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.
Fernand Léger - Still Life with a Beer Mug - 1921-22 - 91 x 60 cm - oil on canvas
Cubism has intrigued many artists and Léger is showing a refined approach to this great consideration. In this painting he uses cubist shifting, which is showing two or more views of an object simultaneously. We see this at the top edge of the table and at the top of the mug. Léger broadened the shifting consideration to include integrations, most notably the integration of the vertical in the mug’s opening with the vertical black line above, providing a key connection in the composition. He has also done this on the mug’s handle and with sensitive restraint where the white line joins the white of the bowl containing the fruit.
Léger’s traditional modelling of thecurtain and the items on the table is perfectly restrained and beautifully balanced with the flattening of the background and floor. I like how we feel the roundness of the mug even though the shapes on the front are flat. How he combined cubism with it’s sense of space with the raising of the background and mug to the picture plane is wonderful. Can you feel the yellow and red shapes trying to come forward to the level of the mug and table top?
I’ll finish with a wonderful example of integration. Run your eye up the table leg below the fruit bowl. Do you feel the sense of the leg on the table top? That is why he painted the two shadowy shapes.
Léger enhanced and refined two great movements in twentieth century painting.
Georgio Morandi – Still Life – 25 x 30 cm – oil on canvas
Morandi’s contemplative paintings speak to me and I quite often find myself visiting them for the appreciation of his mastery of the reductive process.
In this Still Life he arranged three items directly in front of each other creating a beautiful arrangement of shapes and lines. How he integrated the three with the table and background is absolutely gorgeous.
I love the elegant structure of the shapes, especially the relationship of the top of the spout with the rhythmic movement of the three marks at the right. The horizontal dark line holds them beautifully. (see detail image) I hope you can feel the relationships.
Two of the marks (above the dark line) and the top of the goblet seem to float, connecting our gaze to that sensitive horizontal shadow in the goblet’s top, and leading us to the oval top of the spout. We are then gently brought down to the wonderful dark structure. I mustn’t neglect another sensitive movement, leading our eye down the spout to the bottom edge of the ochre shape on the goblet. This in turn takes us to that magnificent small curved mark engaging us with the movements above.
The top of the goblet seems to be floating, energizing the painting brilliantly. Reducing the subject matter to an arrangement of shapes supports this consideration masterfully. The blending or integration of the objects with the background and table is visual poetry at it’s best.
Note how we seem to be both level with the goblet and slightly above it at the same time. I’m sure this is an homage to Cézanne.
The painting is an exquisite arrangement of shapes and lines revealing a level of sophistication and visual poetry I admire greatly.
Ben Nicholson - Still Life (Violin) - 1932 - 30 x 24 in - oil and gesso on board
This painting is an excellent example on how artists allow recent influences to show in their development. Nicholson engaged with Cubism as a means to refine and personalize his awareness of this major development in contemporary painting, and used it to provide a solid foundation for his journey towards abstraction. Here, like Picasso and Braque, he uses the picture plane while simultaneously shifting our view to provide the sense of space.
The lines of the grid are both in front and behind the violin, conveying the feeling of space. I love the repeating rhythm of a series of vertical rectangles and how their dance gently contains my perusal. Can you feel how the white one is nearer and the others recede? You are meant to sense this dance rather than see the harmony they provide in the composition. The two verticals patterned with dots is open to interpretation ( I think of the act of playing the instrument and the rhythmic lines at the upper left is the sound of the music.)
The wonderful “shifting of space” in the body of the violin, the positioning of the F-holes and showing us the side view of the neck and scroll not only shows Nicholson’s understanding of cubism, it also shows us his restraint and refinement of this great consideration in twentieth century painting.
Giacometti – Self Portrait – 1921 – 32 x 28 in – oil on canvas
Giacometti’s command of composition is absolutely marvellous in this superb painting.
I will focus on his wonderful integration of the figure with the other elements in the composition. Let’s begin with how your eye is taken across the painting from the seat of the chair, along the bottom of his jacket, to the bottom of his right leg, then you are guided up to the verticals behind. Another beautiful integration is how the curve at the bottom of his pant leg rhythmically connects to the curved element to the left, which in turn, guides you up to his hand. I love it! Also take note how the bottom of his trousers connects to the lower edge of his other leg and how the bottom of his pant leg then integrates with the chair leg. I was and still am taken with how he integrated the other chair leg (between his legs) with his pant leg. Can you feel how the angle in the chair runs into his pants creating a small blue triangle? (see detail)
This very impressive small dark blue triangle provides a sense of overlapping. The top edge of this gorgeous little triangle also parallels a dark line above which in turn integrates with the edge of his palette. Can you feel the movement and shapes? There is also another sense of an angle at the bottom of the dark line (creating another plane) which parallels the angle in the chair leg. There is more. That dark line also connects to a subtle purple line which carries downward into his leg, creating another wonderfully subtle triangle.
Note the line just to the left of his pocket and how this guides you up to the front of his neck and how his chin and his collar connect to the horizontals behind. Just one more, it’s how he leads you upwards through his arm from the opening in his jacket.
There is more for you to engage with, and I hope you enjoy this wonderful early composition by this twentieth century master. I am impressed with how Giacometti permitted to show Cézanne’s influence.
Giorgio Morandi - Still Life - 1920 - 50 x 52 cm - oil on canvas
Giorgio Morandi - Still Life - 1958-oil - 36 x 41 cm - oil on canvas
Morandi’s path is a wonderful study of searching for the essential through restriction of the subject matter. I admire his discipline and the sophistication of his mature work.
