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Matisse, Luxe, calme et volupté

Henri Matisse, Luxe, calme et volupté, 1904, oil on canvas, 37 x 46 inches (Museé d'Orsay, Paris) Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker Painted while the artist stayed with the pointillist painter, Signac, at his home in Saint-Tropez on the Côte d'Azur. Matisse's title comes from Charles Baudelaire's poem, "L'invitation au voyage (Invitation To A Voyage)" from his collection, ​The Flowers of Evil. "Luxe, calme et volupté" translates just as it sounds in English: "Luxury, calm, and voluptuous(ness).". Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] SPEAKER 1: We're at the Musee d'Orsay, and we're looking at a really early and important Henri Matisse. This is "Luxe, Calme et Volupte." And the title and the subject comes from a poem by Baudelaire. And it's a really enigmatic painting, and one that I think we should locate in its making. It was made during a summer trip to the seaside with one of the great post-Impressionist painters, Signac, who was a Pointillist. And so you can clearly see the influence of that art, of the art of Seurat, of Signac, here. But this is not Pointillism. You know, it does use these little brush strokes, which have pieces of independent color, but it's using it in a way that really, in a sense, doesn't understand, or it isn't interested in, the optical effects that Signac was interested in. SPEAKER 2: They're much more intense colors. They're very vivid and saturated colors used very unnaturalistically, not used the way that Seurat was interested in, in terms of increasing luminosity. Here, the colors are almost an affront to the senses. There are reds and purples and oranges. SPEAKER 1: That's perfect, because the next year, Matisse, with a number of other painters, will become known as "Les fauves." SPEAKER 2: The wild beasts. SPEAKER 1: That's right. Using color in such radical and aggressive ways that they're accused of being madmen. SPEAKER 2: And you can definitely see that beginning to happen here. SPEAKER 1: But this is a painting that's meant to have a kind of classical aspect to it. It's not meant to be aggressive in that sense. SPEAKER 2: There's a real tension here. SPEAKER 1: There is, between this notion of luxury, of calm, of this kind of ideal, almost classicized past. And of course, this wildly imaginative use of color. SPEAKER 2: But there's also a tension between the forms themselves, which seem classical and creative, in a way, where line is primarily important. These beautiful harmonious lines and the arrangement between the figures that might remind us of the art of Puvis de Chavannes, or in Cezanne's "Bathers," the structured relationship of forms, and that, in contrast, with this wild color. SPEAKER 1: Where it's creating this tremendously activated surface, where it seems like the paint is constantly shifting and in motion. It seems so antithetical-- SPEAKER 2: To the calm. SPEAKER 1: Right, to the very subject matter. It's an artist who's in total flux, who's looking for a pathway, who's looking to understand what painting can now do. What to do with this extraordinary freedom that is available to the artist at the beginning of the 20th century. SPEAKER 2: Exactly. I think that the artist at the end of the 19th century had bequeathed to the artists of the early 20th century this incredible freedom in terms of color, in terms of thinking about the painting as an independent unit and structure that can have its own internal organization, a sense of subjectivity, of the interiority of the artist is important. And one feels that this is a moment of transition. SPEAKER 1: And yet the painting itself is a tour de force. It's an incredibly beautiful thing to look at, even with all of its internal contradictions. [MUSIC PLAYING]