Father of modern art who copied for more than just inspiration

Father of modern art who copied for more than just inspiration
Sajith Kumar
A very special exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, about the French modernist painter Henri Matisse (1869-1954) has been on throughout the winter months and will be closing on March 17. Titled Matisse: In Search of True Painting”, the exhibition of his works offer an insight into the artist’s thought processes. Wall texts in the show clearly state, “Painting did not, and never had, come easily to Matisse. Throughout his career, he constantly hesitated, questioned, repainted and re-evaluated his work.” For those who had thought otherwise, a review of the exhibition also stated that a visit to the show “should dispel any doubts about how hard this father of modern art laboured.”

Matisse was inclined towards Cubism and would often return to this style of painting in which Picasso, his chief rival excelled. He is known to have said that his main desire was to “push further and deeper into true painting” and would often return to the same subject to rework the painting and make copies that were often drastically different from the original.

Organised by Rebecca Rabinow, a curator of modern and contemporary art, the exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum despite Matisse’s long career, only comprises 49 paintings through which it sheds new light on Matisse’s inclination towards copying. Among the works on show one can see a number of subjects that have been rendered in two different styles. Here, one can see reflections of the styles of other French painters of the period — Cezanne, Gauguin, Signac and others whose works Matisse saw in the galleries in Paris. One might say that he was simply testing his own prowess by copying the same scene in the style of two master expressionists of the time. The show begins with pairs of early works that Matisse made in the beginning of his career. Two versions of a still life arrangement dating back to 1899, two versions of a seated young sailor in a cap dating to 1906, four views of Notre Dame, as seen from Matisse’s window painted between 1900 and 1914 and three portraits of one of his favourite models ‘Laurette’, dressed in a green gown — painted from the same angle but in varied distances around 1916-17.

Another review of the exhibition mentions that, “Matisse was — first and foremost — a supreme colourist. His use of pinks and purples, clarets, oranges and crimsons is more surprising and electric than any other.” His amazing use of use of colour in Alcanthus, a Moroccan landscape dating back to 1912, offers shades of blue, green, purple and pink along with yellow. His exotic interior with an Egyptian curtain painted in 1948, shows a red, green, yellow and black patterned backdrop for a pink table on which rest oranges in a white dish.

Matisse is as well known for his portraits of various women as he is for his still life studies. He is also known to have had a huge collection of gowns, shawls, drapes and carpets, collected from Morocco, Egypt and other European cities. These were used to create attractive colourful compositions, which helped create the feel of exotic locations within the confines of his New York studio. Another interesting bit of information is that Matisse is known to have planned each composition down to the last detail. In case the model was unavailable for some days, he would prefer to spend his time doing a still life, while waiting for her to return. The question of finding another model just did not arise as by this time, the image of the painting was clearly stamped in his mind.

(The writer is a winner of many advertising design awards and a painter of repute)


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