CreditsDirector: Carlos Vilardebo Writers/Narration: André Parinaud: Carlos Vilardebo
Catalog number # 426
53 minutes Color
Age Range: 15 to Adult
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COMMENTARY: Paris in 1895. A young man, aged 26 looks out the window of this artist's studio overlooking the Seine and the Pont Neuf. His name is Henri Matisse.
HUYGUES: I knew the studio you're talking about. I saw this bird's eye view of Paris.
COMMENTARY: Had he followed his father's advice, Matisse would have been a public notary at Chateau-de-Cambresis in Northern France, where he was born in 1869. However, he managed to get his father's permission to become a painter and reached Paris in 1892. He didn't know it yet, but what he was attracted to was light. HUYGUES: He's a man of the North, a man with a starting point much like Van Gogh. And what was extraordinary in all these artists who were at the very source of Fauvism, like Van Gogh, or its promoters, like Matisse, is that they undoubtedly had this revelation, like an insect coming out of its cocoon and opening its wings, the revelation of a man of the North suddenly discovering light.
COMMENTARY: The simple and everyday reality, life and motion strung out along the Seine river banks which Matisse observes from his window, fascinate the young man from the North. But such shimmering life, which today as it did then expresses the reality of the times, you weren't taught to catch it at any school of Fine Arts. The soft landscape has become a jungle. We wander over it today with a fauvist look, accustomed to noise, to motion, to color.
HUYGUES: But color is a power which hits you in the chest.
COMMENTARY: Such colored power is what Henri Matisse wants to transpose in his paints. He strives to that end with obstination, first by capturing the play of light and shadow on the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral right before his eyes. His painting lessons, he takes them at the Louvre Museum where he copies masterpieces: 19 canvases between 1895 and 1900, most of which are bought by the State. He could live off that. But his is a revolutionary attitude for a student who, officially, should have eyes only for the Salon, the major exhibition. For it's almost a scandal to be interested by painting from life and the colors of reality.
This discipline in the experience of reality, Matisse imposes it upon himself as a healthy exercise. Matisse isn't alone anymore. He shares his studio with Henri Marquet, who has been his friend since 1892. He shares with him the same painting adventure. And Marquet, like Matisse, tries to grasp the truth that lives under their windows. Marquet, like Matisse, endeavors to restore a vision so as to produce understanding of the quality of true emotion. In a Japanese layout, we see on his canvas a grey sky heavy with snow, figures of passersby and the grey mass of the cathedral in the light of a wintery dusk. The Saint Michel Bridge has the same presence today as on Marquet's canvas. Yet, beyond appearance, the painter managed to catch the permanence of a deeply-felt truth which the century that's beginning seems to have forgotten. Artists are conditioned. It could be said that they're hostages of their society. The bourgeoisie want to look at a reflection of itself and demand that painters build the scenery for its self-satisfaction. HUYGUES: The tragedy of the era now beginning is the tragedy of the bourgeoisie. It cannot be doubted that the bourgeoisie in the 19th century was the class which coincided with the blossoming out of science, physical sciences and their technical utilization. As a result, bourgeoisie was the class of positivism. It had a passion for reality, reality as physical sciences understand the term, that it to say what can be touched, verified and therefore, more specifically, forms and realism in details.
COMMENTARY: Obedient nymphs, easy ecstasy, mythological dreams, perverse and decadent worries.
HUYGUES: On the contrary, these young men stifle in there. And Delacroix, too. It shouldn't be forgotten that Delacroix had been the "great revealer." These men are saying: "You're smothering the world. Man owns other faculties: he has imagination, he has the stuff of dreams."
COMMENTARY: One could believe life was a show of mondanities. And yet,
a whole series of revolutions are on the way and the pasteboard society is about to burst apart. A civilization of energy, all forms of energy, scientific, technological, social, is about to appear. But who knows about it at the school of Fine Arts? Matisse copied antique casts in the yard of the Beaux Arts School when Gustave Moreau, who was teaching there, noticed him and had him exempted from entrance exams and opened his studio to him. Even then, the young Matisse's serious mien was his strength. HUYGUES: He himself would say later, and many times over, that he looked like a "Herr Professor." He always had that calm, doctoral, subtle air about him.
