Great Artist Series: Henry Matisse

Great Artist Series: Henry Matisse

Nothing is more important than knowing to be hopeful.


Cultural elites always feel uneasy about delightful art

they worry that

good works of art deny how bad the world is

Matisse's painting runs counter to the elite's point of view

this fragile and suffering painter

reminds us

with his own talent that

there is no better way to know how bad the world is.

this fragile and suffering painter

reminds us of

with his talent

Important things

translator: Su Zhe

Cultural elites always feel uneasy about pleasant or sweet art. They worry that beautiful and pleasant works of art not only deny how bad the world is, but also refuse to acknowledge how much pain each life has to endure.

A woman sitting with her back against an open window 1922

this picture shows several sailboats floating gently in the Mediterranean by the side of a palm tree, while a woman (with her back to the window) sits on the sofa. Do artists forget that the world is full of inequality, corruption and war? What we fear is that we may indulge in good times and forget bad things-so we don't have to worry about them.

however, these concerns are generally misplaced. This is far from being positive, optimistic and sentimental, but because most of the time, we are too depressed. We pay too much attention to the problems and injustices of the world. Our problem is actually the feeling of weakness, insignificance and powerlessness in the face of (the problems of the world). This is because we feel hit, desperate and helpless, and retract into our shells.

Happiness is an achievement and I hope it is worth celebrating. If optimism is important, it is because the outcome of many things depends on how optimistic we are. It is an important factor in success. This runs counter to the elite view that skills are essential to a good life. But in many cases, the difference between success and failure lies only in whether one can perceive the possibility of things and whether one can gather strength to convince others of what they deserve. A man will not be defeated by lack of talent, but by loss of hope.

many of today's problems are not caused by people being too positive and optimistic, but because problems in the world appear so frequently in our field of vision that we need to make ourselves hopeful.

what do you want to look like? dance (1), 1909

Matisse's "Dance" does not deny that there are problems in the world. But in this imperfect and contradictory relationship with reality, people can encourage themselves; they connect people to a part of themselves that is happy and carefree, so they can help people deal with the inevitable rejection and humiliation. This painting should not be used to imply that everything is fine; rather, despite some (unpleasant) experiences, women rejoice in each other's existence, support and connect with each other.

Matisse knows a lot about pain (we can restore confidence in Matisse's delightful, hopeful and charismatic works)-just look at one of his self-portraits.

A self-portrait in a striped T-shirt, 1906

Matisse knows a lot about disasters, but his familiarity with disasters makes him more aware of its opposites. The real problem, he believes, is that darkness and pain are so easy to defeat us that we need to consciously remind ourselves of joyful and hopeful things.

Matisse was born into a wealthy family in 1869. His father is a hardware manufacturer and grain supplier. He shouldn't have become an artist. His father very much expected Matisse to have a secure, decent, high-paying job like a lawyer. In his twenties, Matisse desperately resigned from the law firm, but his father strongly opposed it. In the end, his father relented and allowed Matisse to learn painting-but only in the most traditional and conservative forms.

still Life and Books, 1890 (news from Matisse's father: if you keep this style, I will continue to give you a living allowance)

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in order to draw pleasant, brightly colored and enjoyable paintings, Matisse has to face his father, accept the reality of poverty (the family's financial support has been cut off), and endure the rebuke of teachers and mentors.

before the outbreak of World War I, Matisse successfully founded his own business. He sold some paintings. It is also well known in the art circle full of adventurous spirit. When he was about to realize his dream, the whole world fell apart.

in the year of the Battle of the Somme, Matisse created the window.

window (forget-me-not in the house), 1916

Matisse is not oblivious to the Paris trenches, which are only a day's trip away. The painting makes the tree trunks through the curtains look particularly lovely, highlighting the painter's own love for floor patterns-a pot of fresh and charming flowers is placed in an elegant but unadorned room in the city. It's like reminding ourselves (and us) that these things are still there. They're not destroyed. This is not the painting of some cold and ruthless person, but the painter realizes how easily a person can be defeated by despair. The light green leaves outside the window seem to tell us gently that even today, we are overwhelmed by the burden of life.

later, more trauma followed. Matisse was diagnosed with duodenal cancer. And he was caught up in a long and painful legal dispute with his estranged wife.

the woman in blue robes, 1937

in 1942, when Paris fell and the German sixth Army crossed Russia to the southern oil fields, Matisse painted many dancers, includingCharming legs, leaning in a wide and comfortable armchair.

dancers and shell armchairs on a black background, 1942

among his delightful and hopeful works, the most prominent works were born at the last moment of his life, about 1950. Matisse was in his eighties. He suffers from illness all the year round; he is almost bedridden and can occasionally move in a wheelchair. He knew very well that death was coming.

Tree of Life, 1948

dark blue and yellow-simple patterns-make the stained glass seem to shine with joy. But Matisse is not talking about the pleasures he has experienced. The fragile, suffering painter tries to erase his fear of melancholy and depression; he is using his talent to remind us that nothing is more important than knowing to be hopeful.

Translation Note:

[1] Henri Matisse, Henri Matisse (Henri Matisse, 1869 Mousse 1954), a famous French painter, founder and main representative of the Fauvism, is also a sculptor and printmaker. He is famous for using bright and bold colors.

[2] the Battle of the Somme (Battle of Somme) was the largest battle in World War I. it took place from July 1 to November 18, 1916. In order to break through the German defense and repel it to the French-German border, Britain and France fought in the Somme region in the north of France. There were a total of 1.3 million casualties on both sides, which was the deadliest positional warfare in World War I. it was also the first time in human history that tanks were put into actual combat.