John Peter Russell. Part 2 – Belle Île, Monet and Matisse

In the first part of my blog about the Australian painter, John Peter Russell, I told you about his early life in Australia and how his father and brothers had started a foundry and engineering works in Sydney.  He then went to England and was apprenticed at a Lincoln engineering company, qualified as an engineer but on the death of his father and the inheritance he subsequently received, gave up his engineering career to become an artist.  He studied at the Slade School in London and the Atelier Cormon in Paris. 

Les Aiguilles, Belle-Île by John Peter Russell ((1890)
Les Aiguilles, Belle-Île by John Peter Russell ((1890)

Russell had previously made painting trips to the Breton isle of Belle Île in 1883 and 1886 and fell in love with the island scenery and the light which offered up the myriad of colours of the island’s nature and the surrounding seas.  For Russell, his aim was to capture in his paintings the unadulterated purity of nature’s colour that the light highlighted at different times of the day.  To do this Russell realised that making quick preliminary sketches, later to be finished in his studio, would lose the purity of the colour and so he decided that the work had to be completed en plein air if he was to capture the true colour that the light had offered him.  He was not alone with this idea as many of the French Impressionists came to the region in search of the rugged beauty offered up by the island.  For these artists the island of Belle Île offered them a remote and secluded painting haven with its spectacular cliff configurations and outlying rock structures which had been shaped and whittled away by the unrelenting ferocity of the sea.  

Russell summed up his love for Mother Nature and capturing in his works the changing light he experienced on the island when he said:

“…I am a painter of nature, of nature’s moods, of sunlight and the changing temper of the sea”

His good friend the sculptor Auguste Rodin wrote to him about this love of colour, light and his desire to capture every facet of nature’s moods, saying:

“…I am very happy, dear friend, for you that you cling so enthusiastically to nature.   I am sure that your art is now full of sincerity and movement…”

The Rocks at Belle-Ile, The Wild Coast by Monet (1886)
The Rocks at Belle-Ile, The Wild Coast by Monet (1886)

One of the most famous Impressionist artists who spent time on Belle Île was Claude Monet.   He lived on the island from September to the end of November of 1886, in the tiny village Kervilahouenne.  The story goes that Russell met Monet one day, in the late summer of 1886, when Monet was perched high up on a windswept cliff top painting a seascape.   Russell approached him and looked over his shoulder at his painting.  On recognising Monet’s painting style Russell asked him:

Ne seriez vous Claude Monet, le prince des impressionists?”

(aren’t you Claude Monet, prince of the impressionists?). 

Monet was both amused and somewhat flattered by the question and this led him to allow Russell to sit awhile and paint with him and so an artistic friendship was formed.   There can be no doubt that Monet’s work influenced Russell.  Although the Australian artist believed in the Impressionist philosophy that the painting should be about light, Russell thought that form should not be disregarded.  Monet was fascinated and in love with the island’s wild coastal scenery.  He was in awe of the stark wilderness of the island’s landscape and, at first, quite unsettled by the frequent variations in the weather conditions.   He knew that the best depictions would be the views of the sea and the rugged cliffs and often had to battle, with an obstinate determination, taking his life into his own hands, to try and gain the best painting position on the cliff edge, notwithstanding the state of the weather at the time.  Monet wrote to his friend and fellow Impressionist Gustave Caillebotte of his joy at being on Belle Île and the artistic challenges it offered:

“…I am in a wonderfully wild region, with terrifying rocks and a sea of unbelievable colours; I am truly thrilled, even though it is difficult, because I had got used to painting the Channel, and I knew how to go about it, but the Atlantic Ocean is quite different…”

The Pyramides at Port-Coton by Monet (1886)
The Pyramides at Port-Coton by Monet (1886)

