A Closer Look at Color

Color Studio Matisse

Henri Matisse, Interior with Egyptian Curtain, 1948. Oil on canvas, 45 3/4 x 35 1/8 in. Acquired 1950. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC (Right) Raoul Dufy, The Opera, Paris, early 1930s. Gouache on paper, 19 3/4 x 25 1/4 in. Acquired 1939. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC

Last Wednesday, I got the chance to attend a Spotlight Talk on Henri Matisse’s Studio, Quai Saint Michel, where we discussed the artist’s characteristic use of Fauvist color to define space. At first these color choices coupled with the skewed perspective can feel a bit aggressive (or in the words of a young Duncan Phillips, “unworthy of the mere ignorance of children and savages”), but after spending some time viewing the painting in person, I started to recognize the frenetic colors for the way they represent the experience of inhabiting the space; the light purple shadow cast by the curtain, vibrant red fabric that frames the reclining model, and rhythmic teal highlights on the walls throughout the room are in essence abstract gestures, but somehow they come together to create a vivid environment.

As I browsed the collection afterwards, I found myself recognizing the way other artists structure their color choices to manipulate the viewers’ perception of subject and space; Georgia O’Keeffe’s somber My Shanty, Lake George, Edouard Vuillard’s intimately composed Woman Sweeping, and Raoul Dufy’s intricate The Opera, Paris. Even works that are purely abstract seem relevant; Piet Mondrian’s Painting No. 9 uses primary color to visually dissect our three-dimensional world, while Mark Rothko’s Green and Maroon uses chromatic fields to envelop the viewer in atmospheric color.

Elaine Budzinski, Marketing Intern

“Look on the model with respect…”

Henri Matisse, Untitled (Seated Nude), ca. 1908

Matisse on models: “I depend entirely on my model, who I observe at liberty, and then I decide on the pose which best suits her nature…. And then I become a slave of that pose.” Henri Matisse, Untitled (Seated Nude), ca. 1908. Ink on paper, 10 5/8 x 8 1/4 in. Gift of Marjorie Phillips, 1984. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC.

Proving that no occupation is un-strikeable, nude models in France are threatening a strike for better wages and job benefits. Despite the many languid figurative works that may imply that nude modeling is nothing more than draping one’s body over a chaise, even those sessions can be plenty challenging. John Sloan, in his treatise Gist of Art (1939), offers this insight into the artist/model exchange:

The important thing to bear in mind while drawing the figure is that the model is a human being, that it is alive, that it exists there on the stand. Look on the model with respect, appreciate his or her humanity. Be very humble before that human being. Be filled with wonder at its reality and life. There is a human creature that lives and breathes and feels, a thing with a mind and character of its own—not a patchwork of light and shadow, color shapes.

Sometimes when I come into the classroom I look at the model and see that she is shivering with cold or suffering in some difficult post she is trying to hold too long. You look up at her and back at the paper, tick-tock, back and forth—all you are looking for is some detail of the appearance of the figure.

Georges Rouault’s Unusual Materials

rouault_church interior side by side_AW

(Left) Georges Rouault’s painting Church Interior hangs unassumingly at the top of the stairs leading to the Music Room (Right) Georges Rouault, Church Interior, 1952, Enamel on copper, overall: 11 1/4 x 8 1/4 in. Bequest of Seymour and Janet Rubin, 2003

On my way through the galleries last week, I was stopped by a painting at the top of the stairs leading to the Music Room. There, hanging unassumingly on a wall all to itself, is George Rouault’s Church Interior. What caught me was the strange texture and shape of this otherwise fairly standard painting—the work seems to bubble out from its frame like an expanding balloon. Before looking at the label, I toyed with and quickly discarded a  list of possible materials: Glass? No, too thick. Wood? Too smooth a curve. Plastic? Too undulating a surface.

Finishing my game, I gave in and looked to the placard for the answer: enamel on copper! I racked my brain for other examples of works on copper, but couldn’t come up with any. Naturally, my next step was a search of the Phillips’s collection for similar works and then, finding none, of the world at large. It turns out that copper had something of a heyday in the 16th and 17th centuries as an artistic canvas, of interest to El Greco, Rembrandt, and a slew of others.

Amy Wike, Marketing Manager