Painted in I897


39 1/2 x 52 1/2"

Matisse did this picture because his teacher, Gustave Moreau, advised him to execute an ambitious work as a masterpiece, in the original sense, to show he had finished his apprenticeship as a painter. The year before, he had discovered Impressionism and he makes no bones about it here. But the scintillation of glass-ware, crockery, and silver is rendered in tones of crusty white, not by iridescent touches; local color in the darker areas remains intact, and is modulated in more or less traditional chiaroscuro. Thus the effect comes closet to Fantin-Latour's half-academic Impressionism than to the authentic Impressionism of Monet et al. in the 1870s. What is quite Impressionist, however, is the composition, with its busy foreground placed in depth by being seen from above; also, three-quarters of the rectangle is fully lighted, in contradistinction to the traditional practice dating from the sixteenth century of swathing at least half the canvas in full or half shadow. Manet and the Impressionists had made painting bright again, indoors as well as outdoors. 



Painted in 1915


57 1/2 x 44"

This, the last of six "goldfish" paintings, is certainly one of the artist's very greatest works. Alfred Barr finds the overlapping triangles in the upper right corner "unresolved," and they do seem too unmotivated for the rest of the picture, whose abstractness consists in simplification and compression, not free invention. Yet the whole needs this "fault" as it also needs the muddiness of color and plane just below it (though the picture could stand a cleaning). The main structure triumphs by its economical and monumental clarity. Every line, faired to straightness or an exact curve, delivers its full force to the surface design.

The broad black-gray band uniting top and bottom of the picture (plate 18) here covers only part of the canvas's width. Inside it we read, as Mr. Barr says, rather than feel the space occupied by the table. As in Cubism, almost every plane is ambiguous and can be seen as on the surface or behind it: thus the transparent wedge of the tabletop lets the background come forward to the actual surface, yet its blue also insists on retreating -- in part because it is such a cool, out-of-doors color.




Painted in 1919


29 x 24"

Antoinette, Matisse's constant model during 1919 (she is seen again in plate 20), seems to have inspired him in the direction of a peculiarly grave yet obvious magnificence. The good looks of the girl, the bizarre splendor of her hat, and the rich simplicity of color and design are at first sight almost cloying. Yet, though Matisse has turned out his share of superficial work, this is not part of it. Responding to a subject attractive in itself and gotten up attractively, Matisse does not enhance the attractiveness in representing it, but creates an independent beauty. Antoinette's sex-appeal is so solemn as to contradict itself, what with the fixed stare of her eyes and the rigid set of her features that make her more effigy than seductive woman. What is really seductive are the appurtenances, the Indian red background, the pearly whites and grays in the feathers -- that is, the paint, the disinterested paint.