Monet completed a set of works in 1886, featuring the coastal scenery of Belle Île but when he presented them to his Paris art dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel, the latter was taken aback by the change in Monet’s work as seen in these new canvases.  These were very different from the artist’s Normandy paintings of a decade earlier.   Gone were the paintings bathed in sunlight for these Belle Île works were much more sombre and dark and Durand-Ruel was concerned as to whether they would sell.  In one such work, The Pyramides at Port-Coton, which Monet completed in 1886, he has magnificently captured the dark craggy rock formations which have been formed by the slow but persistent erosion by the sea and which now stand out like ancient pyramids.  The dark colour of these rock formations contrast with the superbly coloured waves which we see buffeting them.  Durand-Ruel quizzed Monet about the wisdom of the change in style but the artist was adamant about having variety in his works, saying:

“… I’m inspired by this sinister landscape, precisely because it is unlike what I am used to doing;   I have to make a great effort and find it very difficult to render this sombre and terrible sight…”

The art world, like Durand-Ruel were astounded in 1887 when Monet’s Belle Île paintings were first exhibited.

Les rochers de Belle-Ile, la Côte sauvage by Monet (1886)
Les rochers de Belle-Ile, la Côte sauvage by Monet (1886)

Another of Monet’s Belle Île paintings completed around the same time is entitled Les rochers de Belle-Ile, la Côte sauvage [The Rocks at Belle-Ile, The Wild Coast] which can be found at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.   This painting is one of five Monet completed featuring Belle Île.   It is in landscape format, unlike the other four, and in it Monet has depicted the never-ending clash between the forces of nature, the sea, and the rocks which try valiantly to withstand its ferocity.  Monet has used blues, greens and violets for the sea with white for the tops of the waves to give the stormy sensation. 

La Pointe de Morestil par mer calme by John Peter Russell (1901)
La Pointe de Morestil par mer calme by John Peter Russell (1901)

In Paris Russell had become great friends with Auguste Rodin and through that friendship had met, in 1885, the sculptor’s favourite model, Marianna Mattiocco, whom the sculptor once described as “the most beautiful lady in Paris”.  Russell and Marianne married in 1888 and it was now time for Russell to fulfil his much discussed desire – to move away from hustle and bustle of city life in Paris and move permanently to his beloved Belle Île.   The year before he had written to his friend and fellow Australian artist, Tom Roberts and told him of his dream:

‘…I am about to build a small house on Belle-Ile, off Brittany. The finest coast I’ve ever seen…”

Russell and his wife moved from Paris to set up home on Belle Île in 1888.  He was the first non-native to settle on the island and when he had built his new home, a large manor house, the islanders referred to it as Le Chateau de l’Anglais.  The completion of their large and spacious new home, with Russell’s studio facing  the Atlantic Ocean, was not just a place for the family to live it was to be the hub of Russell’s summer artist’s colony. Russell set to work on his own paintings of the shores of Belle Île and he would often depict the same type of scenes that Monet had done in 1886.  Russell had the same ideas as Monet.  He wanted to depict the coastline at different times of the day in different weather conditions always seeking the nuances of changing light.  Monet once said that Russell’s Belle Île paintings were better than his own ! 

ROCHERS À BELLE-ÎLE by Matisse (1896)
ROCHERS À BELLE-ÎLE by Matisse (1896)

Ten years after settling down on Belle Île, Russell played host to another up-and-coming artist, Henri Matisse, during the three summers of 1895 to 1897.   Russell spent many hours with Matisse and it is said that he introduced Impressionism to him.  They spent hours discussing the importance of light and how light and colour could be captured at different times of the day and under different weather conditions.  He also introduced Matisse to the work of his friend from Atelier Cormon, Vincent Van Gogh, who at this time was still to be recognised as a great artist.  Matisse always recognised the debt he owed John Peter Russell and in later life said:

“…Russell was my teacher, and Russell explained colour theory to me…”

