and build up surface texture in the process, Matisse would scrape his paintings to remove all traces of there having been layers to the work so that the finished painting looked like it had been created in a single sitting.  I'm sure this technique of Henri's varied throughout his career but the examples at this exhibition all had this process in common.  For, example "The Dream" (below) looks so fresh as if painted in a few hours, but instead it was laboriously painted and re-painted and not finished until nine months had past from its start.

The Dream 1940

The Dream 1940
I was very glad to learn that I have a favorite time period of Matisse paintings.  The work he did in the mid-teens of the Twentieth Century are by far some of his greatest works.  They have a somber, introspective mood to them which is unlike the bright and colorful Matisse we normally think of.  The compositions in these works, the subtle changes in texture, the way the muted blues react to sparks of lively color, and the way Matisse simplifies and abstracts shapes and forms give these paintings an emotional depth, an inventive imagination, and a power that hits the viewer in the heart and mind.   According to the Met the four years from 1913-17 was full of "experimentation and discourse with the Cubism of Pablo Picasso and Juan Gris.  The resulting compositions were much more austere, almost geometrically structured and at times close to abstraction."

Interior with Goldfish 1914

Interior with a Violin 1918

Goldfish and Palette 1914

Notre Dame 1914
The other lasting impression the Matisse exhibition had on me has to do with three very odd paintings, one of which you can view below.  The "Large Cliff" paintings from 1920 are unlike anything else I've seen from Matisse.  I don't like them one bit and that's why I can't get the sight of them out of my head.  Their compositions are all the same, which are not very interesting... they're not the dazzling compositions moving the viewers eye around and around the picture until you have glanced at every inch of the canvas.  The focal point in all of these paintings is this unattractive washed up seaweed with either an eel, fish, or two rays in the middle of it (depending on which of the three paintings you're looking at) with a boring pastel landscape surrounding it.  I don't know, I don't get it... do you?

Large Cliff, Eel, 1920
Here are a few more paintings from the exhibition that I that were worth showing... enjoy.

Nude with a White Scarf, 1909

Still Life with Compote, Apples, and Oranges 1899

The Large Blue Dress, 1937

Le Luxe II 1907-8

Woman on a Divan 1920-21

Interior with Egyptian Curtain 1948

Notre Dame 1902

Young Sailor I 1906


  1. I too am very interested in the works that border on severe absraction.

  2. I'm glad to have found your blog. I agree with a lot of what you say about Matisse...I love him at his best, but definitely find certain periods and pieces much more moving to me personally.

    The Egyptian Curtain is one of my absolute favorites -- I saw it at the Phillips which I think is a great place to view Matisse at his best.

    On a separate note -- I really like your work -- the 'recent work' and 'what i see' galleries especially floored me -- so many really gorgeous drawings and paintings.