Fine Arts Research Paper

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Henri Matisse

Still Life after Jan Davidsz. de Heem's 'La Desserte'

Henri Matisse was one of the great "colorist of the 20th century" and is one of Picasso's rivals in the area of innovations. Matisse is reported to have "emerged as a Postimpressionist, and first achieved prominence as the leader of the French movement Fauvism." (The Art Story, 2011) Matisse was interested in Cubism but rejected this seeking rather to use color "as the foundation for expressive, decorative, and often monumental paintings." (The Art Story, 2011) Matisse is noted for having stated that he sought to create an art that would be "a soothing, calming influence on the mind, rather like a good armchair." (The Art Story, 2011) Matisse was born to a middle class family and his father was a merchant selling grain and hardware. Matisse began his career as a law clerk but was anxious and felt the work too tedious. After an appendicitis attack during his recovery, it is reported that Matisse 'discovered the welcome isolation and freedom of painting." (The Art Story, 2011) In 1891, Matisse traveled to Paris to study art but failed the entrance exams for the Ecole des Beaux Arts however joining the studio of French symbolist painter Gustave Moreau in 1892. Moreau instructed his students stating that colors "…must be thought, dreamed, imagined." (The Art Story, 2011) It was the Symbolist influence that led Matisse to use color so expressively in his own works. In 1905, Matisse spent the summer in Collioure and worked with Andre Derain for the purpose of creating a "new style of pure colors and bright light. The new style became known as Fauvism." (The Art Story, 2011) Fauvism was a very short movement ending soon and in 1905, Matisse became acquainted with Pablo Picasso beginning a "lifelong friendship and rivalry." (The Art Story, 2011) The work of Picasso and Matisse are differentiated by Picasso's deconstruction of objects into Cubist planes while Matisse constructed an object's form by his use of color.

I. Painting Style

The style of used by Henri Matisse in the painting Still Life after Jan Davidsz. de Heem's 'La Desserte' is that of Cubism. Cubism is a name for art suggested in 1909 by Henri Matisse and is a "non-objective approach to painting developed originally in France around 1906 by Picasso and Baque. Cubism is characterized by the emphasis on the process of construction "of creating a pictorial rhythm and converting the represented forms into the essential geometric shape: the cube, the sphere, the cylinder, and the cone." (Boguslawski, 2005)

The painting is in oils and painted during a "pivotal period in Matisse's artistic development when he temporarily abandoned his interest in decorative patterning and brilliant color for darker, more abstract compositions. The curators propose that these geometrically composed paintings, dominated by blacks and grays, were at least partly a response to World War I, which erupted in Europe in 1914, a year after Matisse, returned to Paris from Morocco." (Levin, 2010) It is stated that the works accomplished by Matisse during these period also serve to "represent his attempt to absorb and respond to the challenge of cubism, then the dominant trend in the avant-garde art world, with its radical reinvention of form and space." (Levin, 2010)

Between the years 1909 and 1911, analysis conducted on human forms and still-lifes resulted in the creation of a "new stylistic system which allowed the artist to transpose the three-dimensional subjects into the flat images on the surface of the canvas. An object, seen from various points-of-view, could be reconstructed using particular separate "views" which overlapped and intersected." (Boguslawski, 2005) Reported, as the result of such reconstruction was "a summation of separate temporal moments on the canvas. Picasso called this reorganized form the "sum of destructions," that is, the sum of the fragmentations. Since color supposedly interfered in purely intellectual perception of the form, the Cubist palette was restricted to a narrow, almost monochromatic scale, dominated by grays and browns." (Boguslawski, 2005)

II. Analysis of Major Theme and Mood

The theme of the painting Still Life after Jan Davidsz. de Heem's 'La Desserte' is a table spread with desserts. Depicted in the painting is a variety of food items including fruits, wine and bread, as well as a mandolin strategically placed nearby. It is clearly during the day as one can see the trees outside of the window, which provides a light that casts shadows on the table and food items. The mood is serene and expectant.

III. Observation of Specific Mode of Expression Employed

Levin (2010) states that the message or the "…inescapable message of this dazzling exhibition is that making great art is hard work…" and that it is stated by curators of the museum that during this period, "…Matisse became increasingly preoccupied with letting the public see the process of making art, what he called "the methods of modern construction. Using a variety of new technologies to probe beneath the surface of Matisse's artwork, the curators demonstrate how the artist was constantly reworking and revising his ideas, scraping, scratching, and repainting his canvases, adding to and subtracting from his sculptures." (Levin, 2010)

Levin states that Matisse "…no longer sought to hide the grids and lines that artists use to organize their paintings. And so in the painting "Portrait of Yvonne Landsberg," from 1914, we see winglike incisions above her shoulders, as though he were intent on showing us his lines of construction." (2010) If one looks close enough at the painting Still Life after Jan Davidsz. de Heem's 'La Desserte' one is easily able to see the pre-construction lines as Matisse began his work on the painting and which he did not bother to cover as he completed the work.

IV. Generalized Form and Physicality of the Work

Cubism is described in the work of Chipp (2011) to be a "new way of representing the world. By way of natural reaction against the fugitive elements employed by the Impressionists, painters felt the need to discover less unstable elements in the objects to be represented. And they chose that category of elements which remains in the mind through apprehension and not continually changing. For the momentary effects of light they substituted, for example what they believed to be the local colors of objects. For the visual appearance of a form they substituted what they believed to be the actually quality of this form." (Chipp, 2011 )

However, that led to a type of representation which was purely descriptive and analytical, for only the relationship that existed was that between the intellect of the painter and the objects and practically never was there any relationship between the objects themselves." (Chipp, 2011) Cubism, according to Chipp "is not a manner but an aesthetic, and even a state of mind; it is more inevitably connected with every manifestation of contemporary thought, possible to invent a technique or a manner independently, but one cannot the whole complexity of a state of mind." (Chipp, 2011)

Tyler Green (2010) reports that Matisse, just as did Gris, "embraces using black, both to outline objects and to confine them to place. Before Gris (and again, years later, after he 'moved past' his initial encounter with Gris), Matisse made dozens of paintings where he treated lemons, apples and other traditional French still-life objects the way Paul Cezanne did: They floated, they hovered, all the while defying traditional perspective space. While in Gris's sway, Matisse painted his four weirdest, most difficult and arguably most wonderful still-lifes." (Green, 2010)

The work of Matisse began in this painting by "… re-working his own 1893 copy of Jan Davidsz. de Heem's 1640 La Desserte. It's a particularly revealing choice: There was really no reason for Matisse to go back to a painting he'd already worked through unless he wanted to do something specific, in this case, he wanted to consider Gris's cubist methods. For two decades, Matisse had worked through the new by applying it to something he'd seen in the Louvre, so it was time to try that again. The 1915 updating of the de Heem is a shocking painting with a big, black stake right down the center of the painting, anchoring a loose grid and holding everything down, in place. (Matisse used a similar stake in several Gris-influenced paintings, including MoMA's Goldfish and Palette and in the Art Institute's Bathers by a River. ) De Heem's still-life components mostly hang in little cubbyholes on either side of the stake. Matisse isn't copying Gris' cubism, he's adding it to his own language." (Tyler, 2010)

V. Areas that Play a Dominant or Positive Role

Matisse's work is noted by one source to spread all across the canvas and it is stated that this "all-over quality in Matisse's work stemmed from his appreciation of Islamic art. With its decorative appear, coloristic richness and resistance to a centralized focus, Islamic art…" significantly influenced Matisse. (Matisse Picasso Website, 2002) Matisse has taken a seventeenth Dutch painting and transformed it…

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