Thursday, January 19, 2012

Reading: Matisse, Pictorial vs. Picturesque

Left: Matisse, The Black Table, 1916. Right: Gerome, Pelt Merchant, 1869

That Matisse should more than once have expressed his lack of affinity for the peddlers in orientalism (that domain par excellence of exoticism during the nineteenth century) is hardly surprising. By insisting on the interest and on the novelty of the work's subject matter in the hope of compensating for the lack of interest and novelty of its manner, orientalism constituted an extreme case of the debate between the picturesque and the pictorial or, to put it differently, between seeing and making, which was becoming more and more explicitly the dominant concern of artistic theory and practice as the twentieth century drew nearer. The day would come when Maurice Denis would proclaim: "Before being a battle-horse, a naked woman, or some sort of anecdote, a picture is essentially a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order." Henceforth the subject matter was little more than a pretext, soon to be dispensed with.

– Pierre Schneider, The Moroccan Hinge, From the book Matisse In Morocco, The Paintings & Drawings 1912-1913
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