“Vertigo of Color” or how Matisse, and Derain, (among others), originated “Fauvism”…

The Metropolitan Museum of Art/ Monday December 11th, 2023

Welcome back friends!

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Welcome this week, to a luminous, exciting, inspiring, joyful, blissful, sunny and gorgeous early 20th century art exhibit, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and on view through January 21st, 2024.

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Welcome this week, to a sizzling, fun, and incredibly happy look, at the origins of “Fauvism” in painting, featuring especially, two French iconic artists from the late 19th-early 20th century: the formidable Henri Matisse (1869-1954) and the younger André Derain (1880-1954).

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What is “Fauvism”?

According to experts, this style of painting flourished in France at the turn of the 20th century, and was officially recognized as such, in the fall of 1905, during the “Salon d’Automne”.

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These artists, led by Henri Matisse, rejected conventional renderings of three-dimensional space, to seek instead a new picture space, defined by strong expressive movement of pure and brilliant color, unusual scales, powerful feelings, which shocked critics, who thus, called them “fauves” (wild beasts).

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And this wonderfully beautiful “Vertigo of Color” exhibit, co-organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, showcases the lasting legacy from these two artists, Matisse and Derain, and examples of their stunning 1905 works during that summer, in the south of France, in the small fishing village of Collioure.

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A truly important 1905 summer, which allowed the two, who were also close friends, to refine their distinctive “voices”/styles, while still influencing each other.

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So, instead of examining all 65 works (whether paintings, drawings, or watercolors) of Matisse and Derain, on loan from national and international museums, including Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou; National Galleries of Scotland; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York; as well as private collections, I will be sharing only, my 10 favorite works: first, five by Derain and then, five by Matisse.

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Let’s start now, with my five favorite works by André Derain (1880-1954), from this “Vertigo of Color” exhibit.

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1)”The Faubourg of Collioure” 1905 by André Derain (1880-1954).

And what I especially like in this first Derain painting, is the expressivity, and the energy exhibited in rendering the hustle and bustle of this port painting.

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2)”Fishing boats, Collioure” 1905 by André Derain (1880-1954).

With this second Derain painting, it’s the vibrancy of the colors (especially the beautiful hues of blue), and the serenity and peacefulness which seems to exudes from the fishermen working on their boats, which I especially like.

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3)”Fishing boats, Collioure” 1905 by André Derain (1880-1954).

Derain over the course of the summer, had come to realize that shadows were full of light and therefore full of color, and here, in this third more architectural Derain painting, I also feel the wind blowing, undulating even more the sails of these various boats about to leave the beach (to perhaps fish), at the end of an afternoon, and whose “blueish” shadows, (to me at least), make them feel “alive” with movement.

Wow.

4)”Collioure” 1905 by André Derain (1880-1954).

And here, in this fourth Derain painting, it is the composition, the unusual vantage point, and the wonderful contrasting colors (the joyful oranges and pinks vs the light and dark moss green, against the deep blue hues of the sea) of this work, which I find incredibly poetic.

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5)”Henri Matisse” 1905 by André Derain (1880-1954).

And finally, in this fifth and last Derain work I selected, I wanted to illustrate also, his amazing talent as a portraitist, capturing the elegant golden, dusk-like, summery light, illuminating, his friend (Henri)’s interesting and intelligent face, warm eyes (despite the glasses), lively reddish pipe, and thick and robust beard.

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And now, let’s move on to five of my favorite works by Henri Matisse (1869-1954), found in this “Vertigo of Color” exhibit.

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1)”The Pier of Collioure” 1905 by Henri Matisse (1869-1954).

And here, in this first Matisse painting I selected from the exhibit, it is the huge panoramic view of this work, that I find incredibly impressive and rich, and what strong, powerful, and beautiful colors are on display.

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Conceptually as well, in terms of composition, this work is fascinating in terms of geometry: not only does it include vertically, Collioure’s village edge, including a few architecturally important buildings, but also, interesting diagonals, a few boats lying on their side, on the beach at low tide, as well as a “round like” half circle, receding ocean.

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And in addition to that already rich picture, pay especially attention to the beauty of the far away horizontal reddish/purplish mountain ridges meeting Collioure’s vertical architecture, as the sun is setting, and on top of which, incredibly vibrant and alive, almost “El Greco” (1541-1614)-like (the leader of the Spanish Renaissance), wait for it, spiritually rich, lively, cloudy skies, can also be admired.

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It is all of that rich symbolism which captures my attention, in this gorgeous and truly awesome “Pier” painting.

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2) “Woman with an Umbrella at the Seashore” 1905 by Henri Matisse (1869-1954).

This second work by Matisse I selected, a delicate Matisse watercolor and charcoal on paper, struck me for a few different reasons: first, I find it, not only arresting, and incredibly uplifting, because of the gorgeous luminous palette (the yellows especially), but also a wonderfully romantic depiction of the model, his own wife (who often modeled for him), Amélie Matisse.

