Sunday, February 26, 2012

Park Place and Prospect, and more Matisse

Though fighting a nasty cold, I had a productive weekend with images of Brooklyn.

Now I am three quarters of the way through the first volume of the Matisse biography. Matisse learned about the Impressionists, Van Gogh and Cezanne from John Peter Russell and Camille Pissarro; he learned some more from Signac but Matisse didn't stay long in the Pointillist camp. There's a comment about the painter Maximilean Luce using "a sieve to speed up the process of covering his canvas evenly with coloured dots." Though he could not afford it, Matisse purchased a small Cezanne Bathers painting, which became his source of inspiration and hope. I found one tiny error in the book: the author refers to Cezanne as "in his seventies" when he was hounded by newspaper reports of being "diseased" because of his painting. Alas, Cezanne died at the age of 67, prematurely aged from diabetes.

Matisse spent the roughly 15 years from 1891 through 1905 in poverty, maligned by his family and other artists, always in need of money, suffering from anxiety and insomnia; and always unsure of himself. Maybe his sense of humor was a deciding factor. Also his wife, Amelie. Without her, he probably would not have survived. At one point, when he thought he might be selling out, he scrubbed clean a bunch of canvases for re-use (he couldn't afford to just throw them away). Of course, I suspect he destroyed some nice paintings.

What still confuses me are the 1905-06 paintings, such as Woman in a Hat, The Open Window, Collioure, and Interior with a Young Girl (Girl Reading). They are difficult paintings, even today, not very sensuous in terms of paint application. Painting is an acquired taste like drinking beer. Matisse had guts and was willing to risk everything.


Casey Klahn said...

"...acquired taste like drinking beer." That is a good thought.

I saw Woman in a Hat several months ago. I was puzzled by Matisse's work when I read the Spurling bio. He is a giant, but you often wonder why.

Hat is spare in paint (I looked really closely) because he was among those, I think, who were trying to explore the canvas and the surface itself. It has that pinkish hue that is like an unprimed canvas with a little tint. I saw the same colors on other modernist paintings. Another aspect is the simplicity and crudeness. Of course, she was working with a milliner at the time, hence the hat!

Good catch - HS is a smart author, but you are a close reader. I found the character John Peter Russell, who may have influenced even van Gogh, to be fascinating.

Bob Lafond said...

Casey, Thanks for the insights. Matisse was supposedly trying to use color apart from local color, but in the beginning he may have been more arbitrary than he wanted. Maybe the Woman with the Hat is like a Rosetta stone that leads to deciphering what comes later. Matisse seems to have taken one step forward and a half step back quite often to confuse even more.