In 1908 Russell’s wife Marianna died.   Russell was devastated by his loss.  It is believed that such was his grief that he destroyed four hundred of his works of art.   He buried Marianne next to Le Chateau de l’Anglais and decided his time at Belle Île was at an end and so returned to Paris.  Later, along with his daughter Jeanne, (Madame Jeanne Jouve), a Paris singer, they travelled extensively through southern France and the Ligurian coast of Italy and for a time he set up home in the Italian coastal village of Portofino.  Russell returned to live in Paris and in 1912, married his daughter’s friend, the American singer Caroline de Witt Merrill, whose stage name was Felize Medori. Russell and Caroline set up home in Italy and later Switzerland before moving to England where his sons were serving in the Allied forces.  Six years later, in 1921, Russell returned to Australia, and the following year he travelled to New Zealand where he helped one of his sons to set up a business on a citrus farm. In 1923 Russell returned to Australia and bought himself a fisherman’s cottage at Watson’s Bay on Sydney Harbour. John Peter Russell died in April 1930, aged 71.  The cause of death was a heart attack which struck him down whilst moving some heavy rocks outside his home.  He was survived by his second wife Caroline, their son and six children from his first marriage to Marianna. 

Russell was not one to have his paintings exhibited like his fellow artists of the time, such as Monet and van Gogh and so he is less well known but for those that knew him and his painting there was never any doubt about his ability as an artist.  Rodin, in one of his last letters to Russell, acknowledged his reputation and his legacy.  He wrote:

“…Your works will live, I am certain. One day you will be placed on the same level with our friends Monet, Renior, and Van Gogh…”

 

 

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John Peter Russell. Part 1. Van Gogh and portraiture

John Peter Russell
John Peter Russell

Last week I watched a documentary on television about the death of Vincent van Gogh.  You have probably seen something similar or read a book on his somewhat mysterious death.   Did he commit suicide?  Was it an accident?  Was he murdered?  Why was the gun never found?  What, if anything, did Doctor Gachet have to do with his death?  Why did both Doctor Gachet and Vincent’s brother Theo allow Vincent to lie in agony for three days at his lodgings with the bullet still in his body rather than rush him to hospital to have it removed?  However the subject of my blog today is not about Van Gogh’s death.  During the documentary it showed a portrait of the great artist and said that it was Van Gogh’s favourite depiction of himself.   What really stimulated my curiosity was to hear that the portrait was completed by a friend of his, an Australian painter by the name of John Peter Russell.  I had never heard of this artist and I could not comprehend how an Australian artist could feature in the Dutchman’s life and so I decided to find out more about him.  In this first of my two part blog on Russell I want to look at his early life and a couple of his portraits including the one of van Gogh.   So come with me on a voyage of discovery and learn about how a former foundry worker in Australia came to paint a portrait of the great Dutch Master.

The story begins at the beginning of the 19th century in Kirkcaldy, Scotland.  It was here that John Peter Russell’s grandfather, Robert Russell, had his foundry and engineering works. Robert and his wife Janet Russell (née Nicol) had eleven children, one of whom, John, was our featured artist’s father.   In 1830 Robert’s business hit financial problems due to a downturn in demand and he decided to immigrate to Canada.  His intended destination changed on the advice of a friend and instead of heading west to Canada he and his family took the steamer Anne Jamieson and sailed to Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) and arrived in the port of Hobart in June 1832.  Robert Russell along with his sons, Robert, Peter and John started up an engineering works in Tasmania which proved very successful.  In 1838 in order to expand the business the family moved to Sydney and established the firm, Russell Brothers with an engineering works and a foundry on the banks of the Tank Stream, a tributary of Sydney Cove. 

John Russell married and English girl, Charlotte Elizabeth Nichol, and they went on to have four children of which John Peter Russell, the subject of today’s blog, was the eldest.   He was born in June 1858 in the Sydney suburb of Darlinghurst.  John Peter was educated at the Goulburn School in Garrooriagang, a private boarding school for the “sons of gentlemen”.  After completing his education in 1876, the eighteen year old travelled to England and was apprenticed at the engineering company, Robey & Co. of Lincoln and eventually became a qualified engineer.   It was also around this time that he began to take an interest in sketching and painting.   In 1879 John Peter Russell’s father died and left his children a sizeable inheritance. 

