Henri Matisse: His true colours
When Matisse was giving instruction to his students he would tell them to think about the colour of the object or scene in front of them and forget about its name: vase, lemon, coffee pot etc. When beginning to paint an object or scene that is highly charged with colour, simplifying the problem by forgetting the object’s name, and only thinking of them in terms of colour can be a liberating experience for many students.
In Matisse’s work his vibrant use of colour was sometimes regarded as being wild and dissonant and having no regard for the subject’s natural colour. Accentuating colour to describe what the artist is feeling towards the subject matter is a way of expressing its true colours. The emotional impact of a work can be as highly relevant and as undisputed a truth as the artist’s way.
In 1889 when Matisse was ten years old he was given a box of paints by his mother and from that moment he discovered his true profession. He said later, “From the moment I held the box of colors in my hands, I knew this was my life. I threw myself into it like a beast that plunges towards the thing it loves.” Matisse’s mother was the first to advise her son not to adhere to the “rules” of art, but rather listen to his own emotions. Matisse was so committed to his art that he later extended a warning to his fiancée, Amélie Parayre, whom he later married: “I love you dearly, mademoiselle; but I shall always love painting more.” Matisse had discovered “a kind of paradise” as he later described it.
During his life as a painter Matisse spent a lot of time on the French Riviera, Morocco and Tunisia, places that have almost guaranteed sunshine all the year around. It is no wonder that in Matisse’s work we see intense colour used in an expressionistic way, given over in place of detail. To discover the essential character of things was his aim and to create art that gave a sense of the artist within. Matisse was a revolutionary in his time and struggled against the accepted “norms” of tradition in art. He did indeed show his true colours.