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On view  |  Painting and Sculpture I, Gallery 6, Floor 5

Henri Matisse. Goldfish and Palette. Paris, quai Saint-Michel, fall 1914

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Henri Matisse (French, 1869–1954)

Goldfish and Palette

Paris, quai Saint-Michel, fall 1914
Oil on canvas
57 3/4 x 44 1/4" (146.5 x 112.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift and bequest of Florene M. Schoenborn and Samuel A. Marx
MoMA Number:
© 2015 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Audio Program excerpt

Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913 - 1917

, July 18 - October 11, 2010

Director, Glenn Lowry: Matisse frequently revisited favorite themes using them to experiment with new approaches and techniques. In Goldfish and Palette he uses a familiar motif to explore several new ideas.

Curator, John Elderfield: It's clear by looking at it, and particularly at the left hand side, that it was a painting where he had started naturalistically. But he creates this big broad black band, which then he carries all the way down the picture, and at the bottom it becomes a shadow of this black thing that is invented. And amazingly, I think, that for all the sense of abstractness of the picture, there's this clear sense of the effect of light hitting the goldfish bowl, and creating enormous luminosity within the painting. No?

Curator, Stephanie D’Alessandro: Yes, definitely. I think the way that Matisse paints that white on top of the colors below allow us to get that beautiful sense of luminosity, especially in comparison to the white table top. That black space that turns into a shadow is at the same time a black band through the center of the picture. So flattening it out.

Curator, John Elderfield: The degree to which he will allow something which seems raw and not brought to a conclusion is quite amazing in this picture, particularly in the white areas of the floor as much as in.

What's going on in the right hand side. This sort of relentless scratching down, which doesn't actually get resolved in any normal sense. So that one really has the sense of this thing being in the studio, with the artist there, going through work over an extended period.

Glenn Lowry: When Matisse began Goldfish and Palette, he depicted himself on the right side of the canvas. But by the time he finished, little of his presence remained except for his thumb sticking through the palette.

Curator, Stephanie D'Alessandro: And for all the scratching, and scraping and re-painting, he left that thumb there. And it becomes this tantalizing reminder of something that was there before. Leaving something that kinds of leaves us looking and figuring things out.

John Elderfield: It's possible to go through imaginatively and say "Well, what would it have looked like if he had painted this out? What would it have looked like if he'd carried the blue all the way over to the right corner?" And one realizes that the mystery would have disappeared.

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