In 1881, John Peter Russell who thanks to his inheritance was financially sound and did not need to continue as an engineer.   He decided to pursue his love of art and enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Arts at the University College of London.  Whilst at the Slade he studied under the Dijon-born French painter and sculptor, Alphonse Legros.  Legros would delight his students by showing them his quick preliminary oil sketches (known as ébauches) of the head portraits he had done and it was this type of painting which grabbed Russell’s interest. 

In August 1883, after completing his art course at the Slade, Russell decided to set off on his travels.  His fellow travellers were his brother Percy, an architect, Tom Roberts, a fellow aspiring artist who would later become a leading figure of the Australian Heidelberg School of Impressionism and who, like Russell, had emigrated with his family from the UK to Australia when he was fourteen years of age.  Tom Roberts had returned to his birthplace, London, to study art at the Royal Academy Schools.  Another person in the travel party was the physician and friend William Maloney who would later become a Labour MP.    Their first port of call was Spain where they encountered two Spanish art students Laureano Barrau, who would become a leading Spanish Impressionist painter and the Catalan painter Ramon Casas who would later be known for his paintings depicting crowd scenes. 

In 1885 Russell went to live in Paris and for the next eighteen months studied at the Atelier Cormon, which was run by the French painter, Fernand Cormon.  It was an “academic” studio in which Cormon endeavoured to instil in his students the necessary artistic “rules” which would ensure that their paintings found favour with the Paris Salon jurists.  Many great painters, such as Émile Bernard, Louis Anquetin, and Toulouse Lautrec studied under Cormon during Russell’s tenure.  Russell who had studied portraiture at the Slade School of Art was still interested in portraiture and would often paint portraits of his friends and fellow students.    In March 1886 whilst Russell was attending the Atelier Cormon another student enrolled – Vincent van Gogh.  Vincent had moved to Paris and went to live with his brother Theo in his apartment in rue Laval on Montmartre in order to study at Cormon’s studio.   A great and long-lasting friendship developed between Van Gogh and Russell.  In October 1886, Russell finally persuaded Van Gogh to sit for him.  The resulting work was the beautiful crafted portrait of the Dutchman which I spoke about at the beginning of the blog. 

Vincent van Gogh by John Peter Russell, 1886
Vincent van Gogh by John Peter Russell, 1886

Although Russell had painted portraits of his friends it is believed that he wanted to paint Van Gogh’s portrait as the depiction of the Dutchman’s face would be a challenge with its craggy and somewhat haggard appearance.     Russell had seen some of Van Gogh’s own head and shoulder portraits and self portraits and liked the way the Dutchman had used an academic style in his portraiture, incorporating darkened background as a contrast to the lighter skin tones and so decided to use this same technique on his own depiction of van Gogh.  He has given Van Gogh such a penetrating gaze as he stares out at us which in some ways makes us feel slightly uncomfortable.  It is almost a censorious gaze as if he is questioning our presence.    What I think adds to the beauty of this portrait is how Russell has got van Gogh to look over his shoulder for the pose and of course to remind every one of the sitter’s profession he had the Dutchman hold a paintbrush.  Vincent van Gogh was delighted with Russell’s finished portrait.   On September 6th 1889, ten months before his death, Vincent wrote to Theo and in it he mentioned the Russell portrait: 

“……….Afterwards, what are we beginning to glimpse timidly at the moment that is original and lasting – the portrait. That’s something old, one might say – but it’s also brand new. We’ll talk more about this – but let’s still continue to seek out portraits, above all of artists, like the Guillaumin and Guillaumin’s portrait of a young girl, and take good care of my portrait by Russell, which means a lot to me.….”

