Around Here: May 2022
Art Journal Every Day: Some November 2020 Pages

Get Smart About Art: Matisse's "The Red Studio"

If you're a long time blog reader, you know that I used to live just a few blocks away from the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City and was a frequent visitor to its galleries.  MoMA has an outstanding collection of pieces by Henri Matisse -- one of my all time favorite artists.  (Be sure to check out the Book Club video about the book, Matisse on Art.)

Currently, MoMA has an exhibit all about his painting, "The Red Studio."

It wasn't a painting that I was immediately drawn to.  In a room full of Matisse paintings, it took me time to understand just how interesting and important this painting is.  And, as it turns out, I'm not alone. This is from the MoMA website:

For many years after its creation, Henri Matisse’s The Red Studio (1911)—which depicts the artist’s work space in the Parisian suburb of Issy-les-Moulineaux—was met with bafflement or indifference. Today it is known as a foundational work of modern art and a landmark in the centuries-long tradition of studio painting.

Here is a video that takes you through the painting and describes what two art curators see when they look at the work -- art terminology, inspiration, choices, etc.:

This video explains why the painting is so important in art history:

And here is a video that shares insights from MoMA curators as to the process of making "The Red Studio."

Poet, W.D. Snodgrass wrote a poem about "The Red Studio."  It is also called, "The Red Studio."

There is no one here.
But the objects: they are real. It is not
As if he had stepped out or moved away;
There is no other room and no
Returning. Your foot or finger would pass
Through, as into unreflecting water
Red with clay, or into fire.
Still, the objects: they are real. It is
As if he had stood
Still in the bare center of this floor,
His mind turned in in concentrated fury,
Till he sank
Like a great beast sinking into sands
Slowly, and did not look up.
His own room drank him.
What else could generate this
Terra cotta raging through the floor and walls,
Through chests, chairs, the table and the clock,
Till all environments of living are
Transformed to energy--
Crude, definitive and gay.
And so gave birth to objects that are real.
How slowly they took shape, his children, here, Grew solid and remain:
The crayons; these statues; the clear brandy bowl;
The ashtray where a girl sleeps, curling among flowers;
This flask of tall glass, green, where a vine begins
Whose vines circle the other girl brown as a cypress knee.
Then, pictures, emerging on the walls:
Bathers; a landscape; a still life with a vase;
To the left, a golden blonde, lain in magentas with flowers scattering like stars;
Opposite, top right, these terra cotta women, living, in their world of living's colors;
Between, but yearning toward them, the sailor on his red cafe chair, dark blue, self-absorbed.
These stay, exact,
Within the belly of these walls that burn,
That must hum like the domed electric web
Within which, at the carnival, small cars bump and turn,
Toward which, for strength, they reach their iron hands:
Like the heavens' walls of flame that the old magi could see;
Or those ethereal clouds of energy
From which all constellations form,
Within whose love they turn.
They stand here real and ultimate.
But there is no one here.

I said it earlier this week and I'll say it again: you are not a camera.

To me, this painting shows how Matisse felt about his studio.  The things that remain in color -- the things that remain defined -- those are the things he valued.  His art tools, his artwork, and the rest is just there.  To me, this painting feels like seeing the world through his eyes.  Magical.

If you're in or around New York City before the Red Studio exhibit closes in September, I hope you'll pop over to MoMA to check it out and let me know your thoughts about it.  If I have the opportunity to travel this summer, it's definitely on my bucket list!

Thanks for stopping by!