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Matisse, Piano Lesson

Henri Matisse, The Piano Lesson, 1916 (The Museum of Modern Art) Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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  • leaf orange style avatar for user Skylar Ogden
    Khan Academy is incredible it has so many interesting videos and it helps you set up a goal or review something you didn't understand in school!! :)
    (26 votes)
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  • leaf green style avatar for user Alex Hallmark
    Just a bit of nonsense, here, but I see in the piano's music stand, the figures J3Y394C. Does anyone have any insight into this?
    (4 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user mitzi yarbrough
    Are there any art videos available suitable for elementary/middle school aged students?
    (4 votes)
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    • male robot hal style avatar for user mafricanoI94
      depends, you might want to check out the video first, you might not want to expose immature kids to nudity. There is a difference between the nude and a naked body, but certain depictions of the nude body in these videos do hug close to sexuality, and thus might be inappropriate for the young viewer. However, certain depictions of nudity do not do so. One has to make judgements.
      (1 vote)
  • leafers ultimate style avatar for user Rob
    The video mentions balance but I don't get that. Is this painting intentionally drawing attention to the strange triangular shadow on the face and the strangely missing eye?
    (2 votes)
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    • female robot grace style avatar for user Walks on the Clouds
      I think that the balance they're talking about is that half of the painting illustrates rigid, perhaps stifling, authority and discipline (the strict-looking woman who is a stand-in for the piano teacher, and the metronome), and the other half portrays freedom and fresh air and life (the inviting triangular swath of green grass, the sensuous female sculpture). It's anybody's guess what Matisse was implying with that triangle over one of his son's eyes -- maybe he was trying to illuminate Pierre's thoughts, which were probably divided between that insistent triangular metronome and the inviting green freedom outside.
      (4 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Michael Kortlander
    Could the part of his face that is 'missing' be caused by a shadow coming in through the porch door?
    (3 votes)
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  • male robot hal style avatar for user The Babbler
    Why is the face on the piano missing a eye?
    (1 vote)
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    • female robot grace style avatar for user Amy B
      In the video, Dr. Zucker says that in the space where the eye would be the metronome is reflected, and Dr. Harris says that perhaps it's a strategic maneuver, used to further remove the image from reality. Personally, I think those are possibilities, but I also think it's entirely possible that he just couldn't get that second eye how he wanted it.
      (1 vote)
  • ohnoes default style avatar for user kaishainallen
    why is it so different then his other painting's
    (1 vote)
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Video transcript

SPEAKER 1: We're in The Museum of Modern Art, looking at a-- really one of my favorite canvases-- by Henri Matisse. This is The Piano Lesson, and it dates to 1916. It's a big, austere canvas. It's probably one of Matisse's most Picasso-like canvasses. It's sort of Cubist in its severity and its use of line. And some artist historians have seen it as Matisse really trying to, in a sense, answer Cubism. SPEAKER 2: It certainly doesn't have the sensuality of many Matisse paintings, what we usually think of when we think of Matisse. SPEAKER 1: As explicitly, you're absolutely right. None of the sort of sensuous hips or nudes. SPEAKER 2: Little hints of it with the arabesques of the-- SPEAKER 1: The wrought iron. SPEAKER 2: --cast iron. Right. SPEAKER 1: Exactly. Which is, of course, the balustrade. But, you know, that's perfect because some art historians actually see the rendering of that balustrade actually as, almost a kind of written expression of music that's being produced by Pierre Matisse, Picasso's son, who's at the piano. SPEAKER 2: Matisse's son. SPEAKER 1: Matisse's son. Excuse me, did I say Picasso? SPEAKER 2: Yes. SPEAKER 1: And so, Pierre Matisse is at the piano. This is 1960. Pierre Matisse, by the way, would grow up to be a really important gallery owner in New York, selling his father's work among others. And we have this sense of a kind of real balance in this painting, because you had mentioned the lack of sensuality. But actually if you look in the lower left corner. SPEAKER 2: That female figure on the lower left. Yeah. SPEAKER 1: It's not a real female figure, or I shouldn't say real-- SPEAKER 2: A Matisse sculpture SPEAKER 1: --it's a painting of a bronze sculpture by Matisse. So there we have a nude, and she is curvilinear and really sensuous. And really contrasted, almost as if they were boxers, from the figure in the upper right. SPEAKER 2: Yes, who looks very strict and reminds me of the metronome that's directly under her-- SPEAKER 1: In its strictness. SPEAKER 2: --in its kind of uprightness and strictness and sense of discipline and order there in that figure. SPEAKER 1: She does hover over Pierre Matisse's head in a kind of menacing way, doesn't she? SPEAKER 2: She does. SPEAKER 1: And she's painted, you're right, so curve-- so rectilinear, rather, so much in opposition-- and she's clothed so much in opposition to the sculpture on the other side. And so, you know, the metronome is in that other corner, you're absolutely right, and that kind of alternates between the two. So some art historians have suggested that this is a painting that is really about this opposition between order and structure and beauty. SPEAKER 2: Sensuality and discipline, I can see that. Now what about his face, do you think? I mean, why one eye? Why is his face so kind of cubist? SPEAKER 1: I have no idea, but it actually seems to reflect the metronome, doesn't it? SPEAKER 2: It does and, somehow, I think it speaks to me of removing this image from reality. SPEAKER 1: So this is Matisse really trying to sort of impose some of the strict, geometric, formal aspects of the painting to the figure itself, so that we're not seeing it as a literal rendering. SPEAKER 2: Yeah, I think so. And that figure in the upper right. Is that really a figure there, or is that-- SPEAKER 1: No, because this is his house in Nice. That's a wall. And, in fact, the woman that we're seeing, in a sense, playing the role of the piano teacher is actually a painting, Woman on a High Stool,. It's also in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art. SPEAKER 2: So it's really not-- SPEAKER 1: It's an allegory. SPEAKER 2: It sort of is what it seems, but it's not what it seems. SPEAKER 1: Well, you know, Matisse is playing with, sort of, levels of reality here. Right? And he often does that. SPEAKER 2: Pierre looks out at us as though he'd like to, somehow, escape into the pleasures of the female nude on the far left. SPEAKER 1: Maybe. Or, perhaps, of the shock of-- SPEAKER 2: The daylight outside. SPEAKER 1: That's right because you almost see the last rays of sunlight coming across the lawn in that wonderful triangle between the windows. Yeah. It's a pretty austere allegory about what it means to make art. I mean, in some ways, I look at Pierre, and I see him as a kind of stand in for Henri. SPEAKER 2: For Matisse himself.