COMMENTARY: Gustave Moreau tutored eighty pupils, some of whom went down in history: Matisse, Manguin, Marquet and Rouault. LASSAIGNE: He had the good luck of stumbling on Gustave Moreau, who had few traits of the official painter. His own painting had something extraordinarily strange about it and has even today.
COMMENTARY: Smack in the middle of the Beaux Arts School, Gustave Moreau's workshop is a center fighting against routine, with all those who intend growing according to their own individuality. GUIDE: Gustave Moreau was an exceptional personality. His students loved him, and he told them: "I'm a bridge over which some of you are going to cross."
COMMENTARY: Gustave Moreau gave his students a solid and highly eclectic classical culture. The Orient is a cult with him and he will impress Henri Matisse with his love for Persian miniatures. INTERVIEW MUSEUM GUIDE: He also told them: "If you have no imagination, you won't find good colors." This led them to paint not what they saw, but what they dreamed of. He pushed them into achieving creative rather than imitative painting.
COMMENTARY: The town house and the two thousand paintings Gustave Moreau bequeathed to the state after his death testify to his spirit and the refinement of his brush stroke, to the precious enamel of matter. "I love my art so much," he said, "that I'll only be happy when I do it for myself alone."
GUIDE: And he added: "The inner feeling is certain beyond a doubt," Which few dared profess at the time.
COMMENTARY: Matisse continued his apprentiship under this master, who was loved by everybody. At this particular stage, his colors are faint, subtle, and his friends describe him as "delicate and knowledgeable in the art of greyish hues." It should be said that Matisse was near-sighted, which made him see the colored aspects of nature rather than its volumes. He submits himself to systematic discipline in order to better control his sight.
LASSAIGNE: You know, Matisse has a very methodical mind which drives him to finish what he started. He started classic training and went straight through to the end. Intelligence, more than instinct, makes him conceive a way out of his classic training through, I believe, the use of pure color.
COMMENTARY: Matisse sealed his marriage with color in the summer of 1896. The deep drive which guides him is better understood when one looks at its starting point: this portrait, done in green chalk, which was done in 1905, nine years later. It makes us understand what he's revolting against and what he hopes for.
BUTOR: When you paint, it's because you have a passion for painting. You paint from the inside paintings which already exist. The painting which exists he finds thrilling and very beautiful. There are things in it he finds extraordinary. And yet, at the same time, he's not satisfied with it. In all these paintings, which are beautiful, there is something that doesn't jibe. There's something missing. Something else has to be done. Short of which something is going to be wrong. Short of which the world is really going to become sick.
COMMENTARY: Gustave Moreau died in 1890. He is replaced by Cormon, who shows the same blind incomprehension he showed earlier of Lautrec and Van Gogh's work, though they had been his students. Matisse convinced his friends to leave the Cormon workshop and Marquet tells Camouin: "Let's get out of here. It's more fun painting trolleys." HUYGUES: Man feels locked up in a room. And then, suddenly, a window must be opened. He has to reach out for air, light, freedom. COMMENTARY: Matisse gets married and goes to Corsica for his honeymoon, and then to Toulouse, the region where his wife was born. An evolution is coming up. He suppresses reflections and luminous points in his paintings. His whites don't stand out as much. Tones are put down with frankness and fully modulated. Contrasts are sharp and directly suggest the light. Everything becomes simpler. Balance is fully assured. HUYGUES: Why do artists suddenly discover light in the Mediterranean region? Now, what's light? It's a vibration relating to our nervous system. And everybody has a different nervous system. There's a distinction to be made right now, I mean the convulsive burn which Van Gogh felt by going south, because he, for one, is Dutch. There's no doubt that Van Gogh is a man walking on a road who suddenly got sunstroke, walking as he did in the sun. He doesn't have the stuff to withstand sunstroke and the sunstroke drives him to outright folly. Matisse, who was born at Chateau-Cambresis, is from another region, from the other side of the hill which goes from the Walloon to the Picardy region. There's a different psychological entity there. The Walloon temperament is one of self-control, of measure. That's why, standing before a window, he plays at closing the shutters. There's the light which wants to come in, pierce through, and what he does is put a filter on it.
