- A beginner's guide to Fauvism
- Fauve Landscapes and City Views
- André Derain, The Dance
- Matisse, Luxe, calme et volupté
- Henri Matisse, Open Window, Collioure
- Matisse, Bonheur de Vivre
- Matisse, Dance I
- Matisse, The Red Studio
- Matisse, The Red Studio
- Matisse, Goldfish
- Matisse, "The Blue Window"
- Matisse, Piano Lesson
- Matisse, Piano Lesson
- Matisse, The illustrated book, “Jazz”
- Conserving Henri Matisse's "The Swimming Pool"
- Fauvism and Matisse
This highly abstract painting is important because of its relation to the Cubist grid developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, because of its biographical aspects, and especially due to its thoughtful iconography (symbolic content).
A nostalgic image
This large flat gray painting can be a bit confusing at first. Let's begin with the boy in the lower right. He is the artist's son, Pierre Matisse, who grows up to become a famous art dealer in New York in the 1940s. It's worth remembering that 1916 was during world war one, the most devastating conflict Europe had yet known. When Henri painted this image, Pierre was actually mobilized. The painter did not know if his son would return. In a way then, this is a nostalgic image, Matisse has painted his son much younger then he actually was, perhaps recalling happier times. Maybe happy isn't really the right word since Pierre looks pretty miserable. Maybe I'm just remembering my own childhood piano lessons, but his is a look of worried concentration. A portion of his face even seems to reflect that instrument of the devil, commonly known as a metronome. Pierre sits at the piano well off to the side, trapped in the house even as the open French window (a floor-to-ceiling hinged window that opens onto a wrought iron railing) beckons. Finally, what is that very abstract truncated triangle of green? Often it is interpreted as ray of sun reaching across the lawn outside.
You can see why poor little Pierre is so attentive. His music teacher literally hovers above him, cold, distant, and aloof. What a wonderful contrast to the other female figure in the painting.While the teacher represents discipline through her rigid rectilinear form, the small bronze nude at the lower left is virtually all curves. This small sculpture by Matisse is meant to represent the creative spirit while the teacher represents discipline, and like two boxers between rounds, each is in her corner. But wait! Is the teacher really there? Space is so ambiguous that it is hard to tell if there is really a distant room for her to inhabit. In fact, there is not and she is not. This is Matisse's house in the suburb Issey-les-Moulineaux and this is a wall. The "teacher" is actually a painting by Matisse titled, Woman on a High Stool (Germaine Raynal), 1914 (MoMA).
Matisse has transformed the original painting in order that Raynal play the part of the strict instructor, Matisse often created variations on themes that he had already treated. So, in fact, Matisse has created a painting of a painting and a painting of a sculpture. This suggests that perhaps The Piano Lesson is not only about Pierre and his childhood experiences but more importantly, the act of creation itself. Is Pierre actually a stand in for Henri? After all, music is a common metaphor for the visual arts.
A visual equivalent of music
Is Matisse then saying that art is the result of both sensual creativity (the sculpture) and strict discipline (the painting)--is the metronome that swings between the two, a mediator? And then what of the odd inclusion of the carved music stand which contains the brand of the piano, "PLEYEL" (which is read backwards as we see it)?
As you can see from the later and less abstract painting Music Lesson, Matisse has removed everything that is not essential from the 1916 canvas. So why then retain these letters? And why retain the playful swirling wrought iron fence? According to Jack Flam, a leading Matisse scholar and an old instructor of mine (and by the way, not very strict nor rectilinear), Matisse wants us to read the letters from right to left and then continue to read past the music stand by jumping to the curving iron fence which he believes to be an abstract expression or visual equivalent of the music (art) that is being produced.
Essay by Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker
Want to join the conversation?
- Why did he paint his son, Pierre, with such a serious expression if the painting is thought to be nostalgic?(8 votes)
- It's probably nostalgic for Henri, because it's him remembering the times when his son was home and could play the piano, where as during the time when this was painted, his son was deployed (because it was around WW1) and could no longer play the piano, and had his life on the line. So I think Henri was really worried for Pierre, and was trying to preserve some happier memories of when his son were around, should anything happen to him. This is just my personal opinion though, i dont know if its true or not, but its what makes sense to me. sorry if that was confusing.(11 votes)
- In the third paragraph, it says: "What is that very abstract truncated triangle of green? Often it is interpreted as ray of sun reaching across the lawn outside. You can see why poor little Pierre is so attentive". There is no transition from discussing the lawn and the attentiveness of Pierre ... the article abruptly changes topics. Is there some discussion missing?(3 votes)
- Anthony -- I realize that you asked this question about a year ago, but in case you're still interested -- the sentence that ends with "... ray of sun reaching across the lawn outside" is the end of a paragraph. The sentence that begins "You can see why poor little Pierre ..." is the beginning of the next paragraph. If you read it that way, as separate paragraphs, it will make more sense. (It's the inclusion of the images that probably led to the formatting ambiguity, but on the other hand, having the images right there with the text is very helpful, I think.)(3 votes)
- Its interesting to me that in both this essay and the video on The Red Studio Beth and Steven talk about how measures of time (the clock in The Red Studio and the metronome in Piano Lesson - paragraph 5) direct their attention. Do you think this is a function of how Steven and Beth view paintings or an intention of Matisse's? If it is Matisse's intention, is the omission of the hand in clock and metronome the invitation for us as the viewer to become that hand?(4 votes)
- I see this paining as a continuation of the conversation between Matisse and Picasso. If you shut your eyes and try to see the image anew, the contrast of the white and grey draws your eyes to the teacher top right. This is a painting of another painting, like some of Picasso’s paintings are an attempt to instruct, compete and better Matisse. The conversation in this painting points to the comparison of the harshness of Picasso’s line and blocks of colour. Matisse responds showing the push and pull between each style in the piano student’s face (the piano student standing in for Matisse himself) - the harsh geometry of the left and the naturalism of the right side. As in the commentary, the name on the piano’s music stand draws one’s eyes across the canvas, to the wrought iron on the French window then to the sensual figure. Is Matisse responding to Picasso, saying “my art is as music” - what is yours? After all the devil’s instrument (the metronome) points back at the (representation of the) teacher(3 votes)
- I was very surprised when they explained what everything meant because i would have never known what some things in the painting meant.(2 votes)
- When I looked at the video I didnt know why the woman on a high stool meant something until they explained it.(2 votes)
- One thing that draws my attention in this painting is the triangles. There are a big gray triangle in the middle (finishing behind the piano), in the Pierre's face, the metronome, the green one, and even the sculpture in the corner looks like a triangle. Is that an influence of Cubism?(2 votes)
- Is there any reason why a lot of Matisse's painting seem like an early rendering that is usually finished up in the future?
Ex: Dance 1, Piano Lesson(1 vote)
- Can the metronome stand for anything else? The connection between creativity and discipline in other art or life?(1 vote)