6 Things I Learned About Painting From the Met's Blockbuster Matisse Show: Page 2 of 2
6 Things I Learned About Painting From the Met's Blockbuster Matisse Show
He was unafraid to carefully plan his compositions in several stages, which is helpful if you have limited time with a subject – just one day, for example, as he had with the sailor. Between the first and second versions he stripped the composition of its layered and loose brushstrokes, and any bias they may have had towards realistic interpretation. “Young Sailor I” (1906) includes carefully considered proportions, a delicate treatment of the subject’s face, and much time spent on the highlights and lowlights of the body.
Meanwhile, in “Young Sailor II,” (1906) which is considered the more successful version, he rounds the features of the body, flattens the color planes, and puts most of the detail in the boy’s face into his enlarged and exaggerated eyes and narrowed chin. The second version manages to capture the presence of its subject, but more so than the first with its attention to just a few details.
Document Your Process
In the 1930s the artist hired photographer Matossian to document each stage of his painting process to help him determine how to progress forward with a work, and as evidence that his paintings were a highly strategic studio process rather than spontaneously derived –as was much the speculation of his critics. The result is a set of documents that provide the best existing inside look at his studio practice, of benefit both to historians and experienced painters.
For the painting “The Large Blue Dress” (1937), having photos allowed him pause and consider the work more objectively while painting over a long period. The series of 10 black-and-white images chart the work from loose sketches to reconsidered ruffles, and shades of deep blue to the angle of his model’s shoulders. When he exhibited the photographs alongside the painting in a 1945 exhibition at Galerie Maeght in Paris, he opened the public to his avant-garde works as well as his progressive studio practice, marking himself as an artist whose work was not just about a finished product, but also about the journey to get there.
Matisse’s Lasting Legacy
While the term “derivative” is viewed as a scarlet letter in the art world, the artist didn’t shy away from imitating his contemporaries. The exhibition is full of derivative works that were integral to his evolution as a painter. He borrowed and painted in both the styles of Cézanne and Signac early on, trying his hand at Impressionist brushwork and pointillist precision – in one instance with the same still life. The experimentation provided him range and expanded his knowledge of current trends, which he eventually used as an excuse to avoid them.
Though he was criticized more than once for not having his own style, he used his dabbling as a way to understand and master all techniques in practice. Ultimately, Matisse’s greatest gift to painting was his championing of an academic practice wherein he believed there was always a next step, and another angle to explore.
As an art school student, there were so many things I spent weeks muddling through in the studio that this exhibit now allowed me to finally see in perfect clarity, all in one place, by observing the exposed pencil marks and confident brushstrokes in Matisse’s canvasses.