MATISSE:An Inner Loneliness of Precious Time

Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known….No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist.( Oscar Wilde )

The birth of a wild beast. Nature unchained. One summer, early in the twentieth century, Henri Matisse took his family to the seashore. There, in the light of the Mediterranean, a new way of painting came forth. …

In 1890, Matisse, trained as a lawyer and working in his small northern home town got sick. His appendix had to be removed, and during his convalescence he began to paint. Previously, he did not seem to have any sense of his identity as an independent human being; to himself, and probably to others, he seemed blank, torpid, purposeless and unawakened. But it transformed him. “It was as if I had been called. Thereafter, I did not lead my life, it lead me.”

After they returned to Paris in 1905, Matisse painted this famous portrait of his wife, Amelie. One dismayed critic wrote of it:"Alas! when he paints his wife with a broad stripe of green down her nose, though it startingly suggests her, it is punishment to have made her appear so to you always."

To begin with, it lead him to art school. To a life of unremitting labor: ten to fourteen hours a day , every day for sixty years. To a way of life remarkable, above all, for its self-sufficiency and for the corollary of that self-sufficiency, an absolute inner loneliness. Matisse sacrificed everything for his work. His wife, his children, his friends: all came second. “Never waste time!” was his favorite maxim. “Perverse!” was another. Great art exacts its price, and in the case of Henri Matisse human contacts ranked low; he felt they were a waste of time and an impediment to perseverance.

Thus described, he doesn’t sound like the ideal summer companion. Even in later years, when his mastership was no longer in doubt, he worked in a state of high nervous tension. In 1905 “Truth at any cost” was already his motto, but he did not know quite what “truth” was , and still less did he know how to get through to it. In fifteen years of hard, slow work he had sometimes glimpsed his own true way, only to lose sight of it again. Sometimes he had been affected by others, most notably his early teacher at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Gustave Moreau, and later Cezanne, whose work he knew from visits to the art dealer Ambroise Vollard. Sometimes he had bogged down in obsessional studies that bore no immediate fruit. In Paris he was all over town, day after day, chasing from one schoolroom to another, painting, drawing, sculpting. The summer was, or should have been, the time to decide what direction his art should take.

Matisse. Self Portrait. 1906. Matisse painted his own face as if it were a rough landscape- all greens and browns.

It was vital that he do so. In 1898 he had married a beautiful young woman, Amelie-Noelie-Alexandrine Parayre, and now they had three children to look after. He had very little money, and yet it was not in Matisse’s nature to hurry or to compromise. He had spent the previous summer in Saint-Tropez with Paul Signac and a group of Signac’s friends. They had been kind to him, but he didn’t get from them what he needed: the to-and-fro of independent exchange among equals. Signac was too much the older master, and Matisse was not willing to go cap in hand to someone whose accomplishments, though real, were not the one’s he could best profit by. “Who wants to live with a lot of provincial aunts?” , he said of Signac’s followers…….

Met in 1905, Matisse spent the summers—and sometimes even the winters—in Collioure and continued to do so intermittently until about 1914. It was in Collioure that the sitter for The Young Sailor, an eighteen-year-old local fisherman named Germain Augustin Barthélémy Montargès (1888–1938), caught his eye. In this second version of the painting (the first, dated 1906, is in a private collection), the contours have been sharpened, the forms are more defined, and the colors have been reduced to large, mostly flat areas of bright green, blue, and pink—a decorative style and palette adopted by Matisse from this point on. Matisse also drastically altered the sailor's mood and expression. His stylizing brush wiped off the earlier round-cheeked youthfulness of Germain's face, replacing it with a masklike expression of savvy cunning from which a touch of licentiousness seems not absent. Germain's rather theatrical looks and his colorful costume, set against the pink candy-colored ground, combine to make this work one of Matisse's most decorative portraits in the Fauve manner. Source: Henri Matisse: The Young Sailor (1999.363.41) | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art


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