Two weeks ago I was lucky to see this painting on a exhibition Icons of Art. The Shchukin Collection in Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. Sergei Shchukin was the most important Russian collector of early twentieth-century Western art. He collected works by the impressionists, post-impressionists, fauvists, cubists – all art that can be now named “modern”. His collection, along with that of fellow modern art collector, Ivan Morozov, form the core of the collections at the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow and the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.
Shchukin once said “If a picture gives you a psychological shock, buy it. It’s a good one.” And the Matisse I would like to show to you today shocked me. Unfortunately I think reproduction can show the depth of the color and the power of this quite intimate painting but let’s try to talk about it a little.
Matisse is one of the leading figures in modern art. Along with Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp, he helped to define the revolutionary developments in painting throughout the opening decades of the twentieth century. Although he was initially labelled a Fauve, his works from 1908 shouldn’t be called Fauvist. The paintings of the Fauves were characterized by seemingly wild brush work and strident colors, while their subject matter had a high degree of simplification and abstraction. Around 1908 Matisse started to go his own way – he turned into more decorative way of thinking about color.
Harmony in Red was called by Matisse a “decorative panel” and it was intended for the dining room in the Moscow mansion of Shchukin. The painting was ordered as “Harmony in Blue,” but Matisse was dissatisfied with the result, and so he painted it over with his preferred red.
“Where I got the color red—to be sure, I just don’t know, I find that all these things . . . only become what they are to me when I see them together with the color red.” – Matisse once remarked.
The color selection generates a feeling of warmth and comfort, while contrasting richly and intensely. In affirming the flatness of the red colour, the artist managed to create within it the impression of space. All the elements of the painting makes the impression of a single whole.
The motif of a room decorated with vases, fruits and flowers became common in Matisse’s works.
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