The Blue Window, 1913, Oil on canvas, MoMA
La glace sans
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...)
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.
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 River. Blue 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
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...."
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.
manuscript page from Madame Bovary
And then one
inevitably thinks of Flaubert whose
is a model of style. Flaubert of the 'Madame
Bovary, c’est moi!'
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
So here’s to
doing it over, and over again!
Radical Invention, 1913-1917, MoMA
Bovary, Gustave Flaubert, the Francis Steegmuller translation
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