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Secondly, not only was it shown in the important Salon d’Automne in 1905, but later in Matisse’s first American exhibition, hosted by the iconic Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), an American art dealer, publisher, advocate for the Modernist movement in the arts, and, arguably, the most important photographer of his time.

Wow and yay.

Thirdly, it was reminiscent of another 1905 oil painting, which I saw eons ago in the Musée Matisse in Nice, France, entitled in French “Jeune fille à l’ombrelle”, which is gorgeous as well, although I think I even prefer the watercolor version.

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“Woman with an Umbrella at the Seashore” 1905 by Henri Matisse (1869-1954). Musée Matisse.

That being said, the oil painting of “Woman with an Umbrella” from the Musée Matisse, is still incredibly lovely, with interesting technique (almost, but not quite “pointillism”), and unusual color accents to render contrasting lights.

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Let’s now get back to our “Vertigo of Color” exhibit.

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3)”La Japonaise: Woman beside the Water” 1905 by Henri Matisse (1869-1954).

And here, in this third painting I selected, it is Matisse’ sensations and feelings, that seem to bloom, as he apparently explained this in a letter, to another friend, the wonderful Neo-impressionist/ “Pointillist” painter, Paul Signac (1863-1935).

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The Japanese “model” wearing a kimono here, is, once again, Matisse’ wife, Amélie, and these “unreal”, exotic-like, vibrant (the swirls of the blue kimono), strong, contrasting colors, and yet, mostly warm, especially the ones chosen to depict the rocks and the sea, to me, express not only Matisse’s love for his wife, but also, as well, his wild imagination.

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4)”Open Window, Collioure” 1905 by Henri Matisse (1869-1954).

This fourth Matisse painting, a celebrated masterpiece, also happens to be one of my favorites by this artist.

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To me, Matisse’s pinks from the window panes, the beach, and the reflection of the sun in the sea, the beauty of the green ivy delineating the view of the boats as if it were a painting in the painting, and the joyful flowers sitting at the bottom of the work, all, speak to me of the incredible happiness Matisse was feeling, as he was painting this work.

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5)”Landscape at Collioure”. Study for “The Joy of Life”. 1905 by Henri Matisse (1869-1954).

And the fifth and last Matisse work I selected from the “Vertigo of Color” exhibit, is this landscape, for two reasons:

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First, Matisse depicts a very unusually colorful and beautiful forest-like landscape, and Matisse chooses in 1905 to work on bringing this landscape to life, by choosing to display interesting “unreal” colors, found believe it or not, shocking for the time (the tree trunks imaginary colors, and the bright blue rocks and purple flower shrubs especially).

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Secondly, as he was painting in the summer of 1905 this landscape, Matisse was also, figuring out ideas he would bring to life in a massive painting, a celebrated masterpiece these days, he started later that year, in October 1905, and finished in March 1906.

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This massive painting is the last painting I am sharing, and one of his most celebrated imaginary works (a property today of the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia), which at the time, also shocked many critics.

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I am thinking of course, of the awesomely beautiful and happy Matisse masterpiece: “The Joy Of Life” (or in French “Le Bonheur De Vivre”), 1905/06.

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“The Joy Of Life” or “Le Bonheur De Vivre” 1905/06 by Henri Matisse (1869-1954).

Just fabulous.

Even if it also shocked many.

And according to experts, it was not so much the themes chosen, the various figurative elements Matisse worked on, whether the sensual lounging, or standing, of simply enjoying the moment, naked figures, the dancing figures, or those making music, and all displayed in a natural setting, which had been a standard for centuries, that was a problem.

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No.

The shock came from the execution, from the bold colors, the unusual and disruptive shifts in scale, and the distorted anatomies.

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As Gertrude Stein (1874-1946), an avant-garde American writer, eccentric, whose Paris home was an iconic “salon” for the leading artists and writers of the period between World Wars I and II, would later write, “Matisse painted “Le Bonheur de Vivre” and created a new formula for color that would leave its mark on every painter of the period.”

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Therefore Matisse’s “The Joy Of Life”/”Le Bonheur de Vivre” 1905/06 work, received mixed reviews at the Salon des Indépendants.

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And speaking for myself, personally, I am especially drawn to the optimism, the intense joy, the gorgeous, sunny and pinkish colors of the work, and the celebration of sensuality and art displayed, which all speak (to me at least), of Matisse’ intense happiness in life.

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So, to sum up my feelings, about The Metropolitan Museum of Art “Vertigo of Color”, the Origins of “Fauvism” art exhibit, admired last Monday, in great company: what beautiful, delightful, happy, inspiring, vibrant, sunny works by Derain and Matisse were produced, that summer of 1905. Truly a summer which marks the origins of a new genre, celebrating the power of bold, expressive color, and unusual scales to render reality, and communicate in new original ways, feelings, imagination, and the joy of living.

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Just awe-inspiring.

Not to be missed!

Until next time friends, in the new year!

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Soft…

Fluttering…

Sunny…

Joyful…

Happy…

Loving…

Eternal butterflies 😊