Interior at Nice by Henri Matisse

Interior at Nice by Henri Matisse (1920)

Yesterday I managed, with great difficulty to get away My Daily Art Display blog regarding Carl Philipp Fohr.  The difficulty was due to my present location, a hotel in Nice, where I am using their Wifi.   I was given the choice to let Internet provider, Orange, regulate the internet site so as to prevent me accessing “inappropriate material” or going for a “free –for-all”.   As an upstanding citizen, I chose the censored route but found myself barred from accessing my own site to publish a new blog.  I then had to re-think my strategy and agree to be open to all uncensored access in order to access my blog !!!!.  With my agreeing to a lack of censorship by Orange France I made it to my site but I am still wondering why my blog is grouped with the “XXX sites” – maybe the nude paintings has “done for me”!!!!

So by that introduction, you can gather I am not at home in North Wales enjoying this year’s summer with its torrential rain and gale force winds.  My wife Kathy had decided to desert me and go off to Tuscany with her friends who were all celebrating  60th birthdays and I was left all alone.    I had thought of remaining at home,  à la Cinderella and look after our Bed & Breakfast establishment but as I had a lull in bookings for three days, I decided to head off to one of my favourite destinations – Nice, in the south of France, for a few days of sun and good food.  Whilst I was here I thought I would look around some of the local art galleries.  I have been here numerous times but as you know, I am not a great Modern Art follower so I avoided their excellent Modern Art Gallery and instead I headed for the first time to the Henri Matisse Gallery at Cimiez, about five miles inland, and it was for that reason that I decided to make My Daily Art Display Today all about the great French Modernist painter, Henri Matisse.

Henri-Emile-Benoit Matisse was born in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, in France in 1869.  His early days were spent in Bohain-en-Vermandois , in Picardy, where his parents owned a florists.  At the age of eighteen he went to Paris to study law and after he had achieved his qualifications returned to his home town to work as a court administrator.  It was not until he was twenty years of age that he took up painting and that was when he was at home recovering from appendicitis and his mother gave him some artist’s materials so as to occupy his time whilst recuperating.  That small gift from his mother changed his life and much to the chagrin of his father, who wanted him to carry on in the legal profession, Matisse gave up law and went to Paris to study art at the Académie Julien where he studied under the great French painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau at the Académie Julian and later at the Académie des Beaux Arts under Gustave Moreau.  With his initial training he became competent in painting still-lifes and landscapes.   Matisse was influenced greatly by the French Masters, like Chardin, who was his favourite and the Rococo painters Poussin and Watteau as well as some of the new modern artists like Manet.

In 1896 and again in 1897, Matisse visited the painter John Peter Russell, an Australian Impressionist painter who had studied art in London and Paris, where one of his fellow students was Toulouse-Lautrec, and who had also become friends with both Monet and Vincent van Gogh.   Russell was an extremely wealthy man who, after his studies in Paris, moved to Brittany and settled at Belle-Île-en-Mer a small island off the coast where he established an artist’s colony.

Matisee fathered a daughter Margueritte with his lover and model, Caroline Joblau, in 1894.  Four years later he married, not to Caroline, but to Amelie Parayre who with Matisee brought up his daughter.  The couple went on to have two sons, Jean in 1899 and Pierre, born a year later.  Matisee and his bride honeymooned in London on the recommendation of the French Impressionist, Camille Pissaro and whilst there he combined his honeymoon with the chance to study the paintings of Turner.

In 1917, aged 48, Matisse came to Nice to recover from a bad bout of bronchitis.  He loved the town and said of it:

“….I decided never to leave Nice, and remained there nearly my entire existence…”

Of the town of Cimiez, where the Matisse Museum I visited is situated about five miles inland from the coast, Matisse said of it:

“…Most people come here for the light and the picturesque.  I am from Northern France;  what struck me were the great flashes of colour in January and the luminous daylight…”

Of the ambience of Nice and the pleasure it brought him, Matisse said:

“…When I realized I would see that light every morning I could not believe my happiness…”

Henri Matisse died in Nice in 1954, a month short of his eighty fifth birthday and was buried in the cemetery at Cimiez.   

The painting I have chosen was not at the Matisse Museum in Nice which I visited today but hangs in the Art Institute in Chicago and is entitled Interior at Nice, which he painted in 1920 and which I thought would be an appropriate choice as he, like me, loved the town.  Matisse used a very vertical canvas for this painting. He accentuated this with the window curtain coming from the very top of the canvas down to below the middle.  Matisse played with the perspective of the picture to give more excitement. We are looking down on the furniture in the foreground almost as if we were positioned high in the air.  The floor in this painting is almost a copy of the floor in his 1919 work “The Artist and his Model“, which hangs in the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.   Both are done in the same style and colour, but give a totally different feeling to each painting.  In today’s painting the warm floor serves as a  refuge against the dark cool of a winter’s evening outside.  In “The Artist and his Model“, the hue of the red floor is needed for added drama against all the other colours containing the same value and in some way heightened the feeling we got as we looked at the naked model posing for the artist.

So what was my impression of the Matisse Museum and the paintings and drawings which were being exhibited?  The obvious answer is that if you were a Matisse fan you would be pleased with what was on offer and how it was exhibited.  I went there with an open mind.  I went there determined to rid myself of any preconceived ideas as I had not been a lover of his work.  Over the years I have, when I see art that baffles me in its simplicity, educated myself to comment (just to myself) that “I don’t like it” and steer away from the crass comment “ a child of six could have done that”.  Maybe whether I liked what I saw can be answered by saying that as a hoarder of exhibition catalogues I left the museum without buying anything – please forgive me Henri !!!