Henri Matisse: a printmaker and sculptor


Emily Moser
  Staff Writer

Henri Matisse once said: “It has bothered me all my life that I do not paint like everybody else.” Matisse truly did have a unique style, and as such, is acclaimed for his use of bright, colorful and idealized pieces. His work defies perspective, natural anatomy and typical color choices. As a famous impressionist painter, he revolutionized the world of art.

Although usually considered solely as a painter, Matisse also dabbled in printmaking and sculpture. And from June 23 to October 16, wonderful examples of these two mediums are on exhibit at UNCG’s Weatherspoon Art Museum.

The art selections, come from Matisse’s Claribel and Etta Cone Collection. The two sisters accumulated a massive body of Matisse’s work — one of the world’s largest — and the collection features works from each phase of Matisse’s artistic career.

Out of 500 pieces from the Cone Collection, 16 perplexing yet intriguing lithograph prints of drawings, line the gallery walls. Scattered around the room, three glass cases house small bronze sculptures, crafted by genius hands.

The exhibit primarily focuses on Matisse’s rendition of the female nude in interior spaces. Depicted in lavish, luxurious and leisurely settings, the women appear calm and regal. Some are clothed in brilliantly patterned robes and coats, only furthering their posh portrayal.

Some women in Matisse’s art are engaged in common acts of leisure, as seen in, “Petite liseuse (Little reader),” which depicts a young woman reading a book. While others, such as, “Odalisque voilé (Veiled Odalisque),” show a nude woman majestically posing in grand accessories.

This theme of relaxation is common in Matisse’s work. As the introduction to the exhibition stated, Matisse has often said that he wanted his works to reflect the feeling of lounging in a comfortable chair.

And stylistically, the prints match Matisse’s distinct approach to the human figure. For example, some women are drawn with simplified, basic contour lines. Others, however, have light shading, making them appear rounder and more natural looking, yet still not completely realistic.

In addition, in Matisse’s art, the women’s proportions are slightly off, in that either their torsos or limbs are elongated. Their bodies are pudgy and round; there are almost no straight lines. Their limbs overlap and bodies bend in impossible ways.

Along with the human body, Matisse often incorporates a patterned chair, couch, or cloth. With his light hand, simple squiggles, loops and lines, form intricate floral and striped patterns, each work is energetic and full of quick and gestural lines. The viewer’s eyes bounce around the composition, trying to interpret the simple, yet incredibly complex form taking shape.

Furthermore, his expertise is obvious. His mastery of drawing appears effortless and easy. At first, each work seems so bizarre, but on further examination, it becomes less and less intimidating. The image of the human body becomes just soft, round and organic shapes forming a complex and thought out composition.

Matisse is most well known for his bright colors, and so it is interesting to see his work stripped down to grey prints. Similarly to the prints, the three bronze sculptures of human figures are stylistically unique to Matisse. They too have overlapping and elongated limbs. They appear very bumpy, curvy and soft; even out of something as solid as bronze.

One sculpture, “Madeleine I,” depicts a standing woman. Her body is curved, forming an “S” shape. Her arms are wrapped around her, and are almost nonexistent.

In contrast to this sensual sculpture of a nude woman, we find “Tête d’enfant (Head of a child- Pierre Matisse).” This piece is unlike any other in the gallery. It is a small bust of his young son, Pierre. As the only bust and male in the gallery, this piece stands out. However, Matisse’s unique style and craftsmanship stays steady, unifying this piece with the others.

There is a clear understanding and translation of form in this exhibition. It is remarkable to see how a print of a drawing and a sculpture parallel so perfectly. Along with other beautiful pieces not mentioned, the small gallery is absolutely captivating. Although Matisse did not paint, draw and sculpt like anybody else, his style was so unique and genius, that he did not have to.


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