For two years now I have been mulling over this blog idea in my mind, even going so far as setting up the page then abandoning it again due to my inability to decide with what work of art, topic or profound statement to begin! Then yesterday, looking through a few images, I came across a painting – Matisse’s The Dessert: Harmony in Red (1908) – which I saw not so long ago at the Royal Academy exhibition From Russia. Somehow its infectious vivacity, boldness and energy rekindled my desire to begin writing and made me resolve to do something about it almost right away! This domestic French scene drawn from every day life has been successfully interwoven with Islamic ‘decorative’ influences. This cross-cultural composition illustrates what I wish to do with this blog – discuss art from across the globe to portray how it is so often able to transcend the barriers long established between different countries, religions, and East and West, and by doing so revealing how extraordinary, relevant and beautiful the power of art is.
Many of Matisse’s best works were commissioned for, or bought by, the remarkable Russian art collector Sergei Shchukin (1854-1936). When I say he was remarkable, I mean that he had truly great taste (in my opinion!) and absolutely no qualms about going against the grain. While most other museums and collectors considered paintings by Van Gogh, Monet, Cezanne, Picasso and Gauguin to be laughably, sometimes shockingly bad art, Shchukin was amassing a large collection of their works.
Two of the paintings commissioned by Shchukin were The Dance and Music which Matisse painstakingly worked and reworked until he had achieved lines of such simplicity and expression that they recalled what was known in the early 20th century as ‘Primitive’ art, originating largely from Africa and the early Mediterranean. The dynamism and confidence expressed through the contours of the figures made a refreshing change from much of the dour, lifeless art being produced at the close of the nineteenth century.