It Takes an Original

After viewing the current exhibition at the Musée Matisse in Nice it came to me that the trouble with being an original is that it takes someone original to recognize you as one.

This exhibition largely of photographs documented the friendship/ rivalry between Matisse and Picasso who both lived for some years, almost neighbors on the Cote d’Azur. This exhibition finds the pair when, Matisse towards the end of his life, diagnosed with Cancer,  was exploding into the celebration of his cut out colour decoupage from his bed or wheelchair, whereas Picasso was in his hey day, still full of his celebrated vigor.

There are however, some paintings and sketches by both artists. Early works exploring technique, sometimes obviously influenced by their contemporaries to discover new ways to express what they saw. An Impression then, hence the term, what they themselves actually saw, the essential feeling of it, its sense, the essence in a way, of light and colour and line to evoke an expression on a portrait,  or the feeling of being part of the scene before you, regarding it,  feeling the light shift, the wind in the trees, not a photographic perfect representation but an insight into the very mind of the sitter or the vibrancy of the scene.

Matisse apparently made three portraits of Améille. Two of them, a sketch in colour and a finished painting are on show. In the sketch, on an otherwise blank canvas he evokes the essential of the woman’s mood and character using what look like arbitrary daubs of red. In it, when we look to the finished portrait below, we see all the force of expression is the same, intensified by the completed work but essentially unchanged.

At the end, not long before Matisse’s death, we see Picasso paint a last homage to his friend and rival. An armchair, objects in a room, the open window and Palms beyond, that exquisite light that so delighted his friend each day. It is hung side by side with a Matisse, the same palette, the kind of room we always associate with his style. It was a touching tribute from a man who by comparison seems to me so earthy and sensual to one so whimsical and other-worldly.

When the Impressionists were doing that no one had seen anything like it. To view it today and not be aware of that fact is to reduce it to a simplicity it does not deserve. To judge based on an often badly interpreted reality is to lack  the ability to appreciate or even recognize originality when you see it.