In the 1890s Matisse was methodically working his way through the the great paintings of the Louvre, studying these artists as a writer would study literature. He was determined to be able to paint like the great masters.
He started with Chardin’s The Pipe, the first painting that Matisse copied in the Louvre. He was confounded by the elusive blue on the padded box in the center of the still life; a blue that could appear pink one day and green the next. He tried everything to unravel the mystery of this color: examining the color under a magnifying glass, analyzing the light on the objects, studying the texture, the weave of the canvas, the glazes. He even cut up his own study and put bits of his colored canvas next to the Chardin to match the color exactly, and yet when he put it all together it didn’t work.
Matisse was studying with Moreau at the time of making his copies of Chardin. Moreau believed that color had to be thought out:
Be sure to note one thing: which is that color has to be thought, passed through imagination. If you have no imagination, you will never produce beautiful color . . . . The painting that will last is the one that will be thought out, dreamed over, reflected on, produced from the mind, and not solely by the hand’s facility at dabbing on highlights with the tip of the brush.”
Books of Interest:
This story was found in Hillary Spurling‘s exceptional biography, “The Unknown Matisse”