PLATE 18

Painted 1916-17

BATHERS BY A RIVER

The Art Institute of Chicago

87 x 12' IO"

This huge picture is one of the artist's most ambitious works at a time when he abounded in ambition and seemed able, moreover, to bring off almost everything he put his hand to. Here the color, as monochromatic as it tends to be, rescues the whole from the monotony threatened by the design and makes the monotony itself part of the triumph.

Like so much of Matisse's work in the two years before, the picture contains echoes of Cubism -- in the straight up-and-down lines of the main design, and the clustered, parallel curves on the left, with their counter-curves on the right that recall Gauguin; and in the handling of anatomy, especially in the seated, wading bather upper left of center, whose body is cut into cones and rectangles not all of which belong to it. But it is very much Matisse's own kind of Cubism, and the confusions somehow strengthen the whole in spite of themselves (see commentary for plate 13). The alternation of vertical bands that make one plane of background and foreground is certainly Matisse's invention, and offers as interesting a solution to certain crucial problems of flat painting as anything in orthodox Cubism.

 

PLATE 19

Painted in 1911

RED STUDIO

Museum of Modern Art, New York

71 1/4 x 86 1/4"

This is the most abstract of three large interior views of his studio the artist did in 1911 (one of the other two is shown in plate 29), and is perhaps the flattest easel painting done anywhere up to that time. The uniform burnt sienna of floor and walls maintains the entire picture on a single frontal plane, depth being diagramed in linear perspective, but hardly represented otherwise. The tension between the schematic illusion, which has a curious vividness, and the warm and insistent physical surface makes the picture's drama. The device of joining top to bottom and background to foreground by a tract of flat color, sometimes covering only part of the picture, will be seen again in many of Matisse's most ambitious and successful paintings, particularly in 1915 and 1916, and in 1947 and 1948.

The pigment does not coat the surface, but is soaked into it so that the very fabric becomes the paint surface. Matisse is, as always, indifferent to paint surface as an end in itself, and generally shuns both impasto and translucent film if he can get what he wants by more purely pictorial means.