ARTisSpectrum Vol.30, November 2013 - page 50-51

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ARTisSpectrum | Volume 30 | artisspectrum.com
ARTisSpectrum | Volume 30 | artisspectrum.com
51
We arrive at the tall double gates at the entry to the drive of Villa le Rêve. A large garden beckons on three levels. A top level
includes the entrance to the three-story villa, and outside, a long table covered with an awning where our meals will be served
three times a day, some steps down take us to a large expansive area of grass, flowers, and shrubs, where we will begin our
week of painting.
It was in June 1943, with Nice under threat of Allied bombardment, that Matisse took refuge on the outskirts of the simple
and congenial Provenҫal village of Vence, surrounded by nature.
When Matisse arrived at Le Rêve he brought with him his two cats, Coussi and Minouche, some caged doves, and objects
important to his artwork: his water jug, coffee pot, Alsatian wine glass, brightly patterned fabrics, a wrought-iron pedestal
table, ashtrays, shells, Fez pottery, Chinese porcelain, English China, and a multitude of chairs.
Matisse stayed at Le Rêve, as his health declined in the latter years of his life. During that time, his wife and daughter were
in Paris, working in the French Resistance, and though his wife was freed after three months, his daughter, Marguerite,
suffered unspeakable torture at the hands of the Gestapo, who had captured her in April 1944. She survived, determined
not to let what her body had suffered to define her life. She came to visit her father at the Villa as soon as she could, after
being liberated. The strain took a toll on Matisse: both the uncertainty of her fate during the war as well as the news of her
tribulations after.
Vence itself was liberated with only a few stray shells falling around the villa. Matisse refused to even look up from his
drawing to witness the Germans departing.
The rough surface of the exterior of the Villa is a soft musky pink, with windows framed by shutters of greyish green and a
rooftop of terracotta. The top three front-facing rooms are now devoted to studios for those who visit to paint and do artwork.
Each day we set up easels in the garden or out of the heat, upstairs. It is July. Wendy Sharpe, a famous Australian artist, is to
be our mentor in the week we are here. She encourages an expressionistic approach in keeping with the spirit of Matisse and
other artists who lived and worked in the vicinity at the time, including Chagall, Renoir, and Bonnard.
We are to utilize the medium of the latter years of Matisse’s work: gouache. It is new for me but I appreciate its opaqueness, its
rich color spectrum, its ease of use when traveling, its velvety appearance, and its flexibility. I am also intent on experimenting
with the cut-outs that Matisse employed in his later years.
After a number of quick paintings with a model, I begin to work on what I am really wanting to do, inspired by the place, by
the stories I have been reading of Matisse’s endurance in completing the mammoth work of
La Danse
, by the wonder of the
rhythm of Nature he refers to, by the cut-outs I want to try, by the colors of the location, and by the paintings of both these
masters. Inspired also by Chagall’s figures and winged beings floating in space. All of this is running through my body and
mind as I work on the piece. I work on five paper pieces pinned to a board to make a larger space. Before departure, I must
deconstruct the five pieces to fit into my suitcase.
Later, in my home studio, I will reassemble the work and glue it on to strong paper, complete the assembling of the cutouts I
have prepared, choosing only some figures from
La Danse
, and gluing these and the spirit figure down to complete the work.
Matisse was able to hold an informal preview in his studio-garage in Cimiez (Nice) for friends, not knowing that this monumental
mural would not be shown publicly again until many years after both his, and Barnes’ deaths (Barnes died 1951, Matisse, of a
heart attack, in 1954).
Matisse says in an interview on the work: “I permitted the observer to see a much larger dance, because I used fragments. …I
use a fragment and I lead the spectator by the rhythm; I lead him to follow the movement from the fragment he sees, so that
he has a feeling of the totality. I want to give an idea of immensity within a very limited surface”.
[Interview with Georges Charbonnier, from Jack Flam,
Matisse on Art
, University of California Press, 1995. p.191].
The first of the three canvases was finally fixed in place with Barnes in Philadelphia, in an atmosphere so tense that Matisse
suffered a minor heart attack, turning blue, and falling to the ground. He was revived by Barnes – with whiskey. Doctors
prescribed three months complete rest for Matisse. At this time, Barnes had had his newly published book on Matisse
had been comprehensively mauled by the critics, and he’d announced that he had no intention of letting anyone see his
acquisition. To Matisse this behavior seemed almost irrational.
[Hilary Spurling,
Matisse, the Life
, Penguin, 2009. p. 416.]
“I wouldn’t mind turning into a
vermilion goldfish.”
Henri Matisse
Old Vence from the Villa
Painting in the garden at Le Rêve
A demonstration of gouache
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