Wednesday 7 January 2015

Matisse and Diebenkorn

The course on modern art I am doing this year and which I'm enjoying enormously has led to new and exciting discoveries. This painting by Matisse is one of them. I had not seen it before, and it took my breath away.

Henri Matisse, Porte-Fenetre a Collioure

Abstracted to the point of being just a few lines, this painting is serenity itself. It induces feelings of repose, contemplation and reflection.

Matisse once said that he wanted his art to have the effect of a good armchair on a tired businessman. This painting is testament to that ambition. 'My purpose is to render my emotion. This state of soul is created by the objects which surround me and which react in me: from the horizon to myself, myself included. For very often I put myself in my pictures, and I am aware of what exists behind me. I express the space and the objects in it as naturally as though I had only the sea and the sky in front of me: that is, the simplest thing in the world'.

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The American artist Richard Diebenkorn saw Porte-Fenetre a Coullioure in 1966 and was overwhelmed by it. The result was his Ocean Park series which consists of 88 paintings of the Pacific coast of southern California, seen through the large windows of Diebenkorn's studio.

Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park series, no. 66

Another exercise in calm, elevated reflection.

These are landscape paintings but they are also paintings of light, the quality of the light on the landscape, framed by the windows. 'I love the light in California', he said. 'I grew up in Arizona where there is a very harsh yellow light, and the light here is quite different. There is a very airy quality to it'. The light shimmers, and Diebenkorn's colours, his chalky pastel blues, yellows and greens, make the geometry of the paintings shimmer.

Diebenkorn began by sketching directly onto the paper, then painting, correcting, masking and scraping away in a continual process of revision and refinement. Through this process a multi-layered surface is created, full of corrections and remnants of partially erased lines so that the first impulses of thought leave their traces in the finished work. It makes the viewer witness to the process of painting. The visible revisions and layers also suggest the passage of time.


  1. Eirene, if the institution where your course is held has a library, there is a great book on Matisse's more 'abstract' paintings: Matisse, Radical Invention
    It is a book from which I learned a great deal.

    Also - the RA is having a Diebenkorn exhibition this Spring

  2. I did not know about the Diebenkorn exhibition at the RA Olga - I'm looking forward to that. And thanks for the book recommendation: the University of Warwick has an extensive library and I will look out for it.