PLATE 27

Painted in 1937

LADY IN BLUE

36 1/2 x 29"

In 1935 Matisse, simplifying his art, abandoned shading altogether and made the figure as flat as its background, relying on line and the "optical" properties of color-oppositions of warm and cool color -- to give it relief. In this picture it defines itself against the wall by emblematic curves and counter-curves, and by the airy blue of the dress contrasted with the tile-like plots of color around it. The artist, attacking head-on the problem of flat easel-painting, came dangerously near the poster in these years.

With sweat and concentration, he went too often where his feeling could not quite follow. Starting with a somewhat realistic statement of the subject, he would in this period carry a painting through as many as twenty-two different stages in order to arrive at the most "permanent" definition of his "sensation." (The wonder is that the paint still looked fresh in the end.) But such studiedness made him his own art critic, and he would too often be satisfied with only the most static of resolutions.

 

PLATE 28

Painted in 1948

LARGE INTERIOR IN RED

Museum of Modern Art, Paris

37 1/2 x 38 1/4"

In 1909-10 Matisse "expressed the idea of an absolute blue" (his own words) in two large decorative canvases called Dance. Now he expresses an "absolute red," by a similar "saturation of the picture surface." In 1947-48 he painted a series of interiors in which the figure is either absent or subordinated, and that are deeper in color and more open than the pictures of the decade previous. The painting opposite is the masterpiece of the group, and a summit of Matisse's art. He had written in 1908: "What interests me most is neither still life nor landscape but the human figure. "Yet he has been far more consistently successful where he omits the figure or reduces its importance. Thus, see the great Window of 1916 (plate 30), which this picture so much resembles. And notice once again how foreground and background run together on the same color plane.

After thirty years, Matisse has returned to a grand style, and to the startling and profound simplicity that makes him unique.