Painting…”a living harmony of colours, comparable to that of a musical composition”

Henri Matisse, the great/famed master of Fauvism at the turn of the century (19th to 20th Century), made the following exclamation about his painting process: “I am unable to make a service copy of nature; nature must be interpreted and subjected to the spirit of the picture. When I have worked out all my tonal relationships, the result should be a living harmony of colors, comparable to that of a musical composition.” (Henri Matisse, ‘Notes d’un painter’, in La Grande Revue, 1908)

Let’s turn our collective gaze toward this artist’s studio. Matisse became very comfortable working in his studio and driving the painting process to its logical conclusions within his perspective. Matisse was after expression. He did not distinguish between his feeling for what he eyes saw and his need and desire to fix that image into visible form. Matisse recognized from an early stage, each painting was a unique set of circumstances and aesthetic experiences. Such a belief automatically bequeathed to his paintings and sketches a quality of originality and singularity!

In the studio, and outside when he was so inclined to work in the fresh air, Matisse sought that emotional moment when his hand would move with a light, gently flow unencumbered by any resistance. Matisse sought the “naturalness” of a joy-to-life in his physical effort to make marks on paper or canvas. He responded to the joyousness of Spring and the refreshing renewal of life through light!

What are your thoughts on Matisse’s vision of his studio, the place where his “art happened”, as he shares his most cherished space with the viewer so many years later of having fixed his image in immortal space/time?

Photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn, Henri Matisse in his Studio, 1913
Henri Matisse, The Red Studio, 1911

Published by: roberttracyphd

Academic professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. I teach theory courses in Art and Architecture History. In addition, I also curate exhibitions on campus as well as in other venues nationally and internationally.

31 Comments

31 thoughts on “Painting…”a living harmony of colours, comparable to that of a musical composition””

  1. I think his idea of having an emotional connection with where he is, and how it influences his work is something that most artist can relate too. Our environment has an impact on our focus, inspiration, and helps give a direction to the work. Whether we are in a comfortable or uncomfortable environment. For Matisse, I think the natural flow and joy he received from the act of painting was the most important aspect to direct his work. Matisse held something many of us wish we had. This idea that nothing was to be a failure, just different, and this is what made art so intriguing to create for Matisse. He was not afraid to create, nor did he seem to care what the critics had to say. Just like my own studio, I am most comfortable painting within it’s walls. It’s a place I have created just for myself, that gives me a comfortable space to create. I think Matisse’s studio gave him the same feelings.

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  2. My thoughts on his studio is that he felt comfortable. Any person who creates something can enjoy being in a space where they feel the most of themselves. Where they can let creative minds flow naturally into a connection of passion. The images he made was for him and no one else. He was carefree. Being in his own area and only his thoughts helped him be original.

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  3. Like many artists in his era, Henry Matisse had faced persecution for the way his art was portrayed. He was introduced to color theory by Jon Peter Russell and went on to abandon his earth toned colors. While describing himself and his work he had previously stated that ”I have always tried to hide my efforts and wished my works to have a light joyousness of springtime which never lets anyone suspect the labors it has cost me.”

    So for me, I consider Matisse’s studio as a place of comfort and joy. Matisse sought for “naturalness” and bright colors and having a studio or a cherished space to be able to work freely, allowed him to be the kind of the artist that portrays the expressive side of color and form. Without that sense of comfortability within his own studio, I genuinely believe that his artwork wouldn’t reflect the emotions that he was trying to portray, had he not been able to fully execute his vision for the studio that he had wanted. Thankfully, his carefree expressions and paintings were on full display, due in part to the studio where his “art happened.”

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  4. I think it’s important for an artist to be comfortable in the environment that they’re creating in. Matisse’s studio was somewhere that he could freely portray what he wanted and express the emotions he wanted to convey onto his works. I liked that he compared his works to musical compositions, where colors and shapes harmonized with each other more than actually trying to copy what was in reality. His studio served as this safe place where he could create these compositions and feel most like himself.

