FROM PORTRAITS TO CUTOUTS, FROM THE ODALISCHE TO THE FAMOUS DANCE SERIES, HERE IS A SELECTION OF WORKS TO REMEMBER THE MASTER OF THE FAUVES.
Few Moderna art names are as inextricably linked with the use of color as Henri Matisse (Le Cateau-Cambreis, 1869 – Nice, 1954). Henri Matisse took painting lessons while working as a legal clerk after studying as a lawyer, eventually becoming a full-time artist: in his early years, he approached the symbolist painter Odilon Redon and the divisionism of Paul Signac, with whom he became friends, separating in a short time towards wider brushstrokes of color. Over the course of his career, he created some of the century’s greatest masterpieces, often paintings but also sculptures and ceramics, but it took a long time for contemporaries to recognize them (his first exhibition, in 1904, was a flop). Here are ten works that you must see to understand the evolution of Moderna’s style over time and its influence on modern and contemporary art.
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1. MADAME MATISSE’S PORTRAIT (THE GREEN LINE)
Henri Matisse, Madame Matisse
The Fauves—literally, the Beasts—are a movement that began in 1905 at the Salon d’automne in Paris. One of the Secolo’s first true avant-garde currents There is no claim to realism in Madame Matisse’s portrait from 1905; color is an end in itself, and the artist’s wife – Amellie Noellie Matisse-parare – is depicted.
2. THE JOY OF LIVING
Henri Matisse’s “The Joy of Living”
The joy of living was born in 1906, during a time of great pessimism and turmoil. As a reaction to this atmosphere, the work depicts a Mediterranean environment with the Traits of Earthly Paradise and foreshadows the subject of dance, which would reach its peak expression a few years later. There are mythological and artistic references – from Titian to Manet, up to Cezanne and Gauguin – but the idea of mimetic representation is abandoned, with figures and landscapes painted without details or natural colors, but with the contours of the forms prominent. This is a watershed moment in Matisse’s career as an exponent of The Fauves, which reserved one of the harshest criticisms for the painting: when it was exhibited at the Salon des independents in 1906, Paul Signac – a friend of Henri Matisse – described it as “a painting with repulsive and too thick colors with an inch-wide outline.”
3. THE CONVERSATION
Henri Matisse, the conversation
The 1909 conversation, painted in Matisse’s country house, depicts the artist and his wife conversing in a room overlooking a garden. The rich blue field that surrounds the two subjects is more of a flurry of brush marks than a description of an interior. Some critics have speculated that the dominant use of Blue suggests an emotional distance, which is emphasized by the distance between bodies and habits, with her in street clothes and him in pajamas, which he also used to work. The view of the courtyard is partially obscured by ornamental iron elements, and it is suspended between them like a painting.
4. THE DANCE SERIES
Henri Matisse’s dance
The painting dance of 1910 is perhaps the most famous of the painter who grew up in northeastern France, and it is universally recognized as a pivotal point in his artistic development. This painting, along with the accompanying work Musica, was commissioned by a Russian industrialist named Sergei Shchukin for his lavish mansion in Moscow. It was preceded by the preparatory work Danza I and followed by the tripartite mural Danza II. Matisse’s brushstrokes become flatter, looser, and more fluid in this painting, and the flamboyant colors of the five red figures, green landscape, and blue sky reflect Matisse’s fascination with primitive art. The palette is classic fauve: the intense and warm colors against the cold blue-green background, as well as the rhythmic succession of dancing nudes, convey feelings of emotional liberation and hedonism, probably inspired by Stravinsky’s Young Spring Girls o
5. THE RED STUDIO
The Red Studio, Henri Matisse, and Courtesy
Painted in Iss les-les-Moulineaux in 1911. The work of the young sailor II, just above a pendulum clock with no hands, is easily identified. Henri Matisse admitted that he had no idea why he chose red for the composition, but the strength of this monochrome scheme will influence abstract painting for the next century.
6. THE PIANO LESSON
Henri Matisse, Piano Lesson, Courtesy Success Succession H. Matisse ARS N mother H. Matisse ARS N mother Henri Matisse ARS N
This 1916 painting was created during the years of the First World War, when Matisse’s works became more daring and difficult. The palette shifts away from the typical arabesques and toward a harder, edgier geometry, with an ominous palette of fleshy grays, blacks, browns, and pinks. Henri Matisse attacks the canvas, sometimes with a chisel, scraping, etching, constantly reviewing, and leaving ample evidence of the revisions as he moves away from more watery paint applications. The piano lesson, a very personal composition depicting his son Pierre, is a composition about space, but also about time, as an allegory of the transition from childhood to adulthood.
Henri Matisse, an Italian, Guggenheim Museum
The Italian, which was also created in 1916, clearly shows the transition from realism to abstraction. This is the first of many portraits Matisse painted of an Italian professional model named Laurette, and it demonstrates the rethinking and convergence of lines in order to “reach that state of condensation of sensations that constitutes a painting.” This portrait, in comparison to the variants, is less corporeal and more ethereal, uses religious painting conventions to create an icon, stretching the features to resemble an African mask – which has led several critics to believe that Matisse, like several other modern artists, equated the idea of woman with exotic and “primitive Moderna” – in a deep spatial ambiguity and with very austere colors.
Henri Matisse’s Odalisca (harmony in red). Met Museum (CC)
During the 1920s, Matisse emphasized a more naturalistic style, as evidenced by a series of half-naked odalische depicted in imaginatively decorated rooms that suggested colonial environments and fascinations. The exasperated sensuality of these works, combined with the choice of terminology (the term “odalisca” referred to a slave or concubine of the harem in Renaissance France, which had numerous political and commercial relations with the then-powerful Ottoman Empire), has led many critics to see a subtext of objectification and exploitation of the female body.
9. NUDE BLUE II
Henri Matisse’s Nude Blue II
Blue Nude, from 1952, is one of the artist’s most iconic images, an essential distillation of Matisse’s aesthetics. It is one of the “cutouts,” or works created by the artist with the assistance of some assistants. Under Matisse’s direction, cut-out pieces of paper were painted in different solid colors and arranged on a large backdrop of paper or muslin. The artist was familiar with the technique, having used it in 1919. Until the 1940s, however, he primarily used the cutouts to create studies for sets and costumes, such as those for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and the interior decoration of the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence, a Dominican nuns’ chapel near the French Riviera.
10. BIG NAKED LYING (NUDE PINK)
Henri Matisse, Courtes 2, great naked lying
Matisse returned to painting flatter shapes and colors that were even more simplified than before in the Thirties, with the pink nude of 1935 being a notable example. Although the painting is small, the subject takes up almost the entire composition, and the curves almost extend beyond the frame. The image has a languid and monumental grandeur that foreshadows the artist’s later works—the model, LD.
11. MEMORY OF OCEANIA
Oceania’s memory, Henri Matisse’s success, and Courtesy
Memory of Oceania (1952-53), one of Matisse’s final works before his death, is based on an old photograph taken in 1930 on a schooner in Tahiti. Despite the fact that the shapes are derived from the boat, the result appears to be highly abstract. Some art historians believe that this work (along with The snail, a cutout made around the same time) was a reaction to the large-scale abstraction coming out of the United States at the time, particularly abstract expressionism.
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