Saturday, October 6, 2012

Henri Matisse (Ali Schwartz)

In discussing his motivations and aims for his artwork, Henri Matisse expressed, “I have always tried to hide my efforts and wished my works to have a light joyousness of springtime which never lets anyone suspect the labors it has cost me.” To anyone who views the French artist’s many masterpieces, this feeling is certainly portrayed. Matisse’s fluid use of color and expressive emotions in a wide variety of styles characterized him as a leading artist of the modern world.
            Henri Matisse, born in northern France in 1869, abandoned his future as a lawyer when he discovered his love for art around age twenty and moved to Paris to study it. Though originally a traditional painter, he later developed Fauvism—characterized by wild colors, abstraction of form, and rejection of conventional techniques—alongside artists such as Georges Braque and Andre Derain around 1904. This “return to the purity of means” (Museum 45), which essentially uses color to define objects as opposed to drawing and lines, affected his art for the rest of his life. After the Fauvism movement died out, Matisse broadened his style to encompass sculpture, graphic art, and cutouts as well as painting and drawing, many times exploring the themes of dance, life, music, freedom, patterns, and nature. Matisse and Pablo Picasso pushed each other as friends and rival painters and met weekly to socialize. Later in life, Matisse spent his time in the French Riviera designing the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence, or the “Matisse Chapel,” and creating stained glass. He died in 1954 of a heart attack at the age of 84, but his memory lives on through his art and the lighthearted, carefree feelings it often instills in those who appreciate it.

Still Life with Two Bottles (1896)
oil on canvas, private collection

This still life exemplifies Matisse’s early traditional art. The painting is a conventional rendering of two wine bottles, fruit, a knife, a plate, a mug, and a table, without any distortion of color, shape, or perspective. It reflects his early teachings.

The Joy Of Life (1905-06)
oil on canvas, Museum of Modern Art

The Joy of Life is a major Fauvist painting representing an idyllic forest filled with color and people dancing in their natural states. He is literally trying to portray the joy in life. The arbitrary color represents emotion, as opposed to the natural colors of the forest, and the roles of traditional foreground and background colors are switched, with warm colors (red, orange, yellow) making up the background and cool colors (blue, purple) often in the foreground.

Sketch for The Dance (1909)
The Dance (1909)
oil on canvas, Museum of Modern Art

This piece is one of Matisse’s most famous, and it builds off of the circle of dancing people in the background of The Joy of Life. In this work, he simplifies the human form, disregards usual perspective and shading, and portrays his usual theme of nature. All the figures are connected, alluding to unity and harmony.

The Red Studio (1911)
oil on canvas, Museum of Modern Art

The Red Studio is very interesting in its nonconventional use of color. The painting portrays Matisse’s studio, complete with several of his works in detail yet on miniature scale. The spaces between the objects are filled in completely with a flat shade of red, with barely any indication of placement or depth besides a thin line representing the back corner of the room where it meets the wall. The red replaces the usual white of the canvas but represents the same plain slate.

The Dance (1931-33)
Musee d'Art Moderne

Matisse enjoyed working with the human form, shown in the majority of his sketches of models and especially in his cutouts. This piece builds on Matisse’s dance motif, with abstract human forms in dancing motion that contrast the sweeping arch architecture where the piece is displayed. The piece is made of cutout paper matched up with charcoal sketches, fixed to a background, and then painted, a technique known as decoupage.

Self Portrait (1937)
charcoal on paper, National Gallery of Art, Washington

Matisse, as many artists did, experimented with creating portraits of himself. This particular example portrays him with a very serious and even stern expression, which conflicts with his usual happy themes in his work. Perhaps he is depicting, as explained in the earlier quote, how he takes his art very seriously and works hard to give it the effortless quality that viewers perceive.

            Matisse’s work has always fascinated me. I started studying art when I was young, creating crayon pictures and watercolor paintings full of bright colors and asking for a new box of sharp Crayola Crayons every Christmas. I grew up expressing myself through the use of color and have always paid more attention to it in everyday life than many of those around me. I was first introduced to Matisse in my high school art appreciation class, and when we studied The Joy of Life, I was intrigued by the power created by such arbitrary use of color and loose style of painting. Further, in my college freshman year art history seminar, we studied Picasso in depth and I learned more about Matisse through his relationship with Picasso, especially in the Fauvist period that led to Picasso’s African Period. I enjoy looking at Matisse’s works, appreciating his unique style, and relating the themes to my everyday life. As Matisse stated, I also believe that it is important to “derive happiness in oneself from a good day's work, from illuminating the fog that surrounds us.”

Works Cited
Elderfield, John. Matisse: In the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1978. Print.
Museum of Modern Art. Henri Matisse. Ed. Carolyn Lanchner. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2008. Print.
The Portable Matisse. New York: Universe Publishing, 2002. Print.

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