COMMENTARY: With Marquet, Matisse works in Luxemburg, in Arcueil, and seems to have tested out the dimensions of his newfound freedom with a brush overflowing with glowing colors. He is obsessed with Van Gogh and even goes so far as to talk with the famed gallery owner, Vollard, in the hope of acquiring the painting entitled the "Alyscamps." LASSAIGNE: We've testimony to the fact that the first painting Matisse ever purchased is a Cezanne. That's not too bad. He bought "Les Baigneuses" which today hangs in the Petit Palais Museum and gave it away after 36 years, saying: "This painting has been next to me for 36 years, helping me and answering all my questions," In the last analysis, that's it.
COMMENTARY: His name is Cezanne. "The good god of painting." His experience is going to be deepened with Marquet. Marquet and Cezanne work together both in a workshop and in the street. They want to discipline color so as to make it a veritable instrument for the arrangement of a painting and better translate volumes.
LASSAIGNE: I believe Marquet was something like an extra hand for Cezanne or, if you wish, an extra experience. Marquet, I believe, was more. I wouldn't say down to earth but much closer to day-to-day reality, carnal, modest too. COMMENTARY: Beaudelaire foresaw the explosion of colored energy. "I would like plains painted red, rivers golden yellow and blue trees. Nature lacks imagination." The Matisse group isn't the only one to feel the premonitory forms of the new century. Derain a friend of Matisse, studied at the Carriere Academie. He was born in 1880, son of an ice-cream store owner in Chatou. Derain and Vlaminck. They met by chance and they discovered today's truths. Vlaminck is Flemish. He was born in 1876. He earns money as a bicycle racer so as to be able to remain with his parents in Vezinet near Paris. But he also paints with a passion.
VOICE: Vlaminck relates: "We each planted our easel: Derain facing Chatou, the bridge, the steeple, the town's outline. Me, somewhat aside, attracted as I was by the poplar trees. Then I came up to see him, holding my canvas against my thigh. I looked at his painting, solid, knowing, powerful. "What about you," he said. I held my canvas out at arm's length. Derain looked at it a moment in silence, nodded and finally said: "It's beautiful." That's what Fauvism started from.
HUYGUES: What matters to me more than their conversation is what brought them to Chatou in the first place. Well, the thing which occurred at the junction of the 19th and 20th century, underscored by the Chatou adventure, is that city dwellers who could no longer reach the countryside went out to the suburbs, which have now disappeared in turn.
COMMENTARY: Vlaminck used to say: "Fauvism is me. It was my style then, my way rebelling and freeing myself both, refusing school, conformity. My blues, my yellows, ray pure colors with no mixed tones." HUYGUES: For them, nature which was freedom of form, freedom of color, freedom of light and then freedom of feeling, feeling pleasant weather, heat, the sky, nature, all of this, was an enormous symbol of freedom which they intended to defend.
COMMENTARY: Derain is the one who informed Matisse, his friend at the Carriere Academie, about the Chatou school where he and Vlaminck were giving free reign to their lyricism.
HUYGUES: Of course, all three were rebels. They had the impression and that's the 19th century's major problem that there was an objective world and a subjective world. They felt the subjective side that is to say that we don't exist only in function of the outside world but that we also exist in function of ourselves. Then why should we, in art, make but a tracing of the objective world and transpose it objectively, while the only thing that interests us is having a subjective force within ourselves which tries to come out, which uses nature as a pretext, as a perch.
HUYGUES: And so I imagine that this spirit of rebellion and insurrection was the basis of their conversations. For they were very different from each other. Vlaminck is already the Vlaminck we know, and Matisse is the Dutchman's very opposite. And Derain, on the contrary, already tends towards a discipline with all his strength, a discipline of form. These three men make an explosive mixture. They communicate through their youth. VOICE: Vlaminck concludes: "From here on I will love Van Gogh more than my father."
