Henri Matisse

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For my part I have never avoided the influence of others. I would have considered it cowardice and a lack of sincerity toward myself.

Henri Matisse (31 December 18693 November 1954) was a major French artist of the 20th century. Particularly noted for his striking use of colour, Matisse is one of the very few indisputable giants of modern art, alongside Pablo Picasso and Kandinsky.

Sourced

There is nothing more difficult for a truly creative painter than to paint a rose, because before he can do so he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted.
  • Slowly I discovered the secret of my art. It consists of a meditation on nature, on the expression of a dream which is always inspired by reality. With more involvement and regularity, I learned to push each study in a certain direction. Little by little the notion that painting is a means of expression asserted itself, and that one can express the same thing in several ways. Exactitude is not truth, Delacroix liked to say.
    • "Interview with Henri Matisse" by Jacques Guenne, L'Art Vivant (1925-09-15), translated by Jack Flam in Matisse on Art (1995)
  • I will repeat what I once said to Guillaume Apollinaire: "For my part I have never avoided the influence of others. I would have considered it cowardice and a lack of sincerity toward myself."
    • Je vous répéterai ce que je disais naguère à Guillaume Apollinaire : "Je n'ai, pour ma part, jamais évité l'influence des autres, j'aurais considéré cela comme une lâcheté et un manque de sincérité vis-à-vis de moi-même."
    • "Interview with Henri Matisse" by Jacques Guenne, L'Art Vivant (1925-09-15)
  • At each stage I reach a balance, a conclusion. At the next sitting, if I find that there is a weakness in the whole, I make my way back into the picture by means of the weakness — I re-enter through the breach — and I reconceive the whole. Thus everything becomes fluid again.
    • Statement to Tériade, quoted by Tériade in "Constance de Fauvisme," Minotaure (1936-10-15), translated by Jack Flam in Matisse on Art (1995)
  • You study, you learn, but you guard the original naiveté. It has to be within you, as desire for drink is within the drunkard or love is within the lover.
  • There is nothing more difficult for a truly creative painter than to paint a rose, because before he can do so he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted.
For a long time now I've been conscious of expressing myself through light or rather in light.
  • A picture must possess a real power to generate light ... for a long time now I've been conscious of expressing myself through light or rather in light.
    • As quoted in Matisse (1984) by Pierre Schneider
  • Impressionism is the newspaper of the soul.
    • As quoted in Matisse (1984) by Pierre Schneider
  • [I wouldn't mind turning into] a vermilion goldfish.
    • At age 80, as quoted in Matisse (1984) by Pierre Schneider
I have always tried to hide my efforts and wished my works to have the light joyousness of springtime which never lets anyone suspect the labors it has cost me...
  • Drawing is like making an expressive gesture with the advantage of permanence.
    • As quoted by in the review of "The Drawings of Henri Matisse" exhibit at Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art, by Theodore F Wolff in The Christian Science Monitor (1985-03-25)
  • It is only after years of preparation that the young [artist] should touch color — not color used descriptively, that is, but as a means of personal expression.
    • As quoted by Theodore F Wolff in The Christian Science Monitor (1985-03-25)
  • I have always tried to hide my efforts and wished my works to have the light joyousness of springtime which never lets anyone suspect the labors it has cost me...
    • As quoted by Theodore F Wolff in The Christian Science Monitor (1985-03-25)
  • I have been no more than a medium, as it were.
    • As quoted in Smithsonian (November 1986)
  • The artist begins with a vision — a creative operation requiring effort. Creativity takes courage.
    • As quoted in Artist to Artist : Inspiration and Advice from Visual Artists Past & Present (1998), p. 62

Notes of a Painter (1908)

