Matisse on Maillol


Aristides Maillol


We never discussed sculpture. For we could not understand one another.  Maillol worked in masses like the ancients, and I worked in arabesques like the Renaissance sculptors.  Maillol didn’t like taking risks, and I couldn’t resist them.   Matisse



Henri Matisse


Books of Interest:

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Was it Rodin who influenced Matisse, or Rodin’s model?



Matisse, “The Serf”


Matisse’s  second sculpture, The Serf, was a direct confrontation with France’s greatest living practitioner, Auguste Rodin. Its subject was  César Pignatelli, nicknamed Bevilacqua, a favourite model with Rodin, who cast him over 20 years as a handsome, wolfish young John the Baptist, a gaunt, death-bound Burgher of Calais and the homicidal Count Ugolino, driven by starvation to devour his own sons. In 1900, when Pignatelli first posed for Matisse, he was simultaneously modelling for Rodin’s abortive study of the mad king Nebuchadnezzar.



Rodin, “Saint John the Baptist”


Rodin said of Pignatelli:

As soon as I saw him, I was filled with admiration; this rough, hairy man expressed violence in his bearing… yet also the mystical character of his race. I immediately thought of a Saint John the Baptist, in other words, a man of nature, a visionary, a believer, a precursor who came to announce one greater than himself. The peasant undressed, climbed onto the revolving stand as if he had never posed before; he planted himself firmly on his feet, head up, torso straight, at the same time putting his weight on both legs, open like a compass.The movement was so right, so straightforward and so true that I cried: ‘But it’s a man walking!’ I immediately resolved to model what I had seen. (Dujardin- Beaumetz, 1913).





Matisse, "Male Model"

Matisse, “Male Model”


Rodin, "Head of John the Baptist"

Rodin, “Head of John the Baptist”



Matisse, “Pignatelli”


Video of Rodin:!

Video of Matisse:
Books and Videos of Interest:

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Or order from your local independent books seller. Mine is Battenkill Books. Find the independent bookstore closest to you at


Artist DNA: Ingres, Cezanne, Pissarro and Matisse


Paul Cezanne, “The-Blue-Vase” 1889

Matisse  recalling a visit to the Salon des Independants with Pissarro, “I can still hear old father Pissarro exclaiming at the Independants, in front of a very beautiful still life by Cezanne, representing a blue water pot in fluted glass in the style of Neopoleon III, a harmony in blue, ‘It’s so like Ingres!’ Once I got over my surprise, I found — and I still   find — that he was right.” The painting gave birth to Matisse’s painting, “The Blue Window.” [Hilary Spurling, “The Unknown Matisse”]


Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, “Princesse Albert de Broglie”



Henri Matisse, “The BLue Window”


While Hilary Spurling believes that the quote is referring to Cezanne’s “The Blue Vase”, I believe that since it is described as  being in the style of Napoleon III, Matisse is referring instead to this painting of a vase of flowers.  The relationship to Ingres seems more obvious, too.


Cezanne - Vase of Flowers

Cezanne, “Vase of Flowers”

Books of Interest:

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Or order from your local independent books seller. Mine is Battenkill Books. Find the independent bookstore closest to you at



Artist DNA: John Peter Russell, Monet, Van Gogh and Matisse


Monet, “Rocks at Port Goulphar, Belle Ile”

In 1897 and 1898 Henri Matisse visited Belle Île a remote island off of the Brittany coast. John Peter Russell, an Australian artist who was living there, introduced him to impressionism and to the work of Van Gogh (who was relatively unknown at the time). Matisse’s style changed radically, and he would later say “Russell was my teacher, and Russell explained color theory to me. [Wikipedia & Hillary Spurling, “The Unknown Matisse”]


Russell, “Belle Ile”


Matisse, "Belle Ile"

Matisse, “Belle Ile”

Russell had been friends with Monet, who also came to Belle Isle to paint. But he is perhaps best known for his portrait of Van Gogh. He believed in Van Gogh and had several of his drawings.

1886-john-peter-russell-portrait of-vincent-van-gogh

John Peter Russell, “Portrait of Vincent Van Gogh”


According to Hilary Spurling,  at some point the Australian gave Matisse one of his Van Gogh drawings — something that he had never done before, and would never do again, which “suggests that he found in no one else the depth and strength of Matisse’s response.”


Vincent Van Gogh, “Townhall of Auvers”

Letter from VanGogh to Russell:

If you go:

Books of Interest:

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In search of Blue: Matisse paints Chardin


Jean Baptiste Simeon Chardin, “The Pipe”

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”

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The Print Project: Matisse and all that Jazz!!!

While in France I had to return to St. Paul de Vence, one of the oldest medieval towns on the French Riviera, it is well-known for its modern and contemporary art museums and galleries such as Fondation Maeght which is located nearby. Even to day you can find high quality prints by Picasso, Chagall and Matisse in the galleries there.



Seeing these prints made me want to go back and look at how Matisse used color in his prints. What better example than the book he put together with publisher Efstratios Tériade called Jazz. Matisse had worked with Tériade before on the cover of his magazine Verve. The first cover of Verve featured one of Matisse’s cut-outs.


Matisse spent two years working on Jazz. It is made up  of cut-outs interspersed with Matisse’s writing. Matisse created these cut-outs on his walls with the help of his assistant Lydia Delectorskaya.


Matisse designed the book so that each full-page image is preceded by five pages of text and each half-page image by three pages of text. As part of the Jazz text Matisse writes of this format, “I’d like to introduce my color prints under the most favorable of conditions. For this reason I must separate them by intervals of a different character. I decided that handwriting was best suited for this purpose. The exceptional size of the writing seems necessary to me in order to be in a decorative relationship with the character of the color prints. These pages, therefore will serve only to accompany my colors, just as asters help in the composition of a bouquet of more important flowers. Their role is purely visual.” []


The “character of the color” in both the cut-outs and and prints is what is critical here. Matisse had sheets of paper painted with Linel gouache paint because the Linel colors could be most closely imitated in print. But determining how the cut outs could be  translated into print was not immediately obvious. In his earlier attempts with the covers of Verve, the photographically made line-blocks were printed with inks that  lacked the spark of Matisse’s Linel paints. [Riva Castleman – Jazz, Introduction, George Braziller, Inc. NY].


What Matisse finally settled on was the use of the traditional handicraft of stencil printing, or “pochoir” in French.  Initially Matisse had used the Linel brand of gouache paint because of its brilliance and depth of pigment. By directly brushing the Linel gouache through hand-cut stencils Tériade’s printers were able to give the Jazz stencils a directness and richness similar to what the artist had achieved in his collaged maquettes. The stencils were cut by hand from thin sheets of metal, probably brass or copper.  [] One hundred copies of the book were produced.


The lessons in this for me are the importance of understanding the qualities of the inks I will be using. Are they transparent or opaque; saturated or thin? And how am I going to use the color. With Matisse the colors sat side by side — they were not mixed, or printed over one another. And with the printing method I use suite the image I am trying to create.

For a piece that strikes us with the sense of abandon and joie de vivre that Jazz does, it belies all the decisions and adjustments that had to be made to create it.

Books of Interest:

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Or order from your local independent books seller. Mine is Battenkill Books. Find the independent bookstore closest to you at

If you go:

Fondation Maeght