The painting, which is at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, has itself darkened over the years as on a recent microscopic examination it was discovered that, above the head of van Gogh, there had been inscribed in red the words:

 

                                       VINCENT

                                                                      AMITIÉ

 

                                      J.P.RUSSELL  PINTOR

 Paris 1886

 

Also according to the Museum curators, a friend of John Peter Russell and van Gogh, the British artist Archibald Standish Hartrick, had seen the original portrait soon after it had been completed and he said that Vincent was depicted in the portrait wearing a striped blue suit !   According to the museum curators there is a hint of blue near the mid base of the work.

Russell and Van Gogh were great friends for the short time they were together and after they went their separate ways they continued to correspond.  One of the last letters Vincent wrote to Russell on February 1st 1890 just five months before his death and when he was in the mental hospital in St Rémy.

My dear friend Russell

Today I’m sending you a little roll of photographs after Millet  which perhaps you may not know.  In any event, it’s to recall us, my brother and myself, to your good memory. Do you know that my brother has since married and that any day now he’s expecting his first-born? May it go well – he has a very nice Dutch wife.  How it pleases me to write to you after a long silence.   Do you remember the time when, almost simultaneously, you I think first and I afterwards, met our friend Gaugin?    He’s still struggling on – and alone, or almost alone, like the good fellow he is. Am sure, though, that you don’t forget him.  He and I are still friends, I can assure you, but perhaps you’re not unaware that I myself am ill, and have more than once had serious nervous crises and delirium. This was why, having had to go into an asylum for the insane, he and I separated. But prior to that, how many times we talked about you together!   Gaugin  is currently still with one of my fellow-countrymen called De Haan, and De Haan praises him a great deal and doesn’t find it at all bad to be with him.  You will find article on canvases of mine at the Vingtistes.   I assure you that I myself owe a lot to things that  Gaugin told me as regards drawing, and hold his way of loving nature in high, very high esteem. For in my opinion he’s worth even more as a man than as an artist. Are things going well with you? And are you still working a lot?  Although being ill isn’t a cause for joy, I nevertheless have no right to complain about it, for it seems to me that nature sees to it that illness is a means of getting us back on our feet, of healing us, rather than an absolute evil.  If you ever come to Paris,  take one of my canvases from my brother’s place if you wish, if you still have the idea of making a collection for your native country one day.  You’ll remember that I’ve already spoken to you about it, that it was my great desire to give you one for this purpose. How is our friend  MacKnight?   If he’s still with you, or if there are others with you whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, give them my warm regards. Above all, please remember me to Mrs Russell and believe me, with a handshake in thought,

Yours truly,

Vincent van Gogh

c/o Doctor Peyron

St-Rémy en Provence.

Head of Mrs. John Peter Russell (Marianna Mattiocco della Torre) by Auguste Rodin
Head of Mrs. John Peter Russell (Marianna Mattiocco della Torre) by Auguste Rodin

Whilst living in Paris, Russell had become very friendly with two Parisian sculptors, Auguste Rodin and Emmanuel Frémiet and it was whilst visiting their studios that he encountered one of Rodin and Frémiet’s’ favourite models, Marianna Mattiocco della Torre. Rodin had, in 1888, encapsulated her beauty in a bronze bust entitled  Head of Mrs. John Peter Russell (Marianna Mattiocco della Torre) and Frémiet had used Marianna as the model for his bronze life-sized Jeanne d’Arc statue which is at the Place des Pyramides in Paris. 

Equestrian statue of Joan of Arc by Emmanuel Frémiet (1899)
Equestrian statue of Joan of Arc by Emmanuel Frémiet (1899)

Marianne who was born in Cassino, Italy was in her early twenties when she met Russell in 1885 and three years later, on a cold Parisian day in February 1888, John Peter Russell and Marianna Mattiocco became husband and wife.  By the end of the year the happy couple had left Paris and set up home at Belle Isle, the largest of the Breton islands, off the west coast of Brittany.  It was here that Russell had their home built and because he was the first non-Frenchman to settle on the island his house was known as Le Chateau Anglais. 