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  5. Most artists make art because of their feelings, but many are still bounded to the physical world, while Matisse was not only very connected with his emotions but had an eye for impressive color harmonies that takes us away from the “naturalness” of a scene, but it keeps it believable.
    He displays light color schemes in his paintings and thus, they tell us that he had a brighter point of view of life than other artists around his time. Certainly, he learned how to get those harmonies that express joy, such as the ones attributed to springtime, but he chose them because they matched his intent.
    Moreover, I think that for him not being focused on the naturalness of his painting made his art flow even more. It’s part of being creative and having the mindset of extending the possibilities of the depiction of reality.
    About him being comfortable in his studio, frankly, I cannot imagine an artist working in an environment they don’t feel comfortable in. Maybe just the feeling of making art makes them ignore their physical space in a way it would not matter, but if there were artists who were uncomfortable or miserable with their studio or their workspace, I bet their artwork would certainly depict those emotions or simply they would be bad. Anyways, there would be no Matisse without the comfortable sense and joy he had in his studio, that’s for sure.

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  6. Matisse’s studio was his home as well as creative space. Matisse’s studio was a place where he truly felt happy and channeled that energy into his artwork. We should try our best to follow Matisse’s example, as the stress and drama of life really puts a damper on creativity. In the rush of modern-day life, it’s not unusual to work wherever when there is some spare time. I feel that as people who need to utilize the creative process, we should ideally work in spaces that we find comfortable. These spaces should also be free of distractions, external stressors, and allow us to devote time and energy into our projects.

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  7. I think Matisses’ quote from the PowerPoint, “An artist must never be a prisoner. Prisoner? An artist should never be a prisoner of himself, prisoner of style, prisoner of reputation, prisoner of success, etc.” is a good demonstration of my thoughts on how he treated his studio and work. It is his original work in many ways, and one is that he did not paint it for a specific artist or to tell a particular story, narrative, or even composition like many artists who specifically use line, shape, color, value, texture, and space to organize their design in a pleasing way. Matisse let it flow and painted what made him feel something inside. Although I don’t directly see a generic composition in his work, I still feel a balance and movement that is very rhythmic. Because of this Fauvism is a very interesting art style, although probably not something I will personally hang on my walls, I can appreciate the work and Matisse’s motive towards creating a substance that moves more than just our eyes.

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  8. Jonathan Quinones

    Matisse created a change in cubism and expressionism; he incorporated bright warm colors and brushstrokes on most of his paintings. I think that perception of nature changes depending on who is looking at it. Value and shapes in nature are not the same for everyone; what you might consider red, it might be orange for someone else. It is fascinating to paint your art studio, just like Matisse did. I think that painting an art studio creates a closeness among artists and their followers; as an artist, you open up and allow an audience to judge how you make art and the way you interact with your tools. An art studio is a place where creativity is born, mistakes are made, and success is celebrated. Matisse was trying to be known for his over exaggerated painting’s brightness with rough textures by creating a balance of emotions and the world he painted. I can associate this painting with a strong personality behind it.

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  9. The place where his “art happened” was not confined to just the studio. The place where art happens comes from within. Yes, lighting, structure, layout, smell, everything can influence a space, but that flow that takes you away when the brush makes contact with the paper, is something that is channeled from within. Having a space where the artist is comfortable enough to let everything flow out is what a studio is for. Matisse’s vision of his studio communicates comfortable, warm, organized (but only in a way that makes sense to the owner) with very soft light and shadows. There is a rhythm to the painting that makes my eye continue to circle around the space and learn something new about Matisse every time. I appreciate the way he takes up space with blank objects (white outline of drawers, table, etc.) so the studio is not crowded, almost bringing a sense of the outside/open, inside. I definitely feel a connection with him through this personal space and I can envision Matisse painting in his studio.