"Notes d'un Peintre" in La Grande Revue (Paris, 1908-12-25); as translated by Jack Flam in Matisse on Art (1995)
A work of art must carry within itself its complete significance and impose that upon the beholder before he recognises the subject matter.
  • What I am after, above all, is expression.
  • The simplest means are those which best enable an artist to express himself.His means of expression must derive almost all of neccessity from his temperament.
  • Expression for me does not reside in passions glowing in a human face or manifested by violent movement. The entire arrangement of my picture is expressive; the place occupied by my figures, the empty space around them, the proportions, everything has its share. Composition is the art of arranging in a decorative manner the diverse elements at the painter's command to express his feelings. In a picture every part will be visible and will play its appointed role, whether it be principal or secondary. Everything that is not useful in the picture is, it follows, harmful. A work of art must be harmonious in its entirety: any superfluous detail would replace some other essential detail in the mind of the spectator.
  • Suppose I want to paint a woman's body: first of all I imbue it with grace and charm, but I know that I must give something more. I will condense the meaning of this body by seeking its essential lines. The charm will be less apparent at first glance, but it must eventually emerge from the new image which will have a broader meaning, one more fully human.
  • There must result a living harmony of colours, a harmony analogous to that of a musical composition.
  • Composition is the art of arranging in a decorative manner the diverse elements at the painter's command to express his feelings.
  • My choice of colours does not rest on any scientific theory:it is based on observation,on sensitivity,on felt experience.
  • I simply put down colours which render my sensation.
  • For me all is in the conception. I must therefore have a clear vision of the whole from the beginning.
  • There is an impelling proportion of tones that may lead me to change the shape of a figure or to transform my composition. Until I have achieved this proportion in all the parts of a composition I strive towards it and keep on working. Then a moment comes when all the parts have found their definite relationships, and from then on it would be impossible for me to add a stroke to my picture without having to repaint it entirely.
  • A work of art must carry within itself its complete significance and impose that upon the beholder before he recognises the subject matter.
  • What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or disturbing subject matter, an art which could be for every mental worker, for the businessman was well as the man of letters, for example, a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.
  • Rules have no existence outside of individuals: otherwise a good professor would be as great a genius as Racine.

Jazz (1947)

Matisse had written these notes to accompany his prints, based on paper cutouts, in Jazz (1947); as translated by Sophie Hawkes in the 1992 George Braziller edition ISBN 0-8076-1291-X
Obviously it is necessary to have all of one's experience behind one, but to preserve the freshness of one's instincts.
  • Drawing with scissors: To cut to the quick in color reminds me of the direct cutting of sculptors.
    • Dessiner avec les ciseaux: découper à vif dans la couleur me rappelle la taille directe des sculpteurs.
  • The vertical is in my spirit. It helps me to define precisely the direction of lines, and in quick sketches I never indicate a curve, that of a branch in landscape for example, without being aware of its relationship to the vertical.
    My curves are not mad.
    • La verticale est dans mon esprit. Elle m'aide à préciser la direction des lignes, et dans mes dessins rapides je n'indique pas une courbe, par exemple, celle d'une branche dans un paysage, sans avoir conscience de son rapport avec la verticale.
      Mes courbes ne sont pas folles.
  • A musician once said: In art, truth and reality begin when one no longer understands what one is doing or what one knows, and when there remains an energy that is all the stronger for being constrained, controlled and compressed. It is therefore necessary to present oneself with the greatest humility: white, pure and candid with a mind as if empty, in a spiritual state analogous to that of a communicant approaching the Lord's Table. Obviously it is necessary to have all of one's experience behind one, but to preserve the freshness of one's instincts.
    • Un musicien a dit: en art la vérité, le réel commence quand on ne comprend plus rien à ce qu'on fait, à ce q'uon sait, et qu'il reste en vous une énergie d'autant plus forte qu'elle est contrariée, compressée, comprimée. Il faut alors se présenter avec la plus grande humilité, tout-blanc, tout pur, candide, le cerveau semblant-vide, dans un état d'esprit analogue à celui du communiant approchant la Sainte Table. Il faut évidemment avoir tout son acquis derrière soi et avoir su garder la fraîcheur de l'Instinct.
  • Do I believe in God? Yes, when I am working. When I am submissive and modest, I feel myself to be greatly helped by someone who causes me to do things that exceed my capabilities. However, I cannot acknowledge him because it is as if I were to find myself before a conjuror whose sleight of hand eludes me.
    • Si je crois en Dieu? Oui, quand je travaille. Quand je suis soumis et modeste, je me sens tellement aidé par quelqu'un qui me fait faire des choses qui me surpassent. Pourtant je ne me sens envers lui aucune reconnaissance car c'est comme si je me trouvais devant un prestidigitateur dont je ne puis percer les tours.

