This article was first published in my newsletter "Notes From My French Easel" – October 2008.
In a poignant, yet interesting letter to his friend the painter Pierre Bonnard, Henri Matisse expressed his frustration on the path to finding a new way of painting. This letter is dated 13 January 1940, during the war. Matisse describes how he feels paralyzed and cannot find a good way to express himself in his painting, as he has with his drawing (« My drawing and my painting are parting »).
Portrait of Henri Matisse 1933 May 20 - Photographer: Carl Van Vechten - Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Van Vechten Collection, reproduction number LC-USZ62-103699 DLC.
At this time in his career, Matisse was exploring painting with flat planes of colours and found it hindered the spontaneity he had found in his fluid drawing technique: « But my painting is constraint by new conventions of flat planes by which I have to express myself entirely, of local tones exclusively without shadows, without relief, that have to react one with another in order to suggest light, a spiritual space. »
Paintings from this period now seem evident to us because we are accustomed to see them in museums and art books, but Matisse was exploring new avenues and paving the way to abstract painters. He was trying to transpose what he had found in drawing into his painting, but he was conscious at the same time that this new venture was not easy : « I found a way to draw which, after some preliminary work, has a spontaneity that release me entirely from what I am feeling, but this mean is exclusively for me, artist and spectator. But a colourist’s drawing is not a painting. One should find some equivalence with colours. This is what I fail to do. »
Matisse’s quest would come to an end when he produced his gouache-painted cut-outs, a medium where he could reconcile drawing with colour in a perfect balance.
The Art of Ordinary
Pierre Bonnard Henri Matisse Art history Art technique Drawing Painting