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  10. Lizbeth Ramirez | Art 473

    Matisse’s vision of his studio being the place where his “art happened” is a relatable view for other artists and their space. Although there is no specific place where one must create art, there are many different environments or single areas where artists feel safe to do their work. It’s the place where there is no judgment as to what they’re making, they’re able to just create
    and express themselves to the fullest. I feel like this goes for everyone and not just artists. Everyone has their safe space where they don’t have to keep up with anything and anyone. It’s an essential thing.

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  11. I think that Henri Matisse is another great example of how perception translates and differs in artwork; Matisse painted the world how he saw it and wished to capture it. One of the quotes in the “Matisse and Derain” powerpoint says “…An artist should never be a prisoner of himself, prisoner of style, prisoner of reputation, prisoner of success, etc.,” and I think this quote said by Matisse himself really defines how he saw his studio and the artwork he created. Rather than being tied down by the societal norm of what art is, Matisse created artwork that was freeing to him and a reflection of the emotion he felt: I believe this is what kept his work so immortal and timeless.

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  12. It is important for an artist to be able to have their own personal space in which they can concentrate and dedicate their time and effort into their work. Matisse’s studio looks like it was a place where he experienced great joy and hard work. It was the place that he felt most comfortable in, so it was only natural that he would constantly be in his studio working on his paintings. The comfort of his studio also allowed for him to express many different types of feelings and emotions that I don’t think would have had the same effect on his paintings than the one that he acquired from staying in his studio. Being in his studio also allowed him to experiment and learn more about colors and form. I think Matisse wanted to show his most cherished space to viewers because it was in a way, a part of him and is one of the reasons why he is the artist that he is. Showing his viewers his most cherished space feels very intimate in a way.

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  13. I fully agree with Matisse in how the artist work space is a space of art in itself. How can your focus and concentration be translated in your art if your space and mind is not where it needs to be? He was focused on by critiques through his abrasive use of color, but he helped redefine how color and light are able to be perceived and showed his expressionism. I do consider Matisse as one of my top artists I enjoy as well. I find it how all of these periods of art from expressionism, fauvism, and more where the artists looked for different ways to present a picture and finding their own values in art.

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  14. I think Matisse’s belief that each painting is a unique set of circumstances and aesthetic experiences is very inspiring. This refreshing nature allows the viewer to cleanse their senses from past art experiences by experiencing something they never have before. I was also inspired by how joy orientated Matisse’s process was and how visible it is to see in his use of bright colors and natural elements that he uses in such a subtle yet aesthetic way.

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  15. The place where Matisse’s “art happened” came to be with his belief that art should be about expression and the experience of living in color. In his own studio, drenched in a variety of bright hues– that was his happy place. It was a place where he’s most comfortable in sharing his own thoughts and translating them onto paper or canvas. Like many others before me have stated, the studio is a really important living space for the artist. It could heavily determine their mood, and has the power to swing the direction of an artwork to a completely different feeling. The studio, for many artists, should aesthetically fit their own conscience of the expressiveness they choose to work with in their art. Having a look into an artist’s space is equivalent to peering inside the artist’s mind.

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  16. I agree with Matisse. Art is such a lively and human thing that humanity has created. So portraying his place of comfort, where he created, it makes sense that he sees it as a place filled with joy, life, and brightness. There is a hopeful wish to share and commemorate a place that we love onto a piece of art, whether that be photographs and canvases. Matisse wanted to show us the joy that his studio brings to him and through such vivid colors, he brought that joy to the viewers.

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  17. What strikes me about Matisse’s studio is that it is vibrant, full of energy, yet has a comfort that feels like home. If I hadn’t known what it was, I would have thought it was somebody’s living room. Nowadays when we think of one’s artist studio, a lot of the time we (or I personally at least) think of stark white walls with a gallery like feel. Matisse’s is much more homely and full of character and life, with his wine glass and chairs set up in the corners of the room, which most likely allowed him to create the works that he did, because he created an environment that inspired him and made him feel comfortable, made him feel natural. I would imagine the studio reflects his personality as well, though I have never met the guy obviously.

