Would you not agree – along with the rest of the entire western world – that the paintings of Henri Matisse rank among your favorites? (Copy Writing 101: don’t ask a question that can be answered in the negative. I am, however, so confident your answer is “yes,” I feel safe in asking.)
Henri Matisse, Les Poissons Rouges, 1912
Collection of Pushkin Museum, Moscow
Vivid, playful, and fluidly drafted, the paintings of Henri Matisse inspired an entire new Lisa Confetti collection (with much thanks to my friend and sales rep Marci for her brilliant idea). Chunky, funky rings I have dubbed “eye candy accessories with yummy masterpiece middles.” Connecting them to the season, they are as pretty as Easter eggs – exquisite, artistically crafted Easter eggs. Not the ones you botched as a kid.
available at http://lisaconfetti.com and on etsy.
The introduction of a radical new artistic style is always met with heated resistance (think rock in the 60s, rap in the 80s). In 1874, a group of artists sarcastically dubbed by disparaging journalists as Impressionists, broke out of the stylistic straight jacket of the Governmentally managed French Salon and its hugely influential biannual exhibition to stage their own show. It was met with howls of outrage. (See my November 3, 2009 blog post.) 31 years later, with the Impressionists now enjoying favor, fame and fortune, Henri Matisse (1869-1954) led a new group of experimental artists in organizing its own 1905 exhibition. To the early 20th century eye, the paintings were so simplified in design and so vivid in color that a shocked art critic declared the artists to be fauves (wild beasts). As it did with the Impressionists, the tag line stuck, and the radical new style of Fauvism had a name.
LEFT to RIGHT:
The Dance, 1909, Collection of The Hermitage, St. Petersburg
Madame Matisse (The Green Line), 1905, Statens Museum for Kunst, Coppenhagen
Red Room (Harmony in Red), 1908-1909, Collection of The Hermitage, St. Petersburg
Exposed through colonial expansion to the exotic arts in Africa, Polynesia and Central and South America, the Fauvists incorporated unexpected shapes and colors into their canvases, making a final break with the realistic artistic traditions of the Renaissance.
Even though the works were derided by critics, the French art buying public had seen enough “radical” artistic experimentation by now to appreciate new, talented artists. Like Picasso (a near contemporary), Matisse realized success and prosperity relatively early in his long, productive carrer, and he is now recognized as one of the three seminal artists of the 20th century, along with Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp.
Henri Matisse was well on his way to becoming a lawyer when, at the age of 22, he persuaded his father to let him abandon law for art and went to Paris to study under William-Adolph Bouguereau. As you learned in my November 3, 2009 post, Bouguereau was the most successful and awarded academician of his time. He was technically brilliant, but his artistic taste is now universally questioned.
Confident in navigating an independent artistic path, Matisse quickly left Bouguereau to study under Gustave Moreau, a teacher much more open to new experimental styles he didn’t understand. Matisse’s rejection of traditionalism created great (but temporary) personal sacrifice. Painting in a conventional style, he had been selling canvases. But when he stepped onto a radical artistic path, sales ceased. With a wife and three children, Matisse studied and honed his talent until at 35 years of age, he organized the break-out exhibition mentioned above and was finally recognized. Success snowballed. (Note to self: Believe.)
My only (and grossly selfish) complaint about Henri Matisse is that he hasn’t been dead long enough. His body of work spans over half a century, into the 1950s, and throughout his long life his creative gift never flagged. Look at his spectacular series of paper cutouts, created when he was in his 80s.
LEFT to RIGHT:
Icarus, 1947, Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
The Snail, 1953, Tate Gallery, United Kingdom
Blue Nude, 1952, Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
The Sorrows of the King, 1952, Collection of National d’Art Moderne, Paris
My conundrum: I can only reproduce works created before 1923. So these exquisite pieces (perfect for jewelry!) are off limits until I am well beyond my jewelry making years. (This is assuming the year works fall into the public domain inches along with time. 1923 today, 1933 in 2020, hopefully.)
Okay, here is a warning. The following information is only for those who are truly interested in the study of art history. Everyone else may find it mind numbing.
There is a very interesting new development in Matisse scholarship. The Chicago Art Institute is staging an exhibition Matisse: Radical Reinvention, 1913-1917 (March 20 – June 20, 2010), and one of its most celebrated canvases is a favorite in the collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Writing about the upcoming exhibition for Vanity Fair Magazine (if you don’t yet subscribe, do), British art historian John Richardson revealed a startling discovery.
A star painting in the Art Institute of Chicago’s exhibition “Matisse: Radical Reinvention, 1913-1917” is Goldfish and Palette, which has long been a favorite with visitors to New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Few, however, have spotted that it is a baton in an artistic relay race that goes from Cezanne to the great period of Matisse’s that this show celebrates, to Cubism. In a letter Matisse wrote to a friend in 1914 was a sketch of a goldfish bowl on a table set off against the railings of his studio balcony. The sketch included the artist himself, holding a rectangular palette just as his hero, Cezanne, does in a famous 1885 self-portrait. In the course of working on the painting, however, Matisse did a vanishing act, whittling his image down to a vestigial scaffolding. All that remains is the palette with a thumb in it. I see this iconic white rectangle as the baton in the relay race of modern art. Trust Picasso to pick up on it, when, a year later, he came to paint his tragic, self-reverential Harlequin (which also belongs to MOMA). Seeing this late Cubist masterpiece, Matisse hailed it as his arch-rival’s greatest work to date, because it owed everything to him. For years, nobody could figure out what he meant. The link? What else but Cezanne’s palette. Cezanne had passed it on to Matisse, turned it into a barely perceptible self-portrait on a rectilinear canvas his Harlequin alter ego is clutching. Subsequent abstractionists would pass the baton from one to another until there was nothing left but a blank rectangle. (JOHN RICHARDSON, Vanity Fair, March, 2010)
Here they are, the paintings John Richardson wrote about above. Do you see the palette in each painting? And its journey toward abstraction?
LEFT to RIGHT:
Paul Cezanne, Self Portrait with Palette, 1885, Private Collection
Henri Matisse, Goldfish and Palette, 1914, The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Pablo Picasso, Harlequin, 1915, The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Now bringing this back full circle to Lisa Confetti, I find the comparison between a Matisse goldfish painting I used in my Weightless necklace (below left) with the MOMA goldfish painting to be fascinating. The passage of time is only 2 years, but the stylistic shift toward cubism — flat surface, hard edged outlines, geometric shapes — is easily apparent and dramatic.
LEFT to RIGHT:
Les Poissons Rouges, 1912, Collection of Pushkin Museum, Moscow
Goldfish and Palette, 1914, The Museum of Modern Art, New York
There you have it, friends. J’ai fini. I don’t know if this is any fun for you to read, but I sure got a kick out of writing it. Thank you for bearing with me. Until next time, Lisa.
Art in Our Times: A Pictorial History 1890-1980, Peter Selz, 1981. Harry N. Abrams, Incorporated.
Mainstreams of Modern Art, John Canaday, 1981. Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, Seventh Edition, Louise Gardner. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.
Matisse’s Missing Link, John Richardson, March 2010. Vanity Fair.