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Henri Matisse

“Purple Robe and Anemones”

Henri Matisse, the leader of the Fauvist movement and master of aesthetic order, was born in Le Cateau-Cambresis in northern France on December 31, 1869. The son of a middle-class family, he studied and began to practice law. In 1890, however, while recovering slowly from an attack of appendicitis, his mother bought him a paint set and he became intrigued by the practice of painting. In 1892, having given up his law career, he went to Paris to study art formally. His first teachers were academically trained and relatively conservative, Matisse’s own early style was a conventional form of naturalism, and he made many copies after the old masters. He also studied more contemporary art, especially that of the impressionists, and he began to experiment, earning a reputation as a rebellious member of his studio classes.

Matisse’s true artistic liberation, in terms of the use of color to render forms and organize spatial planes, came about first through the influence of Gauguin, Cezanne and van Gogh, whose work he studied closely. Then, Matisse encountered the pointillist painting of Edmond Cross and Signac. By 1905 he had produced some of the boldest color images ever created. His images of dancers, and of human figures in general, convey expressive form first and the particular details of anatomy only secondarily.

Although intellectually sophisticated, Matisse always emphasized the importance of instinct and intuition in the production of a work of art. He argued that an artist did not have complete control over color and form; instead, colors, shapes, and lines would come to dictate to the sensitive artist how they might be employed in relation to one another. He often emphasized his joy in abandoning himself to the play of the forces of color and design. He explained the rhythmic, but distorted, forms of many of his figures in terms of the working out of a total pictorial harmony.

In 1937, Matisse asked his model Lydia Delectorskaya to pose in a purple robe, for a painting he later named “Purple Robe and Anemones.” When Matisse started the painting he had no intention of painting a portrait that looked like a photograph and readily admitted that his paintings were not faithful re-creations of reality. He believed that taking liberties with reality allowed him to convey the very essence of his subject. When accused of painting unrealistic images of women, he explained, “I do not create a woman, I make a picture.”

In the painting “Purple Robe and Anemones” Matisse created a room with oversized yellow and red stripes on one side of the wall and wavy gray lines on the other. He flattened the model’s body and distorted its shape, making it seem a part of the two-dimensional canvas, her head and hands appear to be the only substantial parts of her body. While her left hand rests upon her knee, her legs and feet cannot be seen and leads one to believe that they are tucked back under her robe to the left of her. The floral forms on the model’s green skirt recall the ornament on the green table. They wavy lines on the wall seem to rhyme with the undulating lines of the opening of the robe and the curving outline of the pewter jug. He tends to spread the yellow from the walls out to the model’s hair and the yellowish fruit on the table. Despite their placement in space, the buttons on the robe, the beads on the necklace, and the black centers of the anemones are joined in a allover pattern of black dots.

I choose Matisse’s work to do my paper on because I respect his work and his different styles. I choose the “Purple Robe and Anemones” because I like how Matisse used different shapes, colors, and textures to create aesthetic order. In the previous portions of the paper I discussed the “Purple Robe and Anemones” that appears in the Cone Collection at the Baltimore Museum of Art, but I found another version of the painting during my research. This version, as pictured at the beginning of my paper, shows the model with a more realistic look, showing more proportionate facial features and also the addition of legs and feet. It also exhibits a number of different shapes and the use of different colors. The model is in a different position but the basic foundation for the painting is the same. There is a model posing, a table and a vase with anemones in it and fruit on the table, the walls on either side are different, and the model is wearing the same clothing. Although the paintings are similar I feel the one at the BMA is the most aesthetically pleasing, because its colors and shapes are more pronounced and complement each other better than those in the other version. I enjoyed the trip to the BMA and found it very helpful to be able to experience those great works up close.

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