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The Conversation Painting by Henri Matisse

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The Conversation Oil Painting
Keywords: Conversation Art  

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Henri Matisse artwork

The Conversation - Matisse Paintings for Sale

The Conversation
Artist Henri Matisse
Year 1908–1912
Dimensions 177 cm × 217 cm ( 69 5⁄8 in ×  85 3⁄8 in)
Location Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg

The Conversation, a painting by Henri Matisse dating from 1908–1912, depicts the artist and his wife facing each other before a background of intense blue. It is in the collection of the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

This was among several works acquired directly from Matisse in Paris by the Russian collector Sergei Shchukin. After the Russian Revolution, the Shchukin collection was confiscated and, by 1948, was donated to the public along with the Ivan Morozov collection, at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow and the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.

Matisse painted The Conversation at a time when he had abandoned the open, spontaneous brushwork of his Fauve period in favor of a flatter and more decorative style. The painting is large (69 5/8 in. x 85 3/8 in., or 177 cm x 217 cm), and shows Matisse in profile, standing at the left in striped pajamas, while his wife, Amélie, sits to the right. The flatly painted blue wall behind them is relieved by a window opening onto a garden landscape.

Art historian Hilary Spurling has described this "stern encounter" as "portray[ing] the profound underlying shape or mechanism of a relationship laid down for both parties on the day, soon after they first met in 1897, when Matisse warned his future wife that, dearly as he loved her, he would always love painting more."[1]

The pajamas worn by Matisse were fashionable as leisure wear in early 20th century France. They had recently been introduced to Europe from India, where they were worn by tea planters, and Matisse habitually thereafter wore pajamas as his studio working clothes.

The Conversation, painted in the artist's country house in the summer of 1909, is one of the important works Matisse produced during the highly productive period 1908-1913. Only slightly smaller than The Dessert: Harmony in Red, the images are simplified, minimalised. The central figures of Matisse and his wife Amelie are schematic, while still retaining a portrait likeness. Most importantly, whilst depicting a moment in real life, Matisse "captures the truer and more profound meaning behind it, which serves the artist as a point of departure for a more consistent interpretation of reality," as he himself wrote in 1908. We enter into the blue world of the "Conversation", sink deep into the atmosphere of colour. The blue colour does not represent solidity; this is not the colour of the carpet or the colour of the wall. Filling a large part of the paintign space, the blue bears the concept of space through the force of the associations it gives rise to. It is cold; it is emotional and significant; it excites us with its profundity. Submitting to the blue's dominance, the green becomes not only the colour of the meadow but a symbol of the earth, a symbol of Life, an image which is reinforced by the straight, strong trunk of "the tree of life".

Aside from the richest and lushest colors in any Matisse, The Conversation has much to recommend it to us humble observers. It is, for starters, the elegant confrontation of a man and a woman, in which Madame Matisse is bedecked in dark finery that would befit Queen Isabella greeting Columbus and, yet, Matisse himself stands grander still. Under his own brush, Matisse is tall, thin (!), regal and commanding, while still wearing the pajamas (which happened to serve double duty in the bedroom and the studio).

The picture has a double center: The lush window view, a Garden of Eden in the rearview mirror, symbolizing the past, fleeting happiness of a contentious couple and the extraordinary patch of blue, heralding the abstracting gestures to come in so many future Matisses, all the way to the cutouts three decades in the future. Yet, The Conversation is also a metaphor of art's progress - the overdressed, thoughtful, seated woman symbolizing the realist past and the erect yet casual man the brilliant painterly future of fields of color bedecked in perceptual approximations, which Matisse, beginning with The Conversation, made his own.

 

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