Dadone by John Peter Russell (1900)
Dadone by John Peter Russell (1900)

The second portrait by John Peter Russell I want to show you is entitled Dadone and was completed around 1900.  The question is who or what is Dadone?  The word “dadone” I believe, but I am by no means certain, is an old fashioned Italian slang for “ancestor” or literally “old one” and therefore indicates that the subject has some sort of family relationship with Russell. 

Les deux Mattiocco by John Peter Russell (1902)
Les deux Mattiocco by John Peter Russell (1902)

The answer to the question can be found in a double portrait which was painted by Russell a few years later, entitled Les deux Mattiocco which has, at the top of the work, the inscription ‘Maria Peppa-Y-Pascal Mattiocco’.  The painting, which depicts an elderly couple, is of Russell’s father and mother-in-law, Pasquale and Maria Mattiocco.   

The date of the Dadone painting is thought to be 1900 as there is a preliminary sketch for the work in existence, inscribed, ‘JPR 00’ dating it at 1900 and it is thought that the final painting was completed shortly afterwards.

In the painting, Dadone, we see an inscription in the top right corner of the work:

Dadone

        J R

                Fecit

The inscription indicates the title of the work, the initials of the artist and the word “fecit” meaning he or she made it and the word is used formerly on works of art next to the artist’s name. 

This beautifully crafted portrait by Russell is an affectionate and personal depiction of his wife’s father.  The main colours used by Russell in this work are white, blue and greys profile.  The bony structure of his head is framed by the imperious greying hair and beard, which along with dark bushy eyebrows give his father-in-law such a distinguished appearance.  His eyes are dark and there is a hint of tiredness about them, which has been brought on by age. 

In my next blog, the second part of my look at the life and work of John Peter Russell, I will examine his newly found interest in seascapes and landscapes once he had moved out of Paris and went to live on the Breton island of Belle-Ile where he met with many artists such as Monet and Matisse. 

For further information regarding Russell’s friendship with Vincent van Gogh there is a book you may like to read.  As yet I haven’t read it but I am sure it would be fascinating.  It is:

A Remarkable Friendship:  Vincent van Gogh and John Peter Russell by Anne Galbally

There is also an interesting short video on YouTube about the Van Gogh portrait and the inscriptions that were originally on it:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6z46c93SXQ

Interior at Nice by Henri Matisse

Interior at Nice by Henri Matisse (1920)

Yesterday I managed, with great difficulty to get away My Daily Art Display blog regarding Carl Philipp Fohr.  The difficulty was due to my present location, a hotel in Nice, where I am using their Wifi.   I was given the choice to let Internet provider, Orange, regulate the internet site so as to prevent me accessing “inappropriate material” or going for a “free –for-all”.   As an upstanding citizen, I chose the censored route but found myself barred from accessing my own site to publish a new blog.  I then had to re-think my strategy and agree to be open to all uncensored access in order to access my blog !!!!.  With my agreeing to a lack of censorship by Orange France I made it to my site but I am still wondering why my blog is grouped with the “XXX sites” – maybe the nude paintings has “done for me”!!!!

So by that introduction, you can gather I am not at home in North Wales enjoying this year’s summer with its torrential rain and gale force winds.  My wife Kathy had decided to desert me and go off to Tuscany with her friends who were all celebrating  60th birthdays and I was left all alone.    I had thought of remaining at home,  à la Cinderella and look after our Bed & Breakfast establishment but as I had a lull in bookings for three days, I decided to head off to one of my favourite destinations – Nice, in the south of France, for a few days of sun and good food.  Whilst I was here I thought I would look around some of the local art galleries.  I have been here numerous times but as you know, I am not a great Modern Art follower so I avoided their excellent Modern Art Gallery and instead I headed for the first time to the Henri Matisse Gallery at Cimiez, about five miles inland, and it was for that reason that I decided to make My Daily Art Display Today all about the great French Modernist painter, Henri Matisse.

