8.12.12

Matisse: In Search of True Painting

Metropolitan Museum of Art · 4 December 2012 - 17 March 2013

From the Metropolitan Museum of Art:
Henri Matisse (1869–1954) was one of the most acclaimed artists working in France during the first half of the twentieth century. The critic Clement Greenberg, writing in The Nation in 1949, called him a "self-assured master who can no more help painting well than breathing." Unbeknownst to many, painting had rarely come easily to Matisse. Throughout his career, he questioned, repainted, and reevaluated his work. He used his completed canvases as tools, repeating compositions in order to compare effects, gauge his progress, and, as he put it, "push further and deeper into true painting." While this manner of working with pairs, trios, and series is certainly not unique to Matisse, his need to progress methodically from one painting to the next is striking. Matisse: In Search of True Painting will present this particular aspect of Matisse's painting process by showcasing forty-nine vibrantly colored canvases. For Matisse, the process of creation was not simply a means to an end but a dimension of his art that was as important as the finished canvas.

Matisse copied old master paintings as part of his academic training. He found much to admire on the walls of the Musée du Louvre yet was also receptive to the contemporary pictures he encountered in Parisian galleries. He was particularly intrigued by the work of Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) and Paul Signac (1863–1935). In 1904–1905 Matisse arranged a still life and painted it in two different ways. The green and violet clusters of diagonally placed brushstrokes in Still Life with Purro I (1904, private collection) evoke passages in certain of Cézanne's paintings, while the vivid colors and confetti-like effects of Still Life with Purro II (1904–1905, private collection) are derived from Signac. Matisse borrowed stylistic elements from the two artists but was more interested in rendering his own sensations than subscribing to either of their theories.

Matisse's stylistic exploration sparked the creation of pairs in which neither painting is entirely indebted to another artist. Upon his return to the fishing village of Collioure in the summer of 1906, he depicted a local teenager in a work that has all the hallmarks of his own vividly colored, expressive Fauvism (Young Sailor I, 1906, Collection of Sheldon H. Solow). He then painted a second version of the composition on an identically sized canvas, this time employing flat color and deformation to produce a drastically different effect (Young Sailor II, 1906, The Metropolitan Museum of Art). Unsure of his new direction, Matisse told friends that Young Sailor II had been painted by the local postman. Matisse later explained that his aim was to "condense the meaning of [a] body by seeking its essential lines." [Read More]
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