Twice the Matisse
Post #1564 • August 3, 2012, 2:44 PM • 7 Comments
I featured a Matisse exhibition in Copenhagen at The New York Sun, prompting this exchange with my editor:
Ed.: He could paint. What do you think his secret was? The underpainting?
Me: Yes, the underpainting. Specifically, grays. The colorist of the century worked his magic on a template of grays. I remember figuring that out at the MoMA show a couple of years ago and I'm still a little annoyed. After I post, I'm off to the easel to do something about it...
Ed.: You're not going to tell me that grays are under it. Wouldn't that be reds or something?
Me: Grays. I know, right?
Me: Especially in the later work he used a system of underpainting that wouldn't have been alien to Ingres.
Ed.: Look just to the right of her shoulder. The gray part above the red rug. You think the gray there is under the red or over it?
Me: Both, if I had to guess, and it's the thickest paint on the picture. More telling is the green dress and that weird orange leaf shape enclosed by the right edge of the neck of the vase and that black cloth. I would even argue that there are a couple of gray notes in the left-hand orange on the table. This color sophistication distinguishes Matisse from lesser Fauves. Maybe this one is an even more apt example. It would be natural to start a painting this big in monochrome anyway, but Matisse is doing something rather extraordinary with it. I'm still trying to get my head around it. Let's go see the show when it comes to the Met in December. Grays, I'm telling you.