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El Greco, View of Toledo ca. 1598–99. Oil on canvas; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,


 
Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs at MoMA
through February 8, 2015 at MoMA

 

El Greco in New York through February 1, 2015 at the Metropolitan Museum

 

 

 

     

 

BEING OLD,
BEING NEW

 

(in other words, being Scheherazade)

 

       
 

The sublime View of Toledo, considered the very first Spanish landscape, is an interpretive one -- the positioning and details poetic rather than factual.  The Cathedral, the Alcázar, the Tagus river, the Alcántara bridge, and the Castle are rearranged like toy pieces in El Greco’s reconstruction.  There is a sense of transcendence – we see the immensity of earth and sky as well as the tiniest figures walking up the path, and the wild skies breaking open above the town are delirious and rapturous with such contrasts of light and darkness, such glimmerings and gleamings of peacock greens and blues.

El Greco (1541-1614) was born in Crete, where he was trained as a painter of icons, and moved to Venice, Rome, Madrid, and finally, to Toledo.  He worked in a highly self-conscious, intellectual, and exaggerated style (influenced by Mannerism and the Venetian Renaissance, always with echoes of things Byzantine).  His figures and faces are characteristically elongated, and his colors are  often bright, almost bizarre.  He was a painter of the ineffable, the artifice and distortions of the surface manipulated to reveal the spirit and intellect.  He was out of step with his times, modern before modern, a precursor to cubism and expressionism.



El Greco, Paravicino, c. 1609, Oil on canvas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


We know he was well-read -- his annotated Vasari and Vitruvius still exist, though his own writings are lost.   This is the important thing: he has a pre-eminent position in the history of art today because this Old Master did something new, something different.  The last three lines of a sonnet by Paravicino for his tomb anticipate this:
“Crete gave him life and paintbrushes, Toledo [gave him] a better home where through death he began to attain eternity.”



Henri Matisse in his studio Photo: Lydia Delectorskaya

 

And then we have the wonderful Henri Matisse (1869-1954) being old, becoming new.  A new life that began for him in his seventies with his cut-outs. He revisited something he had attempted years earlier, but that he now transformed into a radical new art form as he became too ill to paint, confined to his bed and a wheel chair.  He began to use his scissors to ‘draw straight into the color’ as he described his method. Matisse’s family had been weavers in the textile industry for generations and he had always loved and collected fabrics, costumes, and textile wall hangings.  These were often inspiration and props, a part of the vocabulary of his paintings.  Matisse had grown up in Bohain, a textile town, where luxury fabrics were woven.  Old weaver’s tricks from his childhood in Bohain: this use of pins, of cutting of paper like cloth.  Something he had been familiar with since childhood.  In the Villa le Rêve where he lived during his last years this is refined into a last reinforcing act in a career that is particularly marked by his inclination toward reworking, reiterations, and rethinking -- the movement toward perfection.  How easy to rework with flat forms of color that are cut and pinned.  One unpins, recuts, repins.  He talked of the radiance of color and light in the stained glass windows of the Vence chapel he designed toward the end of his life.  It is the whole of me . . . everything that was best in me as a child.”   Matisse, the avowed atheist, wrote: "My only religion is love of the work to be created, and total sincerity."

 

Henri Matisse in the Chapel of the Rosary in Vence, 1951 (Photo: Life/Dmitri Kessel)

 

Elle vit apparaitre le matin
elle se tut discrètemen
t



Henri Matisse, The Thousand and One Nights, 1950, gouache on cut-and-pasted paper, Carnegie Museum of Art

 

The lovely Thousand and One Nights unscrolls from left to right telling us the story of Scheherazade weaving a tale -- the magic lamp and dusk, a blue form (that is a precursor to his later blue nudes, but here is the hovering djinn).  Hearts, leaves -- and hearts more than anything else -- border the work.   Work as love.  Dusk turns to dawn, the djinn is back in the lamp and Scheherazade stops her tale, is silent, discreet.  To live another day.  Positive and negative, and their juxtaposition and interplay, gouache, paper, scissors, pins.  Matisse, like Scheherazade, inventing new stories to keep himself going . . .  'une seconde vie' as he called it himself.
Being old, being new. 
In other words, being Scheherazade.

 

 

Visit: Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs at MoMA

 

Buy the Book: Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs -- Buchberg, Cullinan, et al.

 

Visit: El Greco in New York, Metropolitan Museum

 

Watch: Charlie Rose Interview with MoMA's Karl Buchberg and Jodi Hauptman

 

Tags:    art   design color  france   spain   museums   pattern

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Detail, El Greco, View of Toledo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Detail, Henri Matisse, The Thousand and One Nights

 

hearts, hearts, hearts

"My only religion is love of the work to be created, and total sincerity." Henri Matisse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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