Monday, September 17, 2012

‘In Search of True Painting’ of a legend

Throughout his career, legendary artist Henri Matisse (1869–1954) expanded the ambitious boundaries of his practice. By continually repeating a string of images in pairs and trios, sequences, and series, he engaged into a dialogue with his previous works so as to, as he himself had mentioned, "push further, deeper into true painting."

Right from early pairs like ‘Young Sailor I and II (1906)’, followed by ‘Le Luxe I and II’ (1907–8) through a trio of works - from his memorable stay on the Channel Coast to various studio scenes from Venice done in 1946–48, he is shown analyzing another recently finished work before graduating to one more with the same core theme and thus, in the process, devising innovative, at times radical, artistic solutions to problems such as exactly how to portray light, select colors, manipulate perspective, and handle paint.

His practice that involved repetition of compositions dates well back to the 1890s. Starting as a bright academically trained fellow, he was accustomed during his studenthood to copying the paintings of old master. This practice happened to supply Matisse with both a methodological background and a conceptual basis to work with repeated images. The artist strove to grasp contemporary art trends through constant experimentation with different methods and styles.

How better to get conversant with the weaknesses and strengths of Signac and Cézanne, for instance, than to arrange a captivating still-life composition and then paint it twice, firstly in the unique manner of the original artist (‘Still Life with Purro I and II’, both done in 1904; The Phillips Family Collection & private collection).

Henri Matisse's exploration of such style sparked off the creation of his first real pairs. In them, neither work is wholly indebted to any other artist. After his return to Collioure in the 1906 summer, he depicted a fisherman in a work, which has all those hallmarks of his own subtle expressive Fauvism. Later he executed a fresh version of the same composition on a similar sized canvas, employing flat color and deformation this time to build a dramatically different effect (‘Young Sailor I and II’, both done in 1906; Collection of Sheldon H. Solow and The Metropolitan Museum of Art).

All these landmarks of his career are effectively documented in a show slated to be held later this year at the New York-based The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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