Matisse – Colour and Pattern within Shapes

Henri Matisse - Reader on a Black Background - 1939 - 92 x 74 cm

I would like to engage further with the wonderful movement Matisse provides, both with colour and with his sophisticated use of pattern within shapes.

Let’s begin with colour.   When we focus on a colour we intuitively take in the same colour else-where in the composition.   This creates movement which Matisse orchestrates through scale and placement, like musical notes, determining lyrical engagement.

For example, when we look at the blue rectangles, we also sense the blues in the bouquet, as well as the vertical in the white rectangle at the right edge of the painting.  Do you feel the circular movement?   The little notes of blue on her shoes ensure we are not held in a tight area at the right of the composition, and instead bring us gently to the left, to engage with the wonderful movement through the warms of the figure and the small notes above and to the right.   The same goes for the other colours as well.  I should note that the temperature of the colours is also a factor in movement as we connect the orange with the red shapes Matisse provides the lyrical harmony through using shape motifs.

Another great consideration is using patterns within shapes.  In other words, not permitting the complexity of the subject to disrupt the harmonious relationships of the shapes.   In the bouquet, Matisse does this beautifully by treating it as an oval containing an arrangement of smaller ovals.   The two white oval shapes containing the pattern of yellow ovals and grey markings (which match the line drawings) are a great example of pattern within shapes.  Even the light grey areas in the bouquet with the blue markings read as ovals.

These are considerations used by many artists and Matisse did it better than anyone.

Matisse – Shapes and Eye Movement

Henri Matisse - Reader on a Black Background - 1939 - 92 x 74 cm


I love the way Matisse invites us to joyfully participate with his paintings.  My long standing admiration only increases with time.

In this posting I would like to focus on his beautifully choreographed shapes and eye movement.

By reducing the shapes to simple rectangles and ovals, he is able to focus on the relationships of these shapes, and guide us lyrically throughout the painting.  We move through the shapes because of his sensitivity to the spacing and integration.  Modelling or superfluous detail would only disrupt the harmony.

My own initial eye movement begins with the white rectangle.  Then, sensing the vertical integration upwards from its left edge, my eye moves to the light shape above the figure’s reflection.  The curved edge (partial oval) then carries me towards the rectangle with the figure drawing.  I then find my eye moving through the small white vertical rectangles to the blue shapes, which in turn guide me to the vertical green shape.  This leads my eye to the beautiful arrangement of ovals.

Another integrating eye path which I found exciting begins with the small black angle on the figure’s blouse, at the right arm.  Following its upward direction leads me to another line just above her head.  I hope you then can see the connection with a subtle series of parallels guiding our perusal through the red ovals and greenery to the hand of the figure drawing above.

I must point out an alternate path from the line just above her head.  It also connects to the reflection of her hair returning us to her face, providing wonderfully subtle containment.

I would like to finish with the orange oval feel of the figure’s legs.  If Matisse stayed within the lines, the lyrical harmony with her face would have been weakened.

There is so much more such as colour and pattern within shapes. I may do another post.


Matisse – Shape Motifs, Site Paths and Abstracting

Matisse – Bathers with a Tortoise – 1908 – 179 x 220 cm – oil on canvas

This homage to Cézanne’s magnificent Bather compositions is a beautiful move towards more abstract considerations.

Matisse immediately engages us with the figures and tortoise by simplifying (abstracting) the background.  Their oval motifs and positioning create beautifully considered oval site paths.

If we begin with the tortoise our eye carries up the arm of the crouching figure to the orange of her hair.  We then move to the black oval of the standing figure’s hair which in turn leads to the black in the hair of the seated figure.  The oval feel of the third figure guides us downward along the direction of her feet returning us to the tortoise.  If you follow this path in either direction your finger will be drawing an oval.

There are others. From the tortoise to the angle of the seated feet, connecting to the curve of her back and head taking us to the oval in the standing figure.  We then move towards the orange, bringing us back to the tortoise.  If your eye path takes you from the tortoise to the exaggerated foot of the standing figure up the contour of her back you will continue towards the orange and return to the focus of the tortoise.  They are not intended to be apparent.  You will sense rather than see them.

Reducing the background to three bands was a bold move in 1908, and by doing this Matisse holds our attention on the relationships of the figures and tortoise.  Any detail in the background would only disrupt their rhythmic integration.

He masterfully provides a shift on the bottom edge of the blue band behind the standing figure.  Can you feel the sense of depth this creates?  The edge then moves downward at the right edge of the painting, enhancing the oval motif.

