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February 27, 1955 - Image 7

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1955-02-27

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FILMS, MUSIC, FEATURES, I rf t 4:3
SPORTS, FASHIONS IL 4ItRIIa

THE SUNDAY
MAGAZINE

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 1955 ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN PAGE ON
CHANGING TECHNIQUES:
Steady Growth Seen in Matisse Works

CHAPEL OF THE ROSARY OF THE DOMINICAN NUNS OF VENCE,
PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS MATISSE'S STAINED GLASS
WINDOWS AND ST. DOMINIC.

By FRANK M. LUDDEN
Instructor in Fine Arts
HENRI MATISSE was preparing to cele-
brate his eighty-fifth birthday when
he died last November 3. Visitors, who
have recently seen him at Nice, have re-
ported that the old painter was still bur-
geoning with plans for a new series of
drawings, new sculptures and pictures.
On the day of his death he had been
working on a large decorative picture,
exuberent in style and color, using a
special technique of cut-out and pasted
papers which he has developed these
last years.
The vitality and continued inventive-
ness of Matisse is all the more remark-
able since for the last decade he has
been an invalid, confined very largely
to his villa at Vence and to his apart-
ment on the hillside above Nice.
He had equipped his bedroom to double
as his studio and, it seems, he found it
necessary to work mostly from his bed,
Yet under these conditions he managed
to produce an abundance of drawings,
book illustrations, his "cut-out" pictures
and even a number of oil paintings of
characteristic richness and energy.
His major project during the last dec-
ade has been, of course, the much publi-
cized chapel for the Dominican Sisters of
his adopted town of Vence. In every re-
spect this chapel is Matise's personal
monument.
Not only did he provide funds for the
project-the painter was comfortably
wealthy-but he undertook to design the
work down to the last detail of the fur-
nishing and the clerical garments,
The ceramic pictures which decorate
the walls of the chapel were executed
from his full-scale drawings. He studied
out the design for the stained glass win-
dows, using table models of the chapel
to calculate the shifting effects of light
and color.
He even modeled the crucifix for the
altar. When the chapel was completed
in 1951, Matisse wrote that he regarded
it as his masterwork, "the result of my
entire active life" and "the ultimate goal
of a whole life of work."
j1ATISSE'S candidness concerning the
success of his chapel seems to be by
now generally recognized. The first criti-
cal reactions were inclined to be skep-
tical.
The work while admittedly containing
all of Matisse's science of decoration ap-
peared on initial view somewhat ungainly
and superficial in conception. (This was
very much my own impression when I
saw the work in 1950 in its partially
completed state and in the models.)
However, even the critics inclined to
be unsympathetic to Matisse and to his
art have come around to an appreciation
of the purity and the expressive power of
the chapel. One reluctant critic was mov-
ed to say, "Never has Matisse seemed to
me so young."
Actually, the qualities of youthfulness
have always pervaded Matisse's art; they
seem to be intimately bound up with the
wellsprings of his talents. Picasso, his by
no means always friendly rival in emi-
nence and prestige, once remarked that
"he was born with the sun in his stom-
ach."
This off-hand and cryptic statement
goes very directly to the point; Matisse's
art has been a continued manifestation
of radiance.
However, his style has varied over the
sixty some years of his career, one fac-
tor has remained central-the power of
color to transform and enhance. As a
young man Matisse' appetite for color
led him, literally and figuratively, from
the gloom of the Ecole des Beaux Arts to-
ward a revolutionary new style of paint-
ing.
The boldness, and spontaneity of his
early experiments earned for him, and
his associates at the time, the title of

"Les Fauves" and this title, given first as
derogatory criticism, Matisse still accepts
with pleasure.
CERTAINLY there has remained a
"wildness" about . Matisse's color.
Aware of his appetites and gifts, Matisse
has submitted himself to a prolonged and
laborious apprenticeship and over the
years has attained a knowledge of color
unrivaled in modern art.
Yet his science is not one that is rea-
soned out. There is in it no specifis
law of optics or of the actions of color
complementaries as in the painting of
Seurat and the Impressionists.
Matisse's approach is direct and in-
tuitive. He tests the pigments, the pat-
terns, sometimes giving months to ex-
perimentation and readjustments, but
the tests are those of his acute sensibili-
ties.
Confronted with the "iecord of pro-
gress" of some of his pictures, we are
challenged to follow the course of his
additions and rejections; invariably we
find that he simplifies and intensifies his
color schemes. He seems to be committed
to excesses of brilliance,
Yet, at the end of-and as the result
of-these labors, the pictures shine with
the clarities of a spring morning and the
spirit of sparkling wines. The "rediscov-
ery of instinct," as one poet noted in
Matisse's painting, has resulted not in an
appearance of excess but rather in dis-
cipline, purity and lyricism.
Perhaps the real reason for this lies-
not in any inherent qualities of Matisse's
style-but in his personality. Matisse's
life has been entirely dedicated to paint-
ing.
As a man he was deliberate, retiring
and austere; if there were any human
dramas in his life, they have not com-
plicated his painting.
He remained aloof from politics-and
the shifting history of the last half-cen-
tury has scarcely made an impression on
his work. With what now seems a for-
midable power-of-will, he has concen-
trated on his artistic talents and the
problems which they have presented.
IT IS perhaps somewhat revealing of
Matisse's personality-but it is also
typical of modern art in general-that
the artistic problems which concerned
him were largely problems of form-of
color, line, pattern and composition-
rather than problems of content.
The traditional motifs of French paint-
ing have for him remained sufficient. The
female form, flowers, the still-life or the
open window are subjects which possess
the basic charm, order and luminosity
which Matisse could use as a point of de-
parture for his researches in formal and
lyrical values.
It was said of Cezanne that he spent
all his life painting different versions o
the same picture. The same might be
said of Matisse, for one of his first major
works was the ambitious and admittedly
awkward "Joy of Life" (1906).
This picture, now at the Barnes Col-
lection near Philadelphia, was in effect
a preliminary statement of both Matisse's
expressive aims and, his characteristic
artistic methods.
Since this youthful picture the painter
has, at various stages of his development,
and one after another, exploited its sal-
ient qualities.
The flowing, aynamic line emerges as
the key element in his work around 1910
and again in the middle-twenties. The
simplifications of form again preoccupied
Matisse during the years of the first
World War when under the influence of
the Cubists his art became as nearly ab-
stract as he has ever allowed it.
Such separate preoccupations were, of
course, always linked with the problem
of color and the problem of the decora-
tive organization of the picture as a
whole.
See NOTE, Page 6

MaSSE IN NICE GARDEN, i a

SELFP ORTRAIT, 1906, IN THE
STATENS MUSEUM, COPENHAGEN

JOY OF LIFE (JOIE DE VIVRE) IN THE BARNES FOUNDATION AT
MERTON, PA.

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