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Purple Robe and Anemones

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Purple Robe and Anemones

Henri Matisse, the leader of the Fauvist movement and master of aesthetic order, was born in Le Cateau-Cambresis in northern France on December 31, 1869. The son of a middle-class family, he studied and began to practice law. In 1890, however, while recovering slowly from an attack of appendicitis, his mother bought him a paint set and he became intrigued by the practice of painting. In 1892, having given up his law career, he went to Paris to study art formally. His first teachers were academically trained and relatively conservative, Matisse’s own early style was a conventional form of naturalism, and he made many copies after the old masters. He also studied more contemporary art, especially that of the impressionists, and he began to experiment, earning a reputation as a rebellious member of his studio classes.

Matisse’s true artistic liberation, in terms of the use of color to render forms and organize spatial planes, came about first through the influence of Gauguin, Cezanne and van Gogh, whose work he studied closely. Then, Matisse encountered the pointillist painting of Edmond Cross and Signac. By 1905 he had produced some of the boldest color images ever created. His images of dancers, and of human figures in general, convey expressive form first and the particular details of anatomy only secondarily.

Although intellectually sophisticated, Matisse always emphasized the importance of instinct and intuition in the production of a work of art. He argued that an artist did not have complete control over color and form; instead, colors, shapes, and lines would come to dictate to the sensitive artist how they might be employed in relation to one another. He often emphasized his joy in abandoning himself to the play of the forces of color and design. He explained the rhythmic, but distorted, forms of many of his figures in terms of the working out of a total pictorial harmony.

In 1937, Matisse asked his model Lydia Delectorskaya to pose in a purple robe, for a painting he later named “Purple Robe and Anemones.” When Matisse started the painting he had no intention of painting a portrait that looked like a photograph and readily admitted that his paintings were not faithful re-creations of reality. He believed that taking liberties with reality allowed him to convey the very essence of his subject. When accused of painting unrealistic images of women, he explained, "I do not create a woman, I make a picture.
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