The remarkable career of Henri Matisse, one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century, whose stylistic innovations along with those of Pablo Picasso fundamentally altered the course of modern art and affected the art of several generations of younger painters, spanned almost six and a half decades. His vast oeuvre encompassed painting, drawing, sculpture, graphic arts as diverse as etchingslinocuts, lithographsand aquatintspaper cutouts, and book illustration. His varied subjects comprised landscape, still life, portraiture, domestic and studio interiors, and particularly focused on the female figure.
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Blue Nudewhich Matisse took up in the aftermath of having a sculpture he was fiddling with shatter on him, seems to have angered a lot of people. After all, it was burned in effigy when the Armory Show moved to Chicago, a place that should have appreciated what Carl Sandburg called "broad shoulders" and other exaggerations of the flesh. I confess, having seen the painting in person more than once, to being repelled by it and finally got around to asking why.
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Blue Nude reflects the long-standing tradition of the reclining female nude in Western art, dating back to the Renaissance. But this painting simultaneously rejects convention, for Matisse painted not the idealized female nude, but instead an anatomically distorted and harshly modeled figure. Matisse took the reclining pose of Blue Nude from a sculpture he had begun in the winter of
Matisse painted the nude when a sculpture he was working on shattered. He later finished the sculpture which is entitled Reclining Nude I Aurore. The painting, which may be classified as Fauvistwas controversial; it was burned in effigy in at the Armory Show in Chicagoto where it had toured from New York.
Matisse had exhibited Le Bonheur de vivre in It is widely ridiculed by Parisians, but Picasso sees in it a daring move forward in the game of overriding the past. And here is Matisse quoting from the Renaissance and thumbing his nose at it at the same time. For Picasso this presents a challenge: could he come up with something more shocking.
There is a lighted candle indicating that the time of day is duska metronome indicating time itselfand two earlier Matisses: a small sculpture of a sensual odalisque and a large image from a painting of a stern-seeming woman seated on a high stool, floating free on the gray wall. The philosophical conceit of the quoted works—id and superego, conjoining in music—is pleasant, though a bit arch. My preference for it is not a considered judgment.
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