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”
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.
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:http://vangoghletters.org/vg/letters/let627/letter.html
If you go:
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 IndieBound.org
Edouard Manet, “The Bunch of Violets”, 1872
Manet gave this small painting to Berthe Morisot. It contains a letter, the fan she held in his famous painting, “The Balcony”, and a bunch of violets.
Edouard Manet, “The Balcony”, 1868-69
There has always been speculation about the relationship between Manet and Morisot. Manet, of course, was married to Suzanne Leenhoff, his former piano tutor. The circumstances of that marriage are also clouded. It is now believed that she was actually the mistress of Manet’s father, and when she became pregnant, Manet married her to spare the family embarrassment. Leenhoff’s son was at times passed off as her brother (ironic, when he may have, in fact, been Manet’s half-brother). He always referred to Manet as “godfather” and not “father”. Manet never admitted paternity.
There is no mistaking for whom the painting of violets was intended, as both Morisot’s and Manet’s names appear on the letter in the painting. Ah, but what about the violets?
Edouard Manet, “Berthe Morisot with a Bunch of Violets”, 1872
Violet’s are a flower with which Morisot was identified. Here she wears a violet corsage. But the violets have another meaning. In 1818 Madam Charlotte de la Tour wrote Le Langage des Fleurs, the language of flowers. In it, a meaning was assigned to every flower. Each bouquet carried a very specific message. They could indicate everything from the time of a secret assignation to the intricacies of one’s emotions.
A couple of years ago I made a trip to Tourette, France, which is known for violets the way Grasse is known for lavender. In the tourist office in one of their brochures I read that the meaning of violets in Le Langage des Fleurs is “a secret love”.
While everyone is reconsidering Matisse (Matisse: Radical Invention, Museum of Modern Art, New York, until October 11th), I thought I would weigh in with my own recollection of Matisse.
When I first visited what we know as the Matisse Chapel (The Rosaire Chapel – Ville de Vence) in the 1980s, it still functioned as a chapel and was open to the public only for certain hours on certain days. When I arrived there it was closed and I feared that my trip had been in vain. Later, when I told a friend that I was unable to get in, he said – don’t worry I will take you to the service on Sunday. You can get in then.
When I entered the Chapel, whose interior I knew by heart from the many photos I had seen of it, I was struck by how bleak it looked. The walls with the black and white drawings of Mary and in the back of the room, the Stations of the Cross, had shiny white tiles that made me think of a public bathroom. Why would Matisse do that? Clearly he had considered every single aspect of the chapel. Why this?
We sat in the pews. The nuns entered and sat in a separate section. Then the Priest came in wearing Matisse’s original robes, the ones he designed using the paper cut outs. The Priest, himself, looked like a Matisse drawing. His head was nearly bald and quite broad at the top.
Priest in Matisse Chasuble
Matisse design for Chasuble
To my left were the stained glass windows — blue, yellow and green. Once everyone was seated I noticed a sliver of light on the wall — just a thin set of lines running down the wall. As the service progressed the light spread across the wall until the end of the service when the wall was not only covered with light, but everyone in the congregation was enveloped by the light. Matisse’s choice was suddenly brilliantly obvious.
The Matisse Chapel
If you go:
Video of Matisse Making a Cut-out”: