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For Further Consideration
Additional Work to Explore
• Describe the figure in this painting in as much detail as possible. What do you suppose this person is doing? How can you tell? Take a moment and assume the pose of the figure in this painting. What does this pose suggest to you? Why?
The figure shown in Matisse’s Interior with a Young Girl (Girl Reading) is the artist’s daughter, Marguerite. Matisse’s family was often the subject of his work, portrayed at home playing music or reading. Marguerite’s pose—looking down with her head buried in a book—suggests a private moment. Although Marguerite may have been reading quietly, the bright colors Matisse applied to articulate her likeness, as well as the objects and space around her, are vibrant and intense. One writer even likened the painting to a room on fire. [Pierre Schneider in John Elderfield, Matisse in the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1978, 46.] Matisse once summarized his work in the following manner:
Expression to my way of thinking does not consist of the passion mirrored upon a human face or betrayed by a violent gesture. The whole arrangement of the picture is expressive. The place occupied by figures or objects, the empty spaces around them, the proportions, everything plays a part. Composition is the art of arranging in a decorative manner the various elements at the painterís disposal for the expression of his feelings. In a picture every part will be visible and will play the role conferred upon it, be it principal or secondary. All that is not useful in the picture is detrimental. A work of art must be harmonious in its entirety; for superfluous details would, in the mind of the beholder, encroach upon the essential elements. [Henri Matisse, “Notes of a Painter,” in Matisse: His Art and His Public, 1951; repr. Herschel B. Chipp, Theories on Modern Art (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), 130.]
• What is your reaction to Matisse’s statement? Does it change your initial observations of this painting? Why or why not?
• Look back at Matisse’s Landscape at Collioure. Make a list of similarities and differences between Interior with a Young Girl (Girl Reading) and Landscape at Collioure.
Activity: Artists on Art
In 1908, Matisse published Notes of a Painter, a book of his personal essays on art. The following passage describes one of his views on art:
What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter, an art which might be for every mental worker, be he businessman or writer, like an appeasing influence, like a mental soother, something like a good armchair in which to rest from physical fatigue. [Ibid, 135.]
Nolde’s views are a study in contrast:
When you notice anarchy, recklessness, or licentiousness in works of contemporary art, when you notice crass coarseness and brutality, then occupy yourself long and painstakingly precisely with these works, and you will suddenly recognize how the seeming recklessness transforms itself into freedom, the coarseness into high refinements. Harmless pictures are seldom worth anything. [Benson et al., Nolde: the Painter's Prints, 37.]
• Ask your students to consider the quotes by Matisse and Nolde. Ask them to respond to each artist’s ideas about art. Ask if they support or differ with Matisseís or Nolde’s views.
• Ask your students if these statements help inform them about Matisse’s and Nolde’s work. Ask them to explain their response.
• Ask your students to define art in their own words. Ask them to share their ideas with their classmates and compare their own statements with those of Matisse and Nolde. Ask your students to locate writings or interviews of other artists they have studied, and to compare the artists’ opinions about art with their own ideas.
• Ask your students to research other artists associated with Fauvism and Expressionism who are not included in this guide. Ask them to select a work by one of these artists and compare it with a work in this guide. Ask if they notice any similarities or differences. Ask why they think the two artists were identified as part of the same group.
Writing Project: Be an Art Critic
• Imagine that you are an art critic in the year 1913. Consider what it might have been like at the time in terms of how people were living and what was going on socially, politically, and culturally. How would these factors have affected the way people might have responded to a work of art at the time?
• Imagine that you are a reporter covering a current art exhibition. What are your opinions of the artwork, and why?
Consider the works of art installed around the one you are viewing. How would you compare the works? Why do you think they were chosen to be exhibited together?
Looking at American History
As part of your research, choose one or two works of art by an American artist. Describe the work in as much detail as possible and include reactions from art critics or historians from around the time the work was made. Do you agree or disagree with published opinions of this work?
• Writers active during this time and writers who were influential to the artists in this guide, for example, Émile Zola, Charles Baudelaire, Leo Tolstoy, Sigmund Freud, Friedrich Nietszche, Arthur Schopenhauer, Thomas Mann, Gerhard Hauptmann.
• Artists in other disciplines. Music: Richard Wagner, Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schönberg, Richard Strauss. Dance: the popularity of the café-concert and the cabaret. (Many historians have written about the popularity of dance during the early 1900s in large cities such as Paris and Vienna, and the connections between dance and visual art. For instance, Kokoschka frequented a popular cabaret, or dance hall, in Vienna, called the Cabaret Fledermaus. There, he saw many performances by popular dancers of the time, such as Isadora Duncan.)