Sunday 21 July 2013

Impressionist art at the Statens Museum for Kunst

There is a considerable collection of French Impressionist paintings at the Statens Museum for Kunst, including a Matisse room.

Woman in a Chemise, Andre Derain, 1906

A key work from Derain's Fauvist period, this is a confident example of the power of expression that can be achieved through shape and colour. Despite a seemingly rapid and expressive mode of painting, the picture is achieved through a stringent system of triangles with colours restricted to the complementary contrasts of red/green, orange/blue. The picture plane is stretched out from top to bottom by a seated female figure whose gaze is directed at us.

Trees at L'Estaque, Georges Braque, 1908

Self-Portrait as Pierrot, Amedeo Modigliani, 1915

Alice, Amedeo Modigliani, 1918

The girl is portrayed from the front, and the planes  have a geometric order that creates a sense of calm and harmony. African masks and medieval art were important inspirations for Modigliani's painting and on that basis he developed an idiom made up of elongated shapes accentuated here by the tall format.

The Guitar Player, Juan Gris, 1928

The Metronome, Georges Braque, 1909

Woman with a Horse, Jean Metzinger, 1912

Metzinger's first Cubist works were inspired by Picasso but he soon took Cubism in a different direction. In his paintings, motifs and compositions took shape in a state of on-going dialogue with the art of the past. The objective was to create a work that connected the present with the past.

Summer, Jean Metzinger, 1916

The Two Sisters, Andre Derain, 1914

The two women have been chiselled into the picture like statues. The monumental canvas, the simplicity of the figures and the grey palette evoke thoughts of art from earlier eras. The painting is based on inspiration from medieval art. French classicist painting and African masks and sculptures all united here in a hitherto unseen synthesis.

Woman with a Vase, Fernand Leger, 1924

A woman carrying a vase is depicted from the front with a linear precision that imbues the image with a classical, monumental feel. The face is empty, the body stiff and divided into parts. The woman's dress has the shape of a sturdy Doric column. The simple palette consists exclusively of blue, red, white, black against a light grey background.

After WWI a Neo-Classicist trend permeated the Paris art scene. In the aftermath of the trauma of war many artists, among these Picasso and Laurens, harked back to classical stylistic features to provide visionary images of a new era of cohesion, order and social harmony.

The Matisse Room

A small section of the Matisse room

Jazz, Henri Matisse, 1947

With the book Jazz, Matisse introduced the cut out technique that would preoccupy him during the final years of his life. The twenty illustrations in the book were executed as pochoir prints after Matisse's original cut-paper compositions. He used inks of the same colours he used for his cutouts. The motifs hail from the realms of folklore, myths and the circus and are evenly distributed within the 150 pages of the book alternating with Matisse's own handwriting.

'I wish to present colour plates in the most favourable conditions possible. To do so, I need to separate them by intervals of a different character. I decided that a handwritten text was the most suitable for this purpose', the book states. Even though Matisse claimed that the text exclusively served a visual function, it includes metaphorical statements about the nature of art.

Seated Man, 1918

Reclining Woman II, 1929

seen from a different angle

Interior with a Violin, 1918

The motif of this painting is the hotel room and its window facing the beach and the sea. The contrast between outside and inside, light and darkness plays a major part in the painting but so does the contrast between two different idioms: the indoor interior is painted in an abstract, plane-oriented style that points back to Matisse's painting of the preceding years. The glimpse of nature is painted in the naturalistic style that would characterise his art in the following years.

Portrait of Madame Matisse. The Green Line. 1905

Much of the strength of this painting lies in its simple geometric structure and in the way the colours are combined. Spatial modulation is pared back to a minimum. Effects of light and shadow, which would have added depth to the image have been translated into planes of colour instead.

Landscape near Collioure. Study for the 'Joy of Life'. 1905

Le Luxe II, 1907-08

With its subject-matter, three naked women in a landscape, and its title, the work inscribes itself into a long-standing tradition of women bathing in a natural setting. The motif is a traditional image of untainted happiness. Matisse addressed the theme again employing it in a new fashion. He used distemper and large, uniformly coloured planes.

Nude with a White Scarf, 1909.


  1. What a repository of art Copenhagen seems to be. The collection you have shown here is particularly to my taste. Indeed all your posts have been like reading one of Sidra Stich's Art Sites books. Many thanks.

    1. You are right, Olga. There is wonderful art in Copenhagen and unfortunately, one week was not enough. There were museums we did not visit, and with the exception of Louisiana, where we spent the whole day and did see everything there was to see, with the other two museums we visited we had to be ruthless in choosing which sections we would visit, limiting ourselves to specific artists and just 20th century art. I would love to go again, but then, there are so many places to visit....

      As for the art I like, I think we both have the same tastes and this is why I enjoy looking at your blog so much.