Matisse: A Portrait of the Artist and the Man

Matisse: A Portrait of the Artist and the Man

Matisse: A Portrait of the Artist and the Man

Matisse: A Portrait of the Artist and the Man

Excerpt

Henri Matisse, as intimately revealed by M. Escholier in this fascinating book, is seen to have been a typical French artist unaffectedly engrossed from first to last in aesthetic problems and deeply attached to the simple hedonisms of French bourgeois life. He produced some important mural compositions; but his main and best known output was genre painting in the form of easel pictures; and his unique achievement was the presentation of genre painting in new and compulsive decorative terms.

His easel pictures, exhibited decade after decade, were so variously arresting and intriguing by audacious design and pictorial counterpoint that we were apt to concentrate on the artist's virtuosity (the product of his brains, his aesthetic and his taste) and leave unnoticed what his paintings were about. But looking back now on his whole œuvre as an easel painter we find the places he worked in and the physical material with which he deliberately surrounded himself so essential a hinge of his art that we cannot think of his pictures without recalling a series of French rooms with particular furnishings and certain kinds of decorative bric-a-brac, and a series of young women (friends and models), so sharply individualized that the pictures can be dated by the order of their occurrence. The range of this material is restricted (much of it is no more than is set up every Monday morning in every art school in Europe and America); but it adds up to a small coherent local world in itself, a corner of France in the twentieth century; and the meaning of that little world, with the artist in the centre, permeates the various aesthetic systems he invented for its evocation.

It follows that some knowledge of his habitations is necessary for the understanding of his pictures which were always influenced by them; and I therefore provide here a short summary into which the paintings and drawings reproduced can be fitted.

He was born at Le Cateau (near Cambrai and S. Quentin) in 1869. He went to Paris in 1892 and had his own studio there on the Quai St. Michel from c. 1895 till c. 1908. He went to Corsica in 1898 and saw Near Eastern pottery in the Moslem Exhibition in Paris in 1903. He spent some time in the Midi (St. Tropez, Collioure, Cavalière) in 1904, 1905, 1906 and 1910, and visited . . .

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