Originally published September 24, 2012.
“Much of the beauty that arises in art comes from the struggle an artist wages with his limited medium.”—Henri Matisse
My old friend Jon Carroll, late of the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote a number of columns about Matisse over the years. This one, about his painting, “The Dinner Table,” is my favorite. Be sure to read it!
“The academy had an iron grip on the national notions of taste, and it determined what was good art and how good art should be made. Conformity was prized, and its absence considered a breach of decency, punishable by poverty. Someone who did not please the academy did not sell paintings, and Matisse (whose family had by this time disinherited him because of his nonconformist ways) needed money. His mistress left him because he wouldn’t listen to reason and paint the way he was supposed to and get commissions and maybe some hot water in the winter.
“But it was also passion. Henri Evenepoel, a friend of Matisse’s and a talented painter who had himself caused a scandal the previous year with a painting of a lower-class cafe, reacted like this when he saw “The Dinner Table”:
‘I am filled with doubt and don’t know which way to turn for the truth. Everything seems to be falling apart around me. … What to believe, what to do, what to think, how to see? All this is worrying. … One doesn’t know where one is anymore. All the painting you see, good or bad, starts dancing in front of your eyes, it’s in turmoil.’
“All this, I remind you, over a modest representation of a Breton maid setting a dinner table.”
Sounds like the early days of iphonic art.