Today’s artistic forensics – new digital imaging techniques, laser scanning, ultraviolet illumination and state-of-the-art computer software – are delivering fantastic insights about the creative process and how the artist works.
High-Tech Matisse, the recent NY Times article by Carol Vogel, for example, describes how technology has revealed that Henri Matisse’s “Bathers by a River” went through a eight-year (1909-1917) evolutionary process as the artist revised the painting time and time again.
Vogel notes, “Although art historians could always track the changes of that period by studying his [Matisse’s] paintings in progression, one by one, until recently they had no clear idea of exactly how those changes were developed: how much hands-on experimenting went into the new work and what formal processes of study, revision and rejection were involved. Now those mysteries have been largely solved, thanks to an extraordinary array of technologies deployed in putting together “Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917,” an exhibition that opens next week [July 18, 2010] at the Museum of Modern Art. The show offers a rare opportunity to look beneath the surface of Matisse’s work to see a creative evolution that until now only his eyes had witnessed.”
Matisse was already an international star when he returned to Paris from Morocco in the spring of 1913. At this time, “he began creating paintings that were simpler and more layered than the boldly colorful, sun-filled canvases that had been his signature. At the same time he started dipping his toe into Cubism, which was in full flower with younger artists like Juan Gris, Georges Braque and, of course, Pablo Picasso, whom Matisse began to see a lot during those years.”
“While he admired Cubism for its inventiveness, the more instinctive Matisse was also suspicious of its intellectual emphasis. At the same time he also admired the work of Paul Cézanne — in particular his carefully constructed compositions — as Matisse began to reconsider his own working methods and fundamental ideas about making art.”
By 1917, Matisse abandoned the Cubist approach and adopted a style closer to Impressionism. “He felt he’d done what he set out to do and thought it was crucial to keep changing,” said John Elderfield, chief curator emeritus at the Museum of Modern Art. “He didn’t want to become a prisoner of that style.”
Matisse said, “Bathers by a River” was one of the most pivotal works in his career, and now we can see why. This visual eight-year timeline delineates the evolution of Matisse’s creative inspiration and execution in extraordinary ways.