Matisse’s Carmelina

October 1, 2012

There are some paintings that stick with you. You can look at many paintings and feel some attachment to them, but they can be easily replaced with another current favorite. Discovering new work (or old work you’ve never seen) is always exciting, but there are a few paintings that will never be replaced. There are paintings that will grab hold of something inside you every time you see them. You will never stop looking at them because they always have more to say, always leave you in awe.

The first painting that I have encountered that could never be replaced as a favorite is Carmelina by Matisse:

Carmelina, Matisse

As usual, the digital copy does not do this piece justice. I am lucky to have seen this piece in person many times. (Its home is the MFA in Boston.) Even in print copies, you can see the full color scale– the gray blues, greens, and bright reds in her flesh. No brush stroke is wasted in this piece. I often wonder if Matisse considered this painting finished, or if it was just a quick study. Maybe something happened with the model, making it impossible to finish?

The first time I saw this painting, she struck me as so beautiful. When I did an analysis of the painting through a master copy, I realized her face is bold in comparison to her soft body. She looks as though she has just settled into the pose or may jump up at any moment. The unresolved hands and feet seem to speak of the recent or coming movement. Even the quick stroke of the cloth draped over her holds a memory of movement. Where is she going? Where did she come from?

After the spell of the nude figure has lifted, you see Matisse hiding in the mirror. Is he looking at her or us? Is he looking at us through her? Once you find him, you cannot help but stare at him, that little red patch in the mirror. To me, this painting will always be a beautiful nude, but a self-portrait as well. Matisse is identifying himself as painter. This painting feeds into the idea that every work by an artist is a self-portrait. I will never stop looking at Carmelina and her beauty, but I will also never forget Matisse is there, waving his little red flag in the corner.

Look. Listen. Respond.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: