Matisse on color

When I put colors together, they have to join a living chord, like a musical chord or harmony.  — Matisse

“Notes of a Painter” by Matisse, translated by Flam (1973) and serendipitously excerpted in Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, ed. 13.

What I am after, above all, is expression… 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 the figures, the empty spaces 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…

The chief function of color should be to serve expression as well as possible… My choice of colors does not rest on any scientific theory; it is based on observation, on sensitivity, on felt experiences. … I simply try to put down colors which render my sensation. There is an impelling proportion of tones that may lead me to change the shape of a figure or transform my composition. Until I have achieved this proportion in all parts of the composition I strive towards it and keep 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 with having to repaint it entirely.

I wish I had his ability to intuit with decisiveness when a work is “finished.” Would make blogging and life in general much easier!


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