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Henri Matisse

French, 1869–1954

© 2011 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

La Musique, 1939

Oil on canvas
45 3/8 x 45 3/8 inches (115.3 x 115.3 cm)
Room of Contemporary Art Fund, 1940

Henri Matisse viewed composition as, “the art of arranging in a decorative manner the various elements at a painter’s disposal for the expression of his feelings.” One of his goals was to create paintings that appeared effortless, when in reality, the unity and rhythm he achieved were far from easy. All elements had to be placed with great care. In the composition of La Musique, various shapes are repeated throughout, horizontal and vertical lines anchor the diagonals and the curves, and the placement of colors is perfectly balanced. Matisse’s primary challenge here was uniting the two figures in a compositionally harmonious way. He succeeded in this through several means: a diagonal line begins with the legs of the figure on the left and continues up through the guitar, in which the colors of the left-hand woman’s dress and legs are repeated; the right arms of both figures are in the same pose; the left arm of one figure parallels the right leg of her companion; and the hairstyles and facial features of both women are similar. His ultimate goal, Matisse once said, was to create “an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter, an art which could be for every menial worker, for the businessman as well as the man of letters, for example, a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.” 

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