The emphasis of the length of the central figure’s left foot ensures the importance of the tortoise.  The weight of the seated figures feet sensitively anchors the composition by almost touching the bottom edge of the painting.

I must point out the how Matisse supported the seated figure with a simple dark green shape.   I have come to appreciate the sophistication of the reductive process.

This is a great painting, leading the way towards the marvellous considerations in twentieth century art.


Influences – (Cezanne on Matisse)

Henri Matisse - First Orange Still Life - 1899 - 56 x 73 cm - oil on canvas

Permitting the work of notable artists to show in your development has a great tradition, and can lead to a commitment or direction.  The key is being aware of the difference between influence and copying.

The above development level painting by Matisse is a good example of having too many considerations .  We have difficulty moving gracefully through the painting because he is more focused on information (what he sees), rather than adjusting for the sake of composition.


Henri Matisse - Still Life with Oranges II - 1899 - 47 x 55 cm - oil on canvas

In this painting, done in the same year, Matisse is permitting Cezanne’s considerations of  reduced modelling by allowing shapes and colour to come forth.  He has become aware of the power of shapes and colour and how to use them to create harmony in composition.  We see this in the fruit, the cup and the pitcher as well as the large shapes in the background.  How he chose where not to use shadows is impressive because he is freeing himself from depiction.  He reduced the fruit on the table to coloured circles because through studying Cezanne, he realized that modelling would only disrupt the rhythm of the circles and unnecessarily clutter the painting, as we see in  “First Orange Still Life” above.

He did not copy, as he flattened the fruit more than Cezanne had done.  We see the influence as well as the next step towards what we see as a Matisse.

Showing influence and acknowledging it is a great way to develop.

Influences – (Cezanne and Matisse on Diebenkorn)

Richard Diebenkorn - Nude on Blue Ground - 1966 - 206 x 150 cm - oil on canvas

This painting is a great example of a great painter permitting another to influence his work.   In the Matisse painting below (posted on Oct. 19, 2011), we see how he brought the background, or a spatial plane, in front of the figure’s right shoulder.

Diebenkorn used shadows to achieve the same result.  The shadow below her chin seems to be part of the background as well, and I feel the sharp right angle is the key.  You can also feel the sense of a spatial plane below her left breast and another beautifully considered right angle on her right arm which relates to the angle under her chin.  (Blurring your vision may help)

This sophisticated consideration provides the feeling the figures occupying space.

I must also point out Diebenkorn’s superb integration of the figure’s right arm with the line leading to the bottom of the painting and how this supports her.  I also love how her face comes forward, very impressive.

Being aware of these influences can be very beneficial for developing artist’s.  Joining with this great tradition is a great way to develop as long as you understand the difference between being influenced and copying.  You need to connect to the thought process and knowledge of the artists you choose.


Matisse – (Motifs, Rhythm and The Reductive Process)

Henri Matisse - Zorah on the Terrace - 1912 - 116 x 100 cm - oil on canvas

In this painting Matisse shows us the importance of shape motifs and how the reductive process brings forth sophistication.

Let me begin with the rhythm we sense from his wonderful motif of ovals. The harmony of the three ovals of the fish bowl integrating with the oval forming the lower portion of the kneeling figure is truly elegant.  Another rhythm of shapes is the  arrangement of, may I term, pointed ovals.  The fish, her slippers and that wonderful orange one just below her belt.  There are more within the slippers and of course colour temperature comes into play with the warms harmonizing with her face.

This brings me to another question which I think shows us Matisse’s level of sophistication.  Why doesn’t the white and blue design of her garment continue up to her shoulders?  The reason, I feel, is if the strong pattern continued it would be competing with her face which is the focus of the composition.  Having reduced the contrast by almost blending the pattern with the background is superb.

How Matisse reduced the architecture and light to simple lines and shapes is revolutionary, and will greatly influence twentieth century art.  We respond to the colours and interpret with our senses!

Matisse has provided artists the opportunity of refining, by reducing information, (removing the superfluous), which is a fascinating pursuit.

I would also like to mention another very refined use of integration.  Go to the top right of the carpet. Can you feel a connection running through her arm to the dark rectangle shape?  Can you feel a plane coming forth?  I hope you can.

Matisse – (The Grid)

Henri Matisse - Woman with Veil - 1927 - 61 x 50 cm - oil on canvas

This is a wonderful example of refining cubism.  In fact in this sophisticated painting Matisse has combined what could be viewed as conflicting considerations, the combination of cubism and flattening.

Let’s begin with what I feel is cubism at it’s best, her forehead.  Can you feel it projecting towards you?  Fantastic!  The key is the  line connecting her eye brow with her hair which creates a sense of a plane coming forward.  This when combined with the wonderful angle which reads as her veil, which we automatically interpret as being in front, is a superb example of the power of reduction.