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  18. Although the painting, “The Red Studio,” may seem that it lacks in real-life colors of his studio, I believe that the art should be respected in that it portrays the artist’s emotional appreciation of his studio, which derived a “spirit.” Likely to his quote, Matisse did not surface copy his visuals but rather interpreted his appreciation of the studio and subjected it to the canvas. The surface color Matisse used, red, can be thought to be too strong to be used, but we cannot deny that his use of lines, shapes, and colors has resulted in the overall harmony of the painting, comparable to what he noted, “a musical composition.”

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  19. Matisse used his workspace as inspiration for a lot of his artworks. His workspace was built up with vibrant colors and a bright, positive aura. I am glad he shared his workspace with everyone so he can show how important where you do your work is. If your workspace does not get your ideas flowing and coming in, you should be inspired to create a place where you will be more happy and comfortable to do your work and come up with great ideas. Matisse’s work and his studio really deserved to be timeless because his time, emotion, and energy put into his art really shows.

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  20. I feel that the environment in which one works in, is as important as one trying to nourish himself with nutrients in order to keep the body moving. I have ADHD and it becomes extremely important to be in a place where you can focus and be continuously inspired. Otherwise, subjects and focuses become distorted and mangled. When it comes to personal preference, this matter would be the second requirement to work, with tools and supplies being the first requirement.
    I’m sure quite a few can agree when it comes to how we have changed our work styles during this time of quarantine. Some for the better, and most for the worse.

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  21. The place where you do your work is very important. If you are in an uninspiring place then you make uninspiring work, or you don’t make any work at all. He made his workspace very bright and colorful to give him motivation. His artwork definitely shows from it. Your workspace is such an important space and it is nice to see an artist show off their workspace. His comfortable with his workspace and when you are comfortable and inspired you can create the artwork that is the most like yourself.

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  22. My thoughts is that he feels comfortable to share his studio. He is not afraid of people judging on his private space. Most of the time, people are afraid of how their home, room look like when they have guest come over. If we are going to take a picture of our room, we might worried about how it is set up, or what should be included in the image. In Matisse’s painting, we see that he did’t concern about hiding or organization.

    He didn’t consider his studio only for a place to work, but it is also a place for inspiration. In his painting, objects are positioned in a loosely manner, yet we can still identify the items. In a way, he is introducing his studio with his understanding. As if providing information when he is showing his studio to a friend, Matisse is using paintings as his dialogue. Some paintings on the walls are on progress, while some is finished. The chair and the furniture might be less of interest, where as the plants and the decorative plates appears to be more important to Matisse. Overall, I enjoy his studio paintings. To add a little bit more in the end, I discovered that Matisse actually used his studio as the support of his paintings. Here is a link for more information: https://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2014/matisse/in-the-studio.html#:~:text=Henri%20Matisse%20created%20his%20cut%2Douts%20in%20three%20different%20studios.&text=With%20this%20body%20of%20work,grounds%20for%20the%20cut%2Douts.

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  23. Seeing other Matisse pieces, I love how he captures what he sees through the use of bright colors and not necessarily what he has actually perceived. The use of red to paint the entire studio, more specifically what isn’t a painting or piece of work helps to bring out everything else. His ideas about painting being about the interpretation and spirit of the picture shows how carefree and enjoyable art was to him. He didn’t care whether or not his paintings accurately depicted what he saw, but instead he aimed to capture that spirit or feeling he felt upon perceiving said scene. It is difficult to create or be creative in a space where one is uncomfortable, and Matisse was clearly comfortable in his studio to create such work, not caring about what others would think either which resulted in his interesting style.