COMMENTARY: The "boss" is Matisse. He tirelessly follows the slow ripening of the new order in painting. With Marquet, painting together and painting each other in the process of painting as if trying to circumscribe the problem. In fact, it looks like Matisse suddenly decided to condense the results of his work. So as to best understand the event in the offing, let's examine a sculpture by Matisse, his which perfectly shows his taste for volume, his plastic sensuality and his admiration for Rodin. Life is all there, massive, knotty, planes on which play light and shadows. Following condensed volume, Matisse discovers the concentrated line. He frees himself from classic codes. "Luxe" "luxury" which he completed in 1907 underscores the road he is going to follow. Three bodies, with dark outlines, ochre-colored as are the earth, the sea and the sky, are painted in flat planes. There is a determined economy of palette and the draft is highly simplified: both daring novelties which usher in the big transition. Everything is set to understand the vast mystery of light when, in summer 1904, Matisse goes to St. Tropez. Paul Signac, a disciple of Seurat, welcomes him in his villa, named "La Hune." Matisse believes that Signac's pointillism can help him go beyond his admiration for the Impressionists. Henri Matisse admires Signac, who explains: "starting with the contrast of two tints, disregarding the surface to be covered, you can from one contrast to another cover the entire canvas." To be a colorist, it isn't enough to put down reds, greens, yellows next to each other, without rule nor measure. Each color has to be brought out." Henri Edmond Cross' touches of color. He lives in Lavandou and often comes to see his two friends. Fit almost to a T Signac's way of thinking. Matisse stands before the same landscapes and, with a luminous gleam, paints a series of canvases which reflect the joy he feels about living in a Mediterranean ambience. Matisse decides to become a fervent pointillist. He finds his inspiration in a Beaudelaire verse. It reads: "There, all is but beauty, luxury, calm and voluptuousness." And, drawing upon the last three words, he paints a canvas which illustrates Van Gogh's prophecy: "a new school of colorists will take root in the Midi region." On this bucolic, pastoral theme which he makes completely new, Matisse builds a rigorous composition based on triangles. Objects, human beings, are taken apart and rebuilt as it were. Matisse doesn't use Signac's or Cross' round stroke; he uses rectangular strokes. The vertical line of a tree trunk cuts the horizon and imposes a feeling of calm dear to the poet. Were modern art to be given a starting date, "Luxe, Calm and voluptuousness" would set it in the summer of 1904. Delighted, Signac buys the painting which is going to grace his villa's living room for 40 years.
COMMENTARY: He is mistaken in congratulating himself about his new pointillist recruit. As far as Matisse is concerned, it's only a stage, a purely physical house cleaning. The event leading to the mutation occurs at the Salon des Independents Exhibition. Matisse, chosen by Signac who directs the commission responsible for actually placing the canvasses was given the task of hanging retrospective exhibitions. There is an admirable series of 44 paintings by Seurat and, what's more important to Matisse, some 45 paintings and drawings by Van Gogh. An extraordinary face-to-face is about to occur between these three major painters. Matisse will undoubtedly be influenced forever by this marvelous confrontation. Pointillists' rhythmic arrangements won't suffice anymore. The measured swing of curves which cut across the canvas strikes him as an exercise of sheer virtuosity. He is going to free himself of all shackles and discover that he has an absolute right to ply lines and colors to the emotion he feels and wants to put across. All that's needed now is a small shove by the finger of fate.
HUYGUES: They're all under the influence of the south of France. There's a kind of logic therein. They're men who want to cut free, blossom out, and they understand that color is the key, that it is inseparable from light. And where can light be found. They're all haunted by the south. "Because I want to get closer to Japan," one of them said. The Midi was the country of the rising sun.
