An­drew Law­son’s favourite paint­ing

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

The pho­tog­ra­pher is amazed that a sim­ple Matisse he loves is a cen­tury old

In July 1914, Matisse had an ex­hi­bi­tion of his paint­ings in Berlin. Then came war. The paint­ings never re­turned, Paris was shelled, Matisse and his fam­ily fled south, but anx­i­ety for his re­la­tions later brought them back. His home­town of Bo­hain was un­der Ger­man mar­tial law. His mother, sis­ter-in-law and two young nieces lived there; his brother had been de­ported to a Ger­man prison camp. ‘I have no news of my re­la­tions or my brother,’ he wrote in De­cem­ber. At un­der 48, Matisse was still el­i­gi­ble for con­scrip­tion, but he had flu when call-up came and was rel­e­gated to the aux­il­iary re­serve. He felt guilty. The man ahead passed, de­spite protest­ing he had throat can­cer. ‘You’ll do to make a corpse,’ the doc­tor said. Matisse twice tried again and was re­jected on grounds of age and a weak heart. He oc­cu­pied his old stu­dio on the Quai Saint-michel, the area bear­ing signs of the re­cent shelling, and, find­ing it hard to work, took vi­o­lin lessons, prac­tis­ing for hours.

It was at this dark time that he painted a ‘pic­ture of gold­fish which I’m re-do­ing with a fig­ure in it hold­ing a palette in his hand and ob­serv­ing’. He had started it in peace­time for his Rus­sian pa­tron Shchukin. Dur­ing the in­terim, he had be­friended the hard-up Juan Gris, most an­a­lyt­i­cal of Cu­bist painters. Matisse found Cu­bism too drily in­tel­lec­tual, but he ad­mired Gris.

This is his most Cu­bist work, yet he paints live gold­fish not a dead-fish still-life. An­dré Bre­ton wrote that Matisse ‘never put so much of him­self into any other paint­ing’.

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