MATISSE SCULPTURE: Static Mass Into Dynamic Emblem

Henri Matisse did not concern himself only with painting, when what would be termed “fauvism” was coming forth in the summer of 1905 when he was in Collioure with Andre Derain. He also drew continually, and pondered the possibilities of transplanting the Fauve style of painting to sculpture.

Kuspit:Matisse eventually consolidated his understanding of her body’s inherent expressiveness by abstracting it into a calligraphic arabesque, a "plastic sign" of the body’s material plasticity as he said in his 1939 Notes of a Painter on His Drawing. The arabesque conveys movement in an intricate hermetic whole, turning it into a kind of abstract script. Two small sculptures, Reclining Figure in a Chemise (1906) and Reclining Nude I/Aurora (1906-07) seem to begin the process of converting vital body into abstract sign -- static mass into dynamic emblem. Matisse often used sculpture to experiment with new expressive possibilities. Elsen thinks he felt freer in the medium than in paint. Working in the round, he could test the limits of bodily expression, distorting the nude until it seemed unusually expressive -- conveyed the inner urgency of instinct -- while appearing natural. It was a fine line he was walking, and in the best of his works he walked over it, as it were, taking expressive leaps that made little natural sense. Their irrationality could no longer be rationalized as a demonstration of nature at its most surprising. They came to exist in and for themselves, as a manifestation of the artist’s own irrationality. As Matisse wrote in a 1938 letter, "nature -- or rather, my nature -- remains mysterious," and it was through his irrational expressive leaps, overthrowing nature, that he conveyed his own mysterious nature.

“Matisse does not so much dominate his female subjects, as admire them, out of need for the creativity hidden in their bodies. Albert Elsen notes “the almost complete departure of the male model from Matisse’s figural work” after 1906. The Serf (1900-04), a Rodinesque sculpture, is his most famous image of a male, and it is not a happy one. He is a downtrodden, melancholy figure, for all his muscularity, implicitly helpless and passive — unconsciously castrated — as his armlessness suggests. Is he Matisse’s surrogate, the emotionally inept, oppressed side of the vital, vigorous figure in the 1906 self-portrait? Was his Fauvism an attempt to break the mood embodied in The Serf? Was it an attempt to once and for all assert the vitality he felt he was losing, all the more so because he was aging? (He was in fact the oldest of the Fauves, born in 1869, and already in his 30s when the Fauves — Vlaminck (b. 1876) and Derain (b. 1880) were in their 20s — exhibited together for the first time in 1905.) Matisse gave up on the male model because he needed woman to save him from the “inner conflict” — his own words — that plagued him all his life.” (Donald Kuspit)

Stephen Nash:"Most important in this dialogue is the way that Matisse, in the Backs, actually critiques or offers a strong counterpart to painting, turning fields of illusory form and space into extremes of dense substance. The depth of relief in all four bronzes is dramatic. The rectangular backgrounds are worked just as thoroughly as are the figures, the process diminishing distinctions between figure and ground and contributing to the sense of one massive, unified volume. All five figures are sunk ankle deep into a protruding ground plane and reach or extend up over the background wall, confounding any notion of confinement within the format and adding to the outward, expanding pressure created by each dense terrain of anatomy. There is about the Backs a sense of terribilità and aggressiveness rare in his paintings after the Fauve period. The basic sensibility in their making is wonderfully, ambitiously sculptural"

In his book on Matisse’s sculptures, Albert Elsen defines these Faive characteristics of sculpture as “foreshortening, informality, and angularity of pose, absence of tasteful decorative accessories and the blatant  immediacy with which the effects of the figure are propelled toward the viewer”. All of these describe Reclining Nude I that Matisse sculpted at Collioure during the summer of 1907. There in 1909, he began one of his most radical sculptures, “La Serpentine”. Here he used as his point of departure a tawdry photograph of a naked model; live models were not to be found in Collioure.

Roberta Smith:Moving around the elegant, pretzel-like S-curves of Matisse’s great bronze “La Serpentine” of 1909, you expect its linear elements to flatten out into a single vertical silhouette from the side. But no. Matisse made sure that the leaning torso, crooked arms and crossed legs just kept rearranging themselves to reveal one unexpected curve after another. Elegance turns insouciant, then sarcastic: The female figure gives Classical contrapposto a pronounced swagger. She is leaning rather than standing on what might almost be a pedestal. Pressing one finger to her cheek, she seems to say, “I guess we won’t need this any more.” It is useful to note that the roughness of Matisse’s modeling gives his sculptures of women an unusual air of independence. You don’t need to touch the surfaces to understand their textures, and they certainly don’t invite caressing the way smooth bronze or marble does. This assertiveness matches the spirited poses. Matisse’s figures are never in motion, but they are also rarely relaxed. Their spines twist, their heads lift, their bodies balance; their poses are taut, actively held. ...

Viewed in this light, Back IV represents not merely the last in a sequence, but rather Matisse’s definitive statement of a theme that preoccupied him for more than two decades. Albert Elsen has written:

“For the fifth time [see below on Back 0] he organized his ideas, and the relief reflects the more nearly perfect order and clarity of his thought. All zones sustain each other more harmoniously. In this last transposition of the composition, each area impresses one as having been equally considered, and no single section is realized at the expense of another. The relief is more complex and sophisticated in its reductiveness than comparable figures in any of his previous drawings or paintings. Matisse had extended himself beyond previous efforts to realize the body as a single form” (op.

., p. 192).

Read More:

Related Posts

This entry was posted in Feature Article, Ideas/Opinion, Miscellaneous, Modern Arts/Craft, Visual Art/Sculpture/etc. and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>