COMMENTARY: Matisse, as it were, is sucked in by the sun's attraction, by the enchantment of sea and sky. He leaves for Collioure in the summer of 1905. Matisse lives a kind of spell. His friend Derain, who has just come back from his army stint, goes with him. The sculptor Maillol is there and Matisse is going to work with him. He helps him put the sculpture entitled "Mediterranee" which will bring him fame. He acquires a new freedom in the art of rounding out volumes and placing his subjects with simplicity. It looks as if working solid matter acts as deliverance. And then comes the shock: Maillol introduces him to Daniel de Monfred who has just come back from the South Seas with some Gauguin canvasses. Matisse is fascinated. Here is the answer to his questions. The flat planes, the systematic lines around forms, utmost simplicity, space which owes everything to color. Very much at ease, Matisse does away with the artifice of models, perspective, light and shade and even the impressionist technique of diffusing a local tone into color. His queen sense of color values leads him to place a luminous tone next to a very dark one: emerald green, laden with a little blue of red so as to make light sing out by suppressing shadows. Fauvism is born and it is going to burst out like a thunderclap. "Illustration" magazine relates the 1905 artistic season's highlight: the Exhibition's room number seven.
CASSOU: That's where modern art began, that is to say a whole series of revolutions, of which this room is the first.
COMMENTARY: That's where the works of Matisse and his friends were exposed.
CASSOU: Color is taken to be an absolute quality, an essential
component. You don't paint nature, you don't paint objects, you paint what you see: you paint colors. You could say that in painting, in the art of painting, two directions are possible: two types of natures where painters are concerned which may appear to be the only two natures possible. One is that of painters who think that what's interesting is search for form, for line, contour, for meaning and analysis of what they see. The other is to give yourself up, organically, physically and all feelings as well to the outside world, to the outside worlds most sensitive form, the one which grabs you most imperiously namely color. You can say that there are two kinds of painters: one, the Ingres family, the other the Delacroix family. The Fauvists belong to the Delacroix family and they would fit right away with the Venetians, the Baroques, Rubens, Turner and Delacroix, that is to say all these geniuses whose earmark was sensitivity above all.
COMMENTARY: Sensitive to life unfolding, to its bursting energy, to the dynamism of motion which moves forms, as is admirably illustrated by Fauvists at the turn of the century.
CASSOU: Bernin told Poussin: "They don't realize that Poussin has got something up here, and he pointed to his forehead. He believed that painting came from the head. For other painters, painting came from the eye and from the hand. Painting, to Fauvists, stemmed from the eye and the hand. And the world became color.
COMMENTARY: Fauvists overflowing with energy and rigor could not long remain together at the peak of their tension, and the group soon fell apart. For a moment, their colored passion was taken up by the "Futurist" group which also wanted to extend the pointillist experience. CASSOU: The old gang from Gustave Moreau's workshop were all there: Marquet and his friend Matisse. And Camouin as well as Manguin; and then there was what we call the Chatou school, the Chatou group: Vlaminck, Derain. And there were those who could be called the "Normand" group: Friez and Dufy. Derain and Vlaminck certainly were among the most violent interpreters of Fauvism, their most interesting period.
COMMENTARY: Painting sees red. CASSOU: Yes, of course, press comments weren't at all favorable. They were shocked! Oh, yes: it really horrified them. And you know Vauxelles' famous words when he walked into the room. There were sculptures in the room, they weren't bad at all but they seemed out of place in this outpouring of violence. And Vauzelle said: "Ah: Donatello in the middle of wild beasts. Wild beasts fauve in French was proudly picked up by these painters.
COMMENTARY: The press placed the group baptized "Fauve" under Matisse's shepherd's cross. Contrary to their impressionist predecessors, no Fauvist actually considered joining a doctrine or even a common technique. Its very success established the movement while hotheads scribbled their indignation on walls. The 1906's Salon des Independents and the Salon d'Autornne the same year consecrated Fauvism's triumph and mainly that of its leader.
HUYGUES: He had a lot of vitality in his guts and, when all is said and done, the inventor of Fauvism remained a wild beast all his life.
COMMENTARY: It looks as if Matisse's painting provoke light through flat planes put down as if they were music chords. He uses color as a means to express emotion rather than in imitation of nature. He creates space by means of color, without relief nor the illusion of light and shade. In "Atelier Rouge" "Red Workshop" the expression comes from the colored surface which a spectator catches as a whole. It's a dynamic sensuality, the shock of a spectacle upon the senses. In "La Danse" "The Dance" Matisse achieves almost absolute simplification while space bursts out of the painting, and moves towards the viewer who feels included in it. Today, airplanes give us a new-understanding of the sky, of space. Eyes perceive the spectacle much like a circular look taking in everything that's around and behind. Matisse foresaw this. CASSOU: These revolutions were explicit. This one was particularly explosive. It was made by painters who each had their own temperament, and strong ones at that, powerful, original. What brought them together was a like dynamism, a will to go back to sources, to feeling, to direct feeling.
