Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Henri Matisse, Color, Light, and Art

"Henri Matisse: Color and Light"
School Arts: Looking/Learning, National Gallery of Art (May/June 1999)

"Henri Matisse painted Open Window, Collioure in the summer of 1905, when he and André Derain worked together in the small Mediterranean fishing port of Collioure, near the Spanish border.

"The scene is filled with light, vibrant, and inviting. The vermillion masts of blue-hulled boats float on pink waves below a sky banded with turquoise, pink, and periwinkle. Reflected in the glass of the open window, the scene becomes rectangular blocks of bright green, watery cyclamen, and lilac, and the walls framing the view are violet and turquoise. These are hardly the colors of nature--and they provoked an outrage when Matisse exhibited Open Window, Collioure later in the year at the Salon d'Automne in Paris.

"Eyewitness accounts tell of laughter emanating from room VII, where audiences saw this painting and similar works by Matisse, André Derain, their friend Maurice de Vlaminck, and others. Gertrude Stein reported that people scratched at the canvases in derision, and a critic, noting the presence of a Renaissance-style statuette in the center of the room, quipped 'Tiens, Donatello chez les fauves' (Well, well, Donatello among the wild beasts). Soon, these artists were being called the fauves, and room VII la cage. It was one of the first places where the world got a glimpse of what art would be in the twentieth century.

"The fauves liberated color from any requirements other than those posed by the painting itself. 'When I put a green,' Matisse would later say, 'it is not grass. When I put a blue, it is not the sky.' He was painting pictures, not things. Color was a tool of the painter's artistic intention and expression, no longer limited by the imitation of nature...."

Matisse knew what he was doing.

In the Lemming's opinion, one reason that 'modern art' gets mocked so much is that it's entirely too easy to:
  • Slop something onto a canvas
  • Say that anybody who doesn't appreciate it is a dunce
  • Sell the mess for a few thousand dollars
Sort of like The Emperor's New Clothes, except this racket kept going for decades. The Lemming suspects there were too many people with lots of money and too little self-confidence: and that's another topic.

The National Gallery article tells about Matisse - and how this unlikely young man from an industrial town got started as an artist. You'll also find a (very) short discussion of how 19th and 20th century artists studied color.

And yes: artists don't just lie around being 'artistic.' There's a certain amount of work and research involved. If you're going to do it right. In the Lemming's opinion.

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