21 September, 2014

I Ascended Alone

Henri Matisse, 1930. Silver gelatin
by Edward Steichen.

Dance, 1910. o/c. 8.5 feet x 12.75 feet. Henri Matisse.

Music, 1910. o/c. 8.5 feet x 12.75 feet. Henri Matisse.


  Would they be there? The two great canvases, Dance, and Music, are twin titans that Matisse painted for his patron, Sergei Ivanovich Shchukin, in 1910. This August, I went to see these works at the State Hermitage Museum, in Saint Petersburg, Russia. But, I had reason to worry about their whereabouts.

  After a day of touring the great museum with Olga, our Russian guide, I was told the Matisse works had been moved to an outer building of the sprawling complex. Russians didn't prefer the Modernists, anyway, and so they were possibly on exhibit at the General Staff building. I had traveled halfway around the world to see the definitive works by the master Henri Matisse, whose influence on me has grown over the past many years. Would both of the canvases be accessible, or perhaps only one of them?

  Olga had taken our small group on a whirlwind run through the main museum building, the Winter Palace. Look! There's Michelangelo! Da Vinci and Raphael, puff, p-puff! Huh, wheeze. Now look at Rembrandt - there he goes! It was an atrocious art crime; speeding past masterworks by the greatest artists of world history but never actually looking at them! The idea was to say that you had seen Leonardo; you were in his presence. What did the painting look like? Hell if I know! It was too crowded and I was only afforded a second's audience with the great canvas.

Ascending the grand staircase of the General Staff Building of The State Hermitage Museum.
     Had I come all the way to Russia for nothing?

  I ascended alone the wide, white marble stairway inside the General Staff Building of The Hermitage. After some trouble with language and directions, I had found the place where I hoped to view the great man's art. Up a central line of emerald green glass and through glorious four-story doors, there waited a nearly private exhibit of paintings and sculptures by Henri Matisse. Yes, they were all there.

  It seem to me that there was something providential happening. Not only did I see both of the big 1910 canvases by Matisse, but I also enjoyed a rare exhibit of about 30 works by the master, including important paintings such as Harmony in Red and Portrait of The Artist's Wife. In this exhibit, I saw his color, his passion, and his carefree attitude in painting. 

"(I paint) to translate my emotions...through color and drawing, which neither the most perfect camera, even in color, nor the cinema, can do." Henri Matisse. 1942 Radio Interview.

Detail: Seville Still Life. Insane Red Color.

  This was a life event for me: a long private conversation (art is communication, isn't it?) with the 20th century French Colorist Henri Matisse. Seeing the works in their context, in close proximity to one another, and in regal situation, was an irreplaceable experience. What more can be said with color in new paintings? I can't wait to see.

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Abstract Expressionism, Art Criticism, Artists, Colorist Art, Drawing, History, Impressionism, Modern Art, Painting, Pastel, Post Impressionism