14 April, 2011

1938 Would Kill a Normal Man, But Not Henri Matisse.

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Hitler in Italy, The Year 1938


Don't confuse The Conversation of 1938 with Henri Matisse's painting of the same title completed in 1912.


In 1938, Henri Matisse's world was coming undone.  The days, metaphorically speaking, were dark. French Prime Minister, Édouard Daladier, and British PM Neville Chamberlain, worked in vain to avoid war with Germany and Italy.  1938 was the year of the Austrian Anschluss and the annexation of the Sudetenland. Hitler would pay a high profile visit to Rome and Florence in May.  Ominously, the Nazis began the construction of the large concentration camp in Mauthausen, Austria. In Pablo Picasso's Spain, the Civil War was raging. In Nice, where Matisse lived, residents feared an Italian invasion.


Henri Matisse had twice experienced the occupation of his hometown of Bohain, France by the German army.  Now, he feared the third such event.  At the age of sixty-nine, his health was fragile and in another couple of years he would undergo a colostomy, which bound him to a wheelchair and eventually to his bed.  Although Matisse would live another sixteen years, in 1938 his life as a painter was soon to end.


Amelie, his wife of forty years, was beginning the process of separation from Matisse and would sue in less than a year.  She had endured the hat painting, but was finished with the famous painter as a wife. Turmoil is not the right word to describe M. Matisse's life - cataclysmic would do better.


What will Henri do with this chaotic milieu?  He will paint what is, in my estimation, the best work hanging in the San Fransisco Museum of Modern Art. See my report next time.


Amelie Matisse, giving "The Look."
It's not about the hat.

19 comments:

Sonya Johnson said...

I can't imagine living during that tumultuous time as an artist (or actually anyone, for that matter). Seems like a brutal and dreadful time to be alive in so many ways.

I don't know much at all about Matisse, so this series you're doing will be interesting and informative.

Casey Klahn said...

I'm glad this post brings the message: 1938=hard times.

Matisse has been a journey of discovery for me. I wondered why he was the best French painter of the 20th C. Now that I have seen some of his works, I am piecing the puzzle together a little at a time.

He is a colorist's colorist. Thanks for reading, Sonya!

Celeste Bergin said...

Casey, I bet you have seen the film The Rape of Europa? I had always heard that old saw about Hilter not making it into art school and how that was the impetus for the war. It seemed preposterous! But, the film made me believe it and understand that rejection had everything to do with Hitler's unfathomable wrath (and his hatred of "modern" art).
Thanks for the articles...I love them!

SamArtDog said...

Amelie gives "the Look" as well here as anyone ever has. It is Every Woman. I, of course, don't look anything like that as I await your post about "The Conversation". ;o|

Casey Klahn said...

Sam, your wit is always welcome here. Your comments are the best.

Debu Barve said...

Hi Casey,
Quite an intriguing introduction here. Looking forward to the report now. I am really glad that you are reviewing the masterpieces and I absolutely love your style of doing it. Keep the good work on. Best wishes!

Casey Klahn said...

I forgot @ Hitler's painting. I wonder if he could throw it around like Churchill did? Good thing all artists don't solve their problems with a world war.

Is Hitler's disapprobation of Modern Art another reason for us to approve it? I wonder.

I tried to keep Hitler out of this post as much as possible, but that damn guy keeps coming around. Matisse's response to the war and the Germans was a good one. He stayed in France with a visa to leave for Brazil when the Bosch invaded France in 1940. I think it was partly to do with his health. I wonder if he would have survived the trip?

Also, although Matisse never fought in the wars, he was anything but a pacifist. He was a patriot, and I think the French love him in that regard.

Casey Klahn said...

You are very kind, Debu. I do like to go deep into masterworks to find out why they are so important.

Donna T said...

Fascinating stuff, Casey. I've never really heard much about the effect of the war on the artists and their art. I look forward to learning more about Matisse.

Mary Zeran said...

The way this post is written is absolutely exciting. I can't wait to come back and read more. Well done! Casey.

Casey Klahn said...

Thank you Mary and Donna. I appreciate it.

Johnnny said...

When I first saw that great picture of Amelie Matisse, I thought it was a youthful picture of Bob Dylan, wearing a hat.

Casey Klahn said...

Too much bobdylan will do that to a guy, Johnnny.

Johnnny said...

If Johnnny is ever forced to sing karaoke, I usually pick a Bob Dylan tune. You don't have to sing at all. Just speak the words in a monotone fashion to sound Dylanesque. Happy Monday, and have a great week!

Casey Klahn said...

That's right, Johnnny. You cannot damage a BD song; they're impenetrable.

Love the Bob. Someone said recently: imagine the Chinese censors trying to decipher a Dylan song.

Katherine van Schoonhoven said...

I wonder if Matisse's paintings during this period and through the war, were painting IN SPITE OF what was going on or BECAUSE OF it. Looking forward to more from you about Matisse. I got to see some masterpieces myself at the Norton Simon Museum. Spectacular. Modern.

Casey Klahn said...

I would say Guernica/Picasso was because, but Matisse was painting something else entirely.

Thanks for anticipating this, Kvan and all. What I write will be the only essay I know of on this painting. But, no pressure.

Laura K. Aiken said...

You have my attention Casey. Thank you for this post.
laura.

Casey Klahn said...

I think of all the commentators here, you love Matisse the most, Laura. Thank you for reading here.

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