PLATE 22

Painted in 1926

ODALISQUE WITH A TAMBOURINE

28 x 21"

Since 1920 Matisse had been modeling in more pronounced darks and lights, sometimes hollowing the background, but much more often flattening it into ornamental patterns reminiscent of Persian art. Here he brings it further forward on the left than the figure itself by two juts of wall, but twists it so far back on the other side -- in a curve repeating the figure's -- as to make it part company with the perspective of the rest of the picture. And for once, he uses the palette knife for the red of the floor and, more importantly, to block out the mauve grays that give the planes of the nude such emphatic flatness. The crustier paint helps the color towards its dry incandescence, while the edges left by the knife blade render vividly the sharp overhead lighting.

Although a brilliant feat, this work is not quite as successful as it ought to be: the two vertical bands of wall on the left remain unintegrated with the whole, and the picture seems to stop where the red floor ends.

 

 

PLATE 23

Painted in 1927

DECORATIVE FIGURE ON AN ORNAMENTALE BACKGROUND

Museum of Modern Art, Paris

51 1/2 x 38 3/8"

The problem of reconciling the illusion of depth with the brute fact of the flat picture plane presented itself most often to Matisse as that of fitting the relief of the human form into a shallow, densely patterned background. In this unusual painting the problem is stated in such a way as to render a solution well-nigh impossible. The nude can hold her own against the clangorous wall and floor only by her massive modeling and intense, saturated color. These, however, thrust her forward so violently that she bursts the unity of pictorial space. And in any case she has no room behind her in which to recede, though the artist has tried to make it by shading the wall heavily next to her face.

This is one time that Matisse let his concerns as a sculptor intrude upon his painting. The distortions and simplifications of the nude's anatomy reflect those in certain of his bronzes done around the same time. He had been working off and on in plaster, clay, and bronze since 1899, and for all his debt to Rodin, had made himself in a modest and occasional way one of the very finest sculptors of our time.

 

PLATE 24

Painted in 1918

MONTALBAN

3/4 x 35 3/4"

That Matisse himself feels no predilection for landscape does not make him any the less great as a landscape-painter -- the greatest, perhaps, of the century. Artists are just as unconscious of their own true strengths and weaknesses as the rest of us.

He never painted better landscapes than in 1918. The perfection of this one is not achieved at the expense of power. Witness the charged restraint with which he plays the light, arbitrary-seeming blue of the tree trunks and roofs against the dun grays and browns further back. The curve of the road is sharpened, Cézanne-wise, to flatten it into a horizontal plane parallel to the picture surface; a higher arc would have pushed space back too far on the right. For here Matisse is using the old master's trick of massing a landscape forward on one side while opening it into distance on the other (Corot's View near Volterra in the National Gallery, Washington, would be an example). What is amazing is how he makes darks and lights act simultaneously as local colors and as means of shading. Hardly anything in painting since Cézanne rivals this picture as a synthesis of tradition and modernity.