Matisse, Master of Form and Color

"Goldfish", Henri Matisse, Oil on Canvas, 1912

"Goldfish" by Matisse is one of my all time favorite still life paintings. Founder of the Fauve movement at the turn of the last century, He makes is the absolute master at whimsical, re-created, slightly off-kilter perspective. Surprisingly, in spite of the fact that his perspective is whimsical and made up, his paintings work. How? Matisse is a master of abstraction. The overall use of form, and color within the picture plane is synoptic; there is no focal point. He uses form and color to move the eye constantly from one area of the painting to the next. The intense orange of the goldfish is balanced by the sweeping circle of black in the background, followed by the abstracted and loosely painted leaves, flowers, and railing that provide a frame within the picture.

Have you ever tried to abstract an object and distort the perspective? Why is it so difficult to achieve this sense of whimsy without looking like you just can't draw? The reason is in the composition as a whole. Imagine as you are looking at this painting, if the goldfish vase and the table as they are by themselves with nothing else surrounding them. What would happen? Do you see? The poor goldfish would slide right off that tilted table. Your hands would be involuntarily reaching out to catch them!

In Matisse's masterful care, they are optically supported by his sense of form and color, working together. Visually, the fish and tilted table are supported by the heavy, black, painterly space that actually fills two thirds of this picture. Also notice that underneath the table and immediately surrounding it the black paint is solid, and to the middle right is a lighter, painterly grey. This visually supports the table.

If the table is tilting down, it is also visual offset by the light, painterly crown of leaves and flowers in the upper quarter of the piece. Typical of Matisse's work, we are really not sure if these are actual plants in the room, or are part of a wallpaper motif? As usual, things are left ambiguous, a mental picture puzzle for us to ponder! The effect of this upper section is to lift our eyes, and to complete the artistic dance from one section of the work to another, providing that whimsy and pleasure that is synonymous with Matisse!

I hope you enjoyed my interpretation of Matisse's "Goldlish"! 

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