Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917
July 18–October 11, 2010
When this painting was first reproduced, in the May 1914 edition of the journal Les Soirées de Paris, it was titled La Glace sans tain, or "the mirror without silvering," referring to a device known as a Claude mirror: the dark, red-framed square in the picture. Many artists used one of these slightly convex, dark-tinted mirrors to clarify their compositions; a scene reflected in it is less colorful than life, its compositional elements accentuated. Something close to that effect is visible here in the structured vertical and horizontal bands and the cool blue palette that Matisse painted over other layers of color, some of which are still visible. As he simplified forms he reinforced them with incising and scraping, in, for example, the cloud at top left. Matisse used this view twice in his 1913 drypoint Bell Flower.
Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913 - 1917, July 18–October 11, 2010
Director, Glenn Lowry: In The Blue Window, Matisse offers us a clue as to what the painting is about and how he made it. At the lower right of the picture, he painted a gray square framed in red. That's a Claude mirror—a slightly convex, tinted mirror artists sometimes used to view a landscape. It darkened the color of a scene and simplified the forms.
Curator, Stephanie D'Alessandro: And that sense of reduction and simplification is something Matisse was after in this picture.
Curator, John Elderfield: And we can tell from the painting that the composition was originally far more naturalistic, that we can see the greens of the landscape very much underneath the blue.
Glenn Lowry: Matisse reworked this canvas several times.
Conservator, Michael Duffy: Looking at X-rays and also infrared examination shows us some of the changes in the composition. You can see these, in particular, in the upper right, in the foliage of the trees, where there were additional branches and leaf shapes that he painted out.
Other elements were shifted around, you can see in particular some interesting paint techniques in the cloud form, in the upper center. What happened was he scraped down various layers of paint, revealing pink and blue underneath, and also some green, resulting in this kind of opalescent color. And that's typical of Matisse during this time period, this scraping away of paint to reveal underlayers. Also you can see around some of the shapes some incised lines, where he took the end of a brush, or a sharp instrument and actually carved into the paint. This is also a very typical technique from this time period.