Henri Matisse was inspired by exotic art, but also by his own everyday objects which showed up again and again in his paintings.
I’ve just been to a wonderful exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. It was called Matisse in the Studio, and it shows how the objects that Matisse surrounded himself with appeared in his art.
Henri Matisse was a collector: He had an array of vases, chairs, carpets, furniture, etc. that found their way into his paintings. Also scattered around his studio were examples of non-western art from which he took inspiration. They weren’t necessarily expensive pieces, but they had a quality that spoke to him. All these items kept the artist company in his studio.
Matisse even took some of them with him when he traveled. When he was away from home in 1920, he wrote a letter to his wife saying that he wasn’t lonely because his objects kept him company. Other times, if he felt that a painting needed one of his beloved possessions, he would have it shipped to him.
The vase that appears in Safrono Roses at the Window, 1925 which was painted in Nice, France
Actors and Inspiration
Some of Matisse’s items became actors in the little scenes that he created. Chairs, tables, vases, etc. made appearances as themselves: sometimes as the stars and sometimes playing a supporting role.
Other objects, such as works of Asian and African art, became inspirational references. Matisse would study them and translate them into his own artwork. The influence of these pieces can be seen in his changing styles.
Objects as Actors
“I have worked all my life before the same objects… The object is an actor. A good actor can have a part in ten different plays; an object can play a role in ten different pictures.” -Henri Matisse, 1951
One of Matisse’s possessions that appears more than most in his works is the “chocolate pot.” Although it was probably intended for coffee, Matisse must have been like me and preferred a good cup of hot chocolate.
The chocolate pot was a wedding gift when he married Amélie in 1898. It appeared for many years after that in his paintings and seemed to represent his wife. Later, when Amélie ended their marriage of forty-one years, she apparently took the chocolate pot with her and it disappeared from Matisse’s work. But Matisse missed his old pot and found himself a replacement: a similar but smaller chocolate pot that appeared in later works.
Henri Matisse felt a strong attachment to the objects that inspired him, even expressing love for one special Rococo style chair. In 1942, when the artist was in his seventies, he was walking by an antique shop in Nice, France when he fell in love… with a chair. He wrote to a friend about it saying, “I was bowled over. It’s splendid. I’m obsessed with it.”
Objects as Inspiration
“I do not paint a table, but the emotion it produces upon me.” –Henri Matisse 1912
In addition to the objects that he depicted directly in his paintings, Matisse drew inspiration from other art forms. He found beauty in art from all over the world and was especially inspired by Asia and African art.
Chinese Calligraphy Panel
In some of his later pieces, we can see the influence of the Chinese calligraphy panel that once hung over his bed.
Carved masks with strong and simplified features influenced the way Matisse painted portraits.
In 1906 Matisse was on his way to visit Gertrude Stein when he spotted a small African sculpture in a curio shop. He was intrigued with its form and bought it. Since Picasso was also a guest that evening, the two artists studied it together and African art became influential in their work.
Matisse in the Studio gives an insight into the artist and his relationship with his possessions. It’s at the Royal Academy of Arts in London through November 12, 2017. Go see it if you get a chance. https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibition/matisse-in-the-studio. This exhibition is organized by the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in partnership with the Musée Matisse, Nice.
More Matisse: For more about Matisse, you might like Matisse, a Nun, and a Chapel
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