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Matisse, "The Blue Window"

Learn about Matisse’s search for essential form in The Blue Window. Created by The Museum of Modern Art.

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Video transcript

Anne: I'm in MOMA's storage with Henri Matisse's blue window. Matisse had first made a name for himself as a painter of these brilliantly colored canvases with very discrete structuring brush strokes. In this work of 1913 you see him at a different moment. The mood, the overall color palette is more subdued, and there is a clear sense of Matisse engaging with the Cubist geometries of his contemporaries of the moment. Matisse's overarching goals at this moment remained constant to arrive somehow at the essential character of things. This is, in fact, a very reduced version of the view of his studio that he saw out of his bedroom window. When you first look at it the overall impression is of this expanse of blue, of this virtually monochromatic canvas. Several scholars believe that in creating this picture Matisse used what was known as a Claude, or a black mirror. In fact, this little square in the lower right of the composition may be a stylized representation of this artist's tool. They were a device that eliminates all sensations of color, probably a very useful tool for him in stylizing, reducing, simplifying what he saw before him. When you look at this work with x-rays for example, you can see that up in the tree areas he gradually eliminated details. The more you look at it and begin to look at the relations of one part to another you realize that a major reason for its beauty is that Matisse has so carefully aligned virtually every element in this picture. Everything in some way lines up. The top of the statue with this black line of the window or the top of the lamp, or this band that may have been a curtain may be a wall, but that Matisse extends down into what really becomes this wonderful abstract blue stripe.