Unsourced

Seek the strongest Color effect possible... the content is of no importance.
  • A young painter who cannot liberate himself from the influence of past generations is digging his own grave.
  • As I create these colored cutouts, it seems to me that I advance joyfully to meet whatever awaits. I do not believe I have ever experienced such peace and harmony as in making these cutout papers.
  • I do not literally paint the table, but the emotion it produces on me...
  • I don't paint things. I only paint the difference between things.
  • In modern art, it is undoubtedly to Cezanne that I owe the most.
  • Instinct must be thwarted just as one prunes the branches of a tree so that it will grow better.
  • Seek the strongest Color effect possible... the content is of no importance.
The essential thing is to spring forth, to express the bolt of lightning one senses upon contact with a thing.
  • The artist has but one idea. He is born with it and spends a lifetime developing it and making it breathe. I basically work without theory. I am aware only of the forces I use, and I move along the course of the picture's creation, pushed by an idea that I come to know only gradually as it develops.
  • The essential thing is to spring forth, to express the bolt of lightning one senses upon contact with a thing. The function of the artist is not to translate an observation but to express the shock of the object on his nature; the shock, with the original reaction.
What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or disturbing subject matter...
  • We must see all life as if we were children.
  • Without passion there is no art.
  • The artist only sees old truths in a new light,because there are no new truths.
  • What I dream of is an art of balance,of purity and serenity.
  • Composition is the art of arranging in a decorative manner the various elements at the painter's disposal for the expression of his feelings.
  • There is discontinuity between my former paintings and my cut-outs,only with more absloluteness and more abstraction.
  • I had this dance in me for a long time,and I had to put it into La joie de vivre. It was like a rhythm within me that carried me along.
  • A pair of scissors is a ... wonderful instrument ... an occupation I can lose myself in ... my pleasure in cutting things out grows ever greater. Why didn't I think of it before.

Quotes about Matisse

  • My verse forms are relatively traditional (traditions alter). In general they have moved away from strict classical patterns in the direction of greater freedom — as is usual with most artists learning a trade. It takes courage, however, to leave all props behind, to cast oneself, like Matisse, upon pure space. I still await that confidence.
    • Fleur Adcock, New Zealand poet, as quoted in Contemporary Poets 3rd edition (1980) by James Vinson.
  • We are not here in the presence of an extravagant or an extremist undertaking: Matisse's art is eminently reasonable.
  • Civilization is an active deposit which is formed by the combustion of the Present with the Past. Neither in countries without a Present nor in those without a Past is it to be encountered. Proust in Venice, Matisse's birdcages overlooking the flower market at Nice, Gide on the seventeenth-century quais of Toulon, Lorca in Granada, Picasso by Saint-Germain-des-Prés: there lies civilization and for me it can exist only under those liberal regimes in which the Present is alive and therefore capable of assimilating the Past.
    • Cyril Connolly British critic, in The Unquiet Grave Pt. 2 (1944, revised 1951).
  • Matisse makes a drawing, then he makes a copy of it. He recopies it five times, ten times, always clarifying the line. He's convinced that the last, the most stripped down, is the best, the purest, the definitive one; and in fact, most of the time, it was the first. In drawing, nothing is better than the first attempt.
    • Pablo Picasso, as quoted in Picasso and Company (1964, trans. 1966) by Gyula Brassaï
  • Though produced by a very old man who was mortally ill, they seem to come from the springtime of the world.
    • John Russell, on Matisse's paper cutouts, in The New York Times (25 November 1984)

External links

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