Friday, April 10, 2009

Paintings I Like, pt. 28

Henri Matisse, Still-Life with Blue Tablecloth, 1909. Oil on canvas, 35" x 47."

Henri Matisse, Reclining Odalisque, 1926. Oil on canvas, 15" x 22."

Henri Matisse, Seville Still-Life, 1910-11. Oil on canvas, 35" x 46."

Henri Matisse, The Moorish Screen, 1911. Oil on canvas, 36" x 29."

I've been thinking about Matisse a lot lately, for a number of reasons. I'm teaching a color course with a pattern component right now, and needless to say, it's a good time to revisit with a fresh eye a lot of the pictures that I've seen a million times.

Without gushing about his mastery, I'll say this: he was a master. Like his friend Bonnard, he could confound figure and ground without painting abstract pictures; using limited value contrasts to mash objects back into the flattened, shallow space, and using pattern to bring the ground almost all the way up to the picture plane. He could also paint people without making pictures about people, which is a much bigger deal than it sounds like - his figures had no particular psychology to explore, they exist on the same plane (literally and figuratively) as the still-life elements, furniture, textiles, and the other objects and spaces in the pictures. Matisse used color as a leveler of those things, and like all great colorists he made it looks easy, which led (and still leads) many to question the scope of his achievement.