Now to the flattening, which I feel is as important as Cezanne’s spatial planes in art.  The grid.  This is not easily explained because it is something we feel and it may take time for you to permit yourself to accept it.

Why did Matisse superimpose the grid on the figure.  I think it was time for taking the next step in the evolution of spatial planes.  In other words the presence of the figure is stronger because of the planes the grid provides.  This is far superior to traditional modelling.  Why?  We subconsciously and interpret space with planes and Matisse understood this.

I should mention that Matisse didn’t abandon modelling as we see in the shading.  The flattening is not a rejection of modelling.  It provides another level of refinement for artists, which is challenging, and Matisse has shown us a great refinement in art which will become prominent in twentieth century painting.

Picasso – (Spatial Planes and Influences)

Pablo Picasso - Woman with a Fan - 1908 - 152 x 101 cm - oil on canvas

This is an excellent example of how Picasso permitted others to influence his development.  We not only see the pushing of Cezanne’s spacial planes, we also see his collaboration with Matisse on this intriguing challenge. (see my Oct.19th post) and we also see their mutual reaching for the powerful stirrings we sense in primitive art which I will discuss in future postings.

Picasso uses a spatial shift by having the figure’s shoulders on different levels.  By having the left shoulder lower and the front plane carry across her chest, provides the feeling of her right shoulder being on a different plane.  Try to feel the space more than the depth,(blurring your vision may help).  You may also feel the front of her dress come forward as well. The push and pull of the planes is superb.  We sense her dress coming forward and then her left arm coming forth. Can you feel the shift?

Picasso’s superb use of integration of the figure, the chair and the background is fantastic.  The entire composition avoids the static feel because spatial planes are closer to our reality than perspective.   I hope you can sense this.

I find it interesting that the wonderful consideration of spatial planes requires reduction to succeed.

Influences – (Matisse on Hofmann)

Hans Hofmann - Pink Table with Still Life and Palette - 1936 - 132 x 96 cm - oil on panel

As in my post of September 1st. on Cezanne influencing Matisse, we see the influence on Hofmann.  We should be aware of and participate in the continuity of art, which opens doors for new considerations for those who follow.

Hofmann has used the tilting up of the table top very interestingly by adding another bold  consideration, the rhythmic shape at the bottom left of the table top, which seems to be both on and in front of the table.  This is a wonderful spatial plane, and he integrated it beautifully with a vertical just below at the right of the shape, and upwards with the curve of the table top.  Another spatial plane on the table top, the pink rectangle at the bottom which seems to come forth, very impressive!  There are some planes in the red just below the table top at the right as well.  Can you feel their connection with the table?  The combination of his free gestural stokes with his structural considerations are very impressive and I love the transparency of the green vase at the right.

Hofmann was a very knowledgeable painter and a superb teacher, who was influential in the development of the Abstract Impressionist movement in New York, which was wonderfully convoluted in the 30’s.

I will be posting more on Hofmann’s development of spatial planes with colour.

Matisse – (Integration with lines and shapes)

Henri Matisse - Portrait of Greta Prozer - 147 x 93 cm - oil on canvas

In this delightfully reduced and and rhythmically distorted painting, Matisse has integrated the subject with line and shapes elegantly.

I love the rhythm of lines and how they integrate with the figure.  Lets begin with the line at the top of the chair taking your eye across the rim of her hat, which then loops down to a  vertical black line indicating the chair back at her left.  Which then connects to a faint line that attaches to the left arm of the chair.  The vertical front of the chair arm then integrates beautifully with her leg, taking us to the bottom of her dress.  Matisse then provides us with lines leading us back to the top of the chair.  This is just one of a few rhythmic paths for us to engage with.

There are a number of very interesting considerations in this painting.  One that stands out is her shoes.  Why do they blend with the background?  The reason is Matisse wants your eye to move along the bottom of her dress or under the black shape.  If he hadn’t blended them, they would be competing with these rhythmic lines, returning you to her eyes, and she is now gracefully floating.

Rhythm needs harmonious structure and Matisse has balanced them masterfully with a motif of rectangles holding the composition together beautifully.  We first have the strong black one at the bottom under the chair, then another on her chest and a fantastic one under her chin. (They just need to have the sense of being rectangles.)    How they hold the composition together is most impressive and I often think of this painting when I am working.

Two other great considerations in this painting are distortion and reduction, which comes to the forefront when an artist is thinking composition before information.

Ask yourself why?  I will talk about this in future posts,