Principles of Nature: towards a new visual language
Wayne Roberts © 2003-2015

Matisse and the music of line and space

The web pages of this section of the site are largely based upon (or quoted from) the chapter, Connections between 20th century art & science, in my book, Principles of nature; towards a new visual language (W. Roberts, 2003).

Henri Matisse had purchased one of Cézanne's paintings, Trois Baigneuses, in 1899. At first, there was an echo of baigneuse-like figures in the paintings of Matisse, such as in Nu Bleu (1907), Les joueurs de boules (1908), and even in one of his most famous compositions: La Danse of 1909. But gradually Matisse’s line found its incisive divide between positive and negative space , and managed at the same time to balance the memory and anticipation of its path as artfully as any melody ever written in music.

In Matisse’s mature drawings the line became a physical element, a virtual ‘object’ in the composition—the perfect complement to the spaces (now stretched and compressed) on either side. Once he relinquished more fully the allusion to the third dimension, he was freed to empirically explore the relationship between line and 2-dimensional space (shape), isolated from the confusion and complexity of too many variables. He could also explore the interaction of line upon itself. Colour was likewise reduced or augmented to flat areas of distinct chroma and value. The definite articulation of colour complemented the incisiveness of Matisse's line, and enabled him to arrange these primary elements in more musical ways than might otherwise have been possible.

One can also view his intuitive but methodical development of compositions like Nu Rose, as syntactical organisation of preliminary scale structures, but of scale structures whose division and balance were more of the asymmetric and irregular kind. In fact, so conscious was Matisse of his achievement in the final version of Nu Rose (1935) of a resonant balance between line and space, that, to create his line version of this composition, he traced it out in chalk on tracing paper, lest, (one imagines), the least part of its magic disappear, and sacrifice the paean-like anthem of its totality. Here, in Study after the Pink Nude, is inscribed a sinuous prescience—a timeless and vectorless simultaneity of 'connection '. (W. Roberts, 2003, p. 66)


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