Like most of us, his early work was focused on developing figurative skills. Now when he began conveying the essence of the subject matter is difficult to say and of course it happens over time and study. He was well educated in the wonderful considerations in modern painting, and connected to seeking the prime in things.
Here we have two still life paintings thirty eight years apart, which clearly shows his evolution through reduction. Morandi’s focus in his 1920 Still Life (which has a Cezanne influence) was depiction. This is perfectly fine and time honoured. He has allowed some distortion but representing the objects is the intent. We take in the objects, we see but we don’t feel their relationships.
In his 1958 painting his considerations are very different. We instantly connect or “feel” the relationships of the objects. Why is that? I’m not going to impose my analysis on you. I would rather you feel the painting, as I do, and permit yourself time to embrace Morandi’s sensitivity. What is important to know is that Morandi’s understood “primitivism” which is the connection to our prime.
A very sophisticated consideration and I find It truly wonderful how the connection deepens each time I visit his mature paintings. .
Two Boxes – 2012 – 23 x 33 cm – mixed water soluble media
This recent painting is an excellent example of how I permit influences to show in my paintings. My first consideration in this composition is the feeling of the space between the orange chair and the blue boxes and the use of spatial planes (Paul Cezanne). I also refined the composition through reduction (Ben Nicholson), and determined eye movement with Paul Klee’s approach to guiding the viewer’s perusal. I’m not thinking of these masters when working on the painting, but recognize their influences afterwards.
My own sensibilities are prominent, which have developed over time through studying many wonderful artists. Their work and knowledge has provided me with a strong foundation. The key is appreciating the process of the masters.
The spatial planes are very important and fascinating, as they can be quite elusive when developing the sense of space. They usually require a considerable amount of time to feel or refine, (which suits my temperament), ensuring continuity in my work.
Thank you Cezanne for this beautifully open consideration!
Piet Mondrian - Still Life with Ginger Jar II - 1912 - 91 x 125 cm - oil on canvas
Mondrian’s dedication to refining the consideration of spatial planes as presented by Cezanne is most impressive and it the beginning of his journey towards abstraction. It is important to note that most abstract art has a figurative base, and I think it is fair to say Mondrian was one of the few who managed to venture beyond the figurative, which will take a few years for him to achieve.
In this painting we see the early steps of his journey by reducing and raising the subject matter towards the picture plane. He also breaks the space into planes as well which unifies the subject matter and the space it occupies
This wonderful refinement of cubism is truly a great step in art which is still difficult for many to accept, and I think it is much closer to our reality than traditional depiction or perspective. We don’t live in a world with perspective because we and every thing else are constantly moving through time, and in painting, spatial planes provide the viewer the ability to move around, (in their minds), in the paintings.
Mondrian, Picasso, Braque and other notable artists of the time, understood this, and journeyed through the door Cezanne presented to them, leading the way to the wonderful world of twentieth century painting.
Piet Mondrian - Still Life with Jinger Jar I - 1912 - 65 x 75 cm - oil on canvas
This painting by Mondrian is an excellent example of master painters permitting influences to show in their work. Mondrian is acknowledging the importance of the great considerations of Cezanne, and his refinements are wonderful.
In this painting he provides a balance between traditional representation and the new approach to creating the sense of space. We see this at the bottom right where he provided a couple of angles and a horizontal line. These create planes in space which are meant to be felt more than seen. Can you feel the space in front of the table?
When we focus on the drapery we sense volume and space through the feeling of overlapping triangles which also are raised towards the picture plane. What impresses me is that diagonal which seems to come forth and how it also parallels beautifully with a second angle, the one connecting to the top of the blue ginger jar. Again try to feel the space between the parallels.
When these spatial considerations were coming to the forefront in painting something interesting also took hold. It was the idea of suggesting rather than explaining, and Mondrian displays this idea in how he treats the subject matter in the upper right of the picture.This is just one of the seeds that will eventually lead Mondrian towards abstraction.
Richard Diebenkorn - Girl with Flowered Background - 1962 - 103 x 52 cm - oil on canvas
How Diebenkorn integrated the figure with the Matisse like rhythm of the background is beautifully considered. Let’s begin with the horizontal black shape at the left of the painting and how it sweeps up and integrates with the blue shadow, through the red shape, then with her hair. The sweep also connects to the delightfully assessed black shape above her right shoulder, which brings the eye to the blue stripe on her blouse, very impressive. We then automatically follow the red stripe which not only integrates with her hair, but when you follow it down from her right shoulder you will eventually connect to the stem of the small flower above her left shoulder, which then joins with a white shape connecting us to the horizontal division of the painting. Very sophisticated.
There are two wonderful pulls permitting us to leave the focus of her hair and move through the painting. I’m referring to the beautifully balanced black shape at the bottom and the other one at the right edge of the painting. Remember, these are meant to be felt more than noticed and pulls relate through closeness in either value or colour.
The centres of the flowers provide a beautiful subtle horizontal rhythm supporting the division in the composition and gently relieving us from the strength of her black hair. Do you find your gaze moving to the dots when you focus on her? As I said these considerations are not meant to be obvious. They are invitations to a visual dance.
I must also mention the fantastic blue shadow which Diebenkorn painted as a shape. We see a master permitting preceding masters to influence his work. We can all join this great tradition, whether we paint or love to engage through cultivated study.