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  24. I think where the artist chooses to work is really up to his or her preference. However this idea of your studio or the place where you create your work “be your happy place” is important. Being comfortable to express your own style and technique is what is most important. If you are not in the right element or state of mind to create works of art then you probably aren’t in the right space. For me personally, I think the right mindset and workspace are always important to optimize workflow as well as focus. I particularly like the part in which Matisse talks about working outside. Being in nature really has an influence on us as we work. The calming sounds of the breeze and the almost mesmerizing visualize of the greenery truly allow us to get in the purest state to create.

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  25. Henri Matisse’s vision of his own studio certainly speaks to his creative genius and distinction amongst other artists of his time. One’s personal space—such as their studio or bedroom—can be interpreted as their sanctuary, and the idea of a sanctuary differs from person to person. For Matisse, it signifies a space in which one can let their creativity flow through them, allowing them to channel their wildest ideas and interpretations of reality. Matisse’s painting of his studio is something you would entirely expect of him: striking, vibrant, and anything but ordinary.

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  26. Matisse’s view of his studio is unique in that it shows a much more complex and individual perspective on an artist’s studio, in comparison to something more traditional and realistic. The recreation of his own artworks, the implementation of bold colors, and lack of light and shadow create a much more personal and reflective vision of the artist himself and how he prefers to work. It is different and unconventional for the time, the way he pushes the standard uses of perspective and color. He is not just showing us his studio, but showing us the ways that color and form can be used differently to express our surroundings and experiences without just the use of realism.

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  27. An artist’s studio is where they need to be the most comfortable to be able to create. When you paint (or sculpt, or draw, etc.) you really open yourself up, especially with artists such as Matisse, who paint based on feeling. There was a quote from Matisse saying, “I do not literally paint that table, but the emotion it produces upon me.“ He said this in regard to The Red Studio (1911). When you look at the painting the table is barely there, just implied line by scraping the paint away to reveal the canvas. The only things painted in a color other than the flat red of the background are things related to art; things that produce emotion for him. You look at the painting in an entirely different way once you look at that quote.

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  28. I believe with any artist there studio and work area is like the safe place. Its a place of comfort were the artist can be there truest self in there expression of art. Matisse view of his studio is unique because he expresses the complex perspective of the freedom in his studio.

    He quotes “An artist must never be a prisoner. Prisoner? An artist should never be a prisoner of himself, prisoner of style, prisoner of reputation, prisoner of success.” I believe his way of thinking is amazing to be able to express work not just by a simple view but by the feelings and complex emotions of figures and colors. His concept of freedom in art is truly inspiring. He is able to break from a shell of expectation from the art world.

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  29. To me this sharing of his personal space shows how happy and content he is with his space. He loved his space so much that he wanted to share it with his audience. He loved his space so much and he was so comfortable in this space that he called his own. I know once I moved into an apartment by myself, once I had my room together it was my safe space and I was very comfortable in it and sharing it with others who cared to see.

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  30. I’ve heard from multiple people that the place where you study is vital, especially in regards to productivity and efficiency . They say that doing assignments and studying for your test in the same place that you sleep (your bed) is not the best I sort of agree with this idea that the things you do in a certain space will always affect you. I like to think that the space around you is often tied down to the memories you hold onto it. You tend to fill that space with both physical and almost spiritual/mental things as you stay within that space. I think that this is natural and even more so for an artist that is able to utilize such spaces as a place for their creativity. Studios often become a safe haven or a safe space for an artist. It’s ironic to me that a singular work space can actually be super liberating to others. I think that is a beautiful thing and that such a space (when found) should be cherished much like Matisse did. Art always happens in the hands of the artist, and it’s a wonderful thing when said artist is able to find that one area where they can feel a balance within that space to be able to create and work all in one.

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  31. Arron Adams
    Art 473-1001
    I find it interesting to see what Matisse emphasized about his studio: the art supplies, the objects on the table, the clock face, the other paintings on the walls and floors and the sculptures. Not so much emphasis on the furnishings or the room itself.
    One thing I will say, is that I hope the room wasn’t actually that color red, because that would really give me a headache.

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