Henri-Emile-Benoit Matisse was born in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, in France in 1869.  His early days were spent in Bohain-en-Vermandois , in Picardy, where his parents owned a florists.  At the age of eighteen he went to Paris to study law and after he had achieved his qualifications returned to his home town to work as a court administrator.  It was not until he was twenty years of age that he took up painting and that was when he was at home recovering from appendicitis and his mother gave him some artist’s materials so as to occupy his time whilst recuperating.  That small gift from his mother changed his life and much to the chagrin of his father, who wanted him to carry on in the legal profession, Matisse gave up law and went to Paris to study art at the Académie Julien where he studied under the great French painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau at the Académie Julian and later at the Académie des Beaux Arts under Gustave Moreau.  With his initial training he became competent in painting still-lifes and landscapes.   Matisse was influenced greatly by the French Masters, like Chardin, who was his favourite and the Rococo painters Poussin and Watteau as well as some of the new modern artists like Manet.

In 1896 and again in 1897, Matisse visited the painter John Peter Russell, an Australian Impressionist painter who had studied art in London and Paris, where one of his fellow students was Toulouse-Lautrec, and who had also become friends with both Monet and Vincent van Gogh.   Russell was an extremely wealthy man who, after his studies in Paris, moved to Brittany and settled at Belle-Île-en-Mer a small island off the coast where he established an artist’s colony.

Matisee fathered a daughter Margueritte with his lover and model, Caroline Joblau, in 1894.  Four years later he married, not to Caroline, but to Amelie Parayre who with Matisee brought up his daughter.  The couple went on to have two sons, Jean in 1899 and Pierre, born a year later.  Matisee and his bride honeymooned in London on the recommendation of the French Impressionist, Camille Pissaro and whilst there he combined his honeymoon with the chance to study the paintings of Turner.

In 1917, aged 48, Matisse came to Nice to recover from a bad bout of bronchitis.  He loved the town and said of it:

“….I decided never to leave Nice, and remained there nearly my entire existence…”

Of the town of Cimiez, where the Matisse Museum I visited is situated about five miles inland from the coast, Matisse said of it:

“…Most people come here for the light and the picturesque.  I am from Northern France;  what struck me were the great flashes of colour in January and the luminous daylight…”

Of the ambience of Nice and the pleasure it brought him, Matisse said:

“…When I realized I would see that light every morning I could not believe my happiness…”

Henri Matisse died in Nice in 1954, a month short of his eighty fifth birthday and was buried in the cemetery at Cimiez.   

The painting I have chosen was not at the Matisse Museum in Nice which I visited today but hangs in the Art Institute in Chicago and is entitled Interior at Nice, which he painted in 1920 and which I thought would be an appropriate choice as he, like me, loved the town.  Matisse used a very vertical canvas for this painting. He accentuated this with the window curtain coming from the very top of the canvas down to below the middle.  Matisse played with the perspective of the picture to give more excitement. We are looking down on the furniture in the foreground almost as if we were positioned high in the air.  The floor in this painting is almost a copy of the floor in his 1919 work “The Artist and his Model“, which hangs in the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.   Both are done in the same style and colour, but give a totally different feeling to each painting.  In today’s painting the warm floor serves as a  refuge against the dark cool of a winter’s evening outside.  In “The Artist and his Model“, the hue of the red floor is needed for added drama against all the other colours containing the same value and in some way heightened the feeling we got as we looked at the naked model posing for the artist.

So what was my impression of the Matisse Museum and the paintings and drawings which were being exhibited?  The obvious answer is that if you were a Matisse fan you would be pleased with what was on offer and how it was exhibited.  I went there with an open mind.  I went there determined to rid myself of any preconceived ideas as I had not been a lover of his work.  Over the years I have, when I see art that baffles me in its simplicity, educated myself to comment (just to myself) that “I don’t like it” and steer away from the crass comment “ a child of six could have done that”.  Maybe whether I liked what I saw can be answered by saying that as a hoarder of exhibition catalogues I left the museum without buying anything – please forgive me Henri !!!