COMMENTARY: The Fauvists, during the few months their common movement lasted, threw up real fireworks which inspired as many revolutions. They
proposed a new way of seeing the world -through energy and color. With
Vlaminck, the Fauvists exploded and their temperament roared. Dufy, for one, almost wittingly orchestrates his colors in a decorative fashion. But, for all, emotion tops everything. Sensuality is fully displayed. Brutal, greedy, frenetic in Vlaminck. Measured and compartmented in Derain, much in Gauguin's way, for Derain's concern for composition will soon come to dominate his outlook. Let's admire the reflections, the play of tone relationships, the power of the Fauvist painter who treats the canvas as if it were a mirror and sends back the shock of light's rays. With Matisse, the horizon line is practically gone: an intense clarity spreads over the whole. Everything is radiation and contrast. CASSOU: By repeating "blue sky, blue sea" we forget -there's blue in there. Well, the Fauvists reminded our eyes that blue exists. And they painted blue. They completely emancipated themselves from the outside world. CASSOU: There's no doubt all this constitutes a line of energy.
COMMENTARY: They were five futurists, Boccioni, Carlo Carra, Luigi Russolo, Giacomo Balla and Gino Severini. Their common Divisionist start point was to express, through color, a dynamic sensation rather than the image itself, deriding perspective and the opacity of bodies.
HUYGUES: Futurism takes up the formal decomposition invented by Cubism, but it's going to settle one more thing, it's the feeling of life, the feeling of intensity. That is why Marinetti would say; "We agree with science, with the century of speed, with airplanes, with the throbbing of engines. Isn't that right: aero-painting. COMMENTARY: This small group of young Italian painters, fascinated by motion and the power of a world being bare, wanted to express its equivalence. Their action took on the appearance of a provocation in a manifesto printed in the Paris newspaper "Le Figaro" on February 20th, 1909. Speaking on their behalf, the poet Marinetti proclaimed with overwhelming and fiery violence their "will to sap the foundations of venerable cities". Each of their painting would prepare an interpenetration of objects and characters. Their dream is to express pure energy. Their flashing images mark society's alliance with the sources of energy which explode everywhere and transform both the rhythm of our lives and of our thoughts. The color in motion in planes' skies, car's roads, television screens and street signs, roiling on buses, displayed in store windows, the acceleration of time, the fierce passion for colored life already follows in the footsteps of Matisse and his friends. HUYGUES: If I had to explain this time, I believe that what characterizes it is the discovery of energy. CASSOU: We're no longer in a world of outings and contemplation. We're in a world that's real and tried: a world of experience. And this is a world of adventure, the adventure which Van Gogh and Gauguin lived. It's the modern world. BUTOR: Classical art was also an adventure. A lot of things which seem well-admitted, well-catalogued today were extremely controversial in "their time. I don't know: Rembrandt for instance. We think today "that Rembrandt's is classical painting. That's "thought by those who haven't seen Rembrandt. Those who have were totally surprised at the sight of a real Rembrandt in a museum. They never would have believed it to be like that! With so much thick paint, so mixed-up, with such bizarre colors. When you put Rembrandt in middle of classic Dutch painting, he stands out as a monster.
COMMENTARY: There are accidents in the history of painting, but is it really a coincidence that Einstein's theory of relativity which was going to give birth to the atomic bomb came out the year of the Fauvist Exhibition? In their time, these painters hurt their contemporaries' feelings, however. COMMENTARY: The painters who shock the most are those who did all they could in order not to shock too much. As a result, after a while, despite all their efforts, despite all the precautions they take, people are still shocked. There comes a time when you can't do anything about it and say: "Too bad, let them be shocked. If they don't want to understand, too bad for them. Here, that's what I'll do. I don't know what's going to happen, but one day they'll come to understand.
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