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The Blue Window, 1913, Oil on canvas, MoMA

  The Blue Window, 1913 (also called La glace sans tain - the mirror without silvering).  A Claude glass, the dark square at bottom right, is an optical aid used by artists - black mirrors, as they are also called, tend to emphasize compositional elements, and make the entire scene less colorful (even though Matisse cannot resist making the blues quite jeweled here...)
       

Matisse at work


 
 

...doing it over, and over again....

   

 

These are strange years in the life of Matisse, from 1913 to 1917—after his second sojourn to Morocco and before moving to Nice.  Strange, because it is a time where Matisse seems to be less himself in a sense.  Matisse - Radical Invention at MoMA examines what has already been called his most un-Matissean period, where he reacts to Cubism.  His paintings are now more angular and geometric, reductive, less exhilarating.  The colors are drearier, grays and flat blacks that are mitigated at times by jeweled blues.  The show is art-historical, reconstructive, archival, and technical, revealing Matisse's methodology: the endless reworking of subjects and motifs that freed him to focus on other issues (line and form and color).  It was a period of 3 versions of The Moroccans, 5 of Bathers by a RiverBlue Nude was wiped clean and restarted more than 20 times.  Painting, scraping off, reworking, leaving the traces of pencil drawings beneath, revealing layers of paint....

 


The Man at Work!

 

What interested us most is the work ethic that becomes apparent in this show that seeks to look behind the layers of paint: Matisse’s straining towards perfection.  And this reworking is really something he had always done.  The 1908 painting we know as Harmony in Red was originally Harmony in Blue!  When a visitor to his studio said that it was a different picture, Matisse retorted: "He doesn't understand a thing.  It's not a different picture...."

 


Odalisque with a Turkish Chair, 1928, Oil on canvas,
Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

 

In the last months of 1917, Matisse would move to Nice and back to the light-drenched, ornamental, decorative interiors, those languorous female figures and odalisques.  Paintings that created a tranquil self-sufficient world, abstractions of color and form, harmonious as in a musical composition.  Matisse would go on reworking themes and motifs, and even in the last years of his life, when he was physically unable to paint and worked in papier découpé, he would revisit the odalisque theme.

 

 


A manuscript page from Madame Bovary

 

And then one inevitably thinks of Flaubert whose Madame Bovary is a model of style. Flaubert of the 'Madame Bovary, c’est moi!' and the wonderful ‘May I die like a dog, rather than hurry by a single second, a sentence that isn’t ripe,” and oh, Flaubert's marvelous tortures in his agonized ecstatic search for perfection: “For 3 days I have been tossing about on all my furniture trying to get ideas....

 

So here’s to doing it over, and over again!

 

See: Matisse - Radical Invention, 1913-1917, MoMA

 

Read: Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert, the Francis Steegmuller translation

 

 

Tags: literature  art  books  france  color pattern

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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