Saturday, March 16, 2013

Last Call: Matisse at the Met, through March 17

Henri Matisse, Luxe, Calme et Volupté (Luxury, Calm and Pleasure), 1904-5
 oil on canvas, 98.5 × 118.5 cm (37 x 46 in), Musée d'Orsay, Paris.

It is time to bid a fond farewell to a fabulous show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. These moments always bother me: so sad, so final.   How many shows have completely captured our hearts and faded away into our memories?  No catalog - no matter how thorough or well organized - can replace an excellent exhibition of works brought together from public and private collections for the sheer pleasure of observing the artist's mind.  We see in Matisse: In Search of True Painting the process of "condensation" that transformed an early concept into a masterpiece.  

As Matisse explained in "Notes of a Painter," (La Grande Revue, December 1908):
"I want to reach that state of condensation of sensations which makes a painting.  I might be satisfied with a work done at one sitting, but I would soon tire of it; therefore, I prefer to rework it so that later I may recognize it as representative of my state of mind." [from Jack D. Flam, Matisse on Art, E.F. Dutton, 1978,  page 36.]

If I were the curator, I would have called this particular Matisse exhibition Luxe, Calme et Volupté (Luxury, Calm and Pleasure) - after his 1904-5 painting pictured above - to emphasize the nature of the artist's search and interpretation.  For Matisse chose to convey intense feeling, rather than an intellectualized observation.  ["My choice of colors does not rest on any scientific theory."]   Most notably he relied on academic subjects, such as recumbent nudes or seated women, which he then reduced to their essential condition.  Here, there is nothing but the luxury of indolence (calm), perfumed with sensuality (pleasure) achieved through the radiance of color and voluptuous lines.  The viewer, therefore, is transported - carried by the power of suggestive visual stimuli, to a state of "au-dela" (the beyond).

"Luxe, Calme et Volupté " is a refrain in Charles Baudelaire's poem "Invitation to a Voyage" (1852).  Matisse at the Met invites us to one more voyage before 5:30 pm on Sunday.

Happy St. Patrick's Day, 
Beth New York
aka Beth S. Gersh-Nesic, Ph.D.
New York Arts Exchange

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