5 Minute look at an Old Master


Matisse and Dance

Matisse returns to the theme of dance throughout many of his paintings and the body of work he produces over his lifetime.

In his early work, he identifies with the theme of dance in La Joie de Vivre we are presented with an assemblage of dancers within the middle ground, central to the painting. They are rotating in a circle, their hands clasp together. This is very much a background activity, the figures in the foreground taking very little notice of the whirling activity. The simplicity of the line strokes allows for the indication of motion.

In ‘The Dance’ 1909 we are again presented with a collection of dancers encircling each other, this time they are the sole subject of the work. In similar respects, the innocence of the line marks allows for the suggestion of movement in the form of leaping and jumping. ‘Nasturtiums and The Dance’ 1912 looks to combine the action of the frolic with still life. In this, we have a static arm chair in the foreground and a central table displaying a vase of flowering nasturtiums. The foliage acts as a bridge between the static furnishings and the dancing sequence, the leaves appearing to be engaging with the cavorting exploits of the figures. The nude participants appear to be almost flying in motion as they circle the central table. The expressive dabbing techniques of fauvism compliment the flight-like portrayal, the strokes in the backing blue tone adding to the centrifugal direction of the piece.

The most famous of his later works being ‘The Dance’ 1931-32, again he has presented a vision of and encircling composition, hands grasping, or reaching out to each other within the direction of flow. In the development of Matisse’ creative practice, he has reduced to no indication of a background or and signs of a location. The figures have been reduced to simple lines and brush strokes making them universal.

Truly a great master represents dance in a way which was not seen before.


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