Matisse: Pushing "further and deeper into true painting"
Reviewed by Val Castronovo
Henri Matisse (1869-1954), 20th century Modernist master, is the subject of a dazzling show at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, now on view until March 17, 2013. Modern and Contemporary Art Curator Rebecca Rabinow has culled 49 paintings that showcase the artist’s preoccupation with painting in pairs (and trios and series) and his focus on the process of creating his art.
Henri Matisse (French, 1869–1954), Young Sailor II 1906; Oil on canvas.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection, 1998. © 2012 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
For process — repainting, revision, reevaluation — is the central concern here, a greatest hits collection of canvases that trace the evolution of Matisse’s style and his experimentation with color, line and form in side-by-side displays of identically-sized still lifes, interiors, landscapes and portraits. He was constantly reworking and rethinking his paintings, repeating compositions on new canvases with a new twist — a different colored background, a different perspective, enhanced abstraction — in order to “push further and deeper into true painting.”
Like the masters who preceded him, Matisse copied classic works on display at the Louvre as part of his academic training and later mimicked the styles of contemporary artists like Cezanne and Signac. But this avant-garde pioneer, who has been dubbed the King of Color, increasingly sought to express his own vision, using color and light and flattened, highly decorated forms to mark his territory.
Anyone familiar with 20th century art will thrill to the sight of so many iconic paintings gathered in one place. A handsome catalogue displays on its cover Matisse’s well-known Fauvist image of a French teenager from the fishing village of Collioure, Young Sailor I (1906). That same year he drew inspiration from Van Gogh’s L’Arlesienne (Madame Ginoux, 1890) and reworked the subject to such an extent — adding a pink background, flattened imagery, wide, slightly slanted eyes, and a new vantage point — that he disowned the new painting, Young Sailor II, and credited the postman. As he later said, he wanted to “condense the meaning of [a] body by seeking its essential lines.”
After seeing four views of Notre Dame (which he painted from the window of two different studios on the quai Saint-Michel), a trio of brilliantly colored portraits of the Italian model Laurette (wearing a green gandoura, a Moroccan robe made for a man), and a host of color-drenched still lifes and light-filled hotel interiors from Nice, we move on to the photographs which were taken beginning in the 1930s, and which record Matisse’s progress on a given painting.
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