Matisse’s Art and Textiles. How Textile Stimulated His Creative Powers To A New Pictorial Reality

MATISSE’S ART AND TEXTILES: Last week, As I was researching the works of artists who found inspiration in textiles, I came across the book ‘Matisse: His Art and His Textiles.’

Matisse had a blood association with textiles as he was born to a family of expert weavers in the French town of Le Cateau-Cambresis and brought up at Bohain-en-Vermandois in Picardy in Northern France. Since the Middle Ages, this region had been the center for manufacturing textiles- linen, wool, and silk. By the end of the nineteenth century, when Matisse was growing up, Bohain was renowned as a luxury fabric producer. – embossed and patterned velvet, tulle, voile, and above all, silk. It was second to none in supplying the top end of the Paris fashion trade.

With a childhood surrounded by the masters of French textile designers and makers, textiles were the key to Matisse’s imagination. Some of his contemporaries criticized him for using his colors like a weaver. They were baffled to see his love for juxtaposing vivid colors in different combinations as he saturated his canvases in pigments like a dye-merchant.

Read THE HISTORY OF EXTRACTION OF NATURAL DYES-ANIMAL PIGMENTS

Matisse's Art and Textiles

MATISSE’S ART AND TEXTILES

Matisse’s taste in textiles was eclectic. The images of different rooms of his studio and apartment suggest that there were fabrics everywhere- draped over furniture, hanging on the walls, or rigged up in makeshift theatrical sets. French textiles, exotic Persian carpets, delicate Arab embroideries, richly hued African wall hangings. There were curtains, costumes, patterned screens, backcloths, Turkish and Moroccan robes, hats, jackets, and needlework, including Chinese hangings and toile de Jouy. Wherever he went, he took a bolt of scraps of his textiles together with him for painting his art. He fondly called his colorful materials as his ‘working’ library.

Let us look at some of his works and see how textiles inspired these works and vice versa.

Matisse's Art and Textiles
Harmony in Red. Oil on Canvas

The Dessert: Harmony in Red, 1908 by Henri Matisse’s Art and Textiles

Art historians consider this painting as one of the masterpieces of Matisse. The original commission was ‘Harmony in Blue’ by famous Russian collector Sergey Shchukin. However, Matisse, who was making this painting for the dining room in the Moscow mansion of Sergey, painted over the blue with the idea of creating a luxuriant raspberry red fabric that hangs on the wall as a decorative panel with the gorgeous blue motifs inspired from Toile de Jouy motifs. 

The red surface looks three dimensional, fulfilling the fabric’s purpose as a painting that decorates the wall and as a covering on the table that holds the vases and fruits—at the same time, the red fabric giving an impression of space so that the maid leaning over the vase could move. 

The foliage and patterns on the wall and table extend in the window in the background in a different color tone and proportion, creating a very soothing and coherent impression in mind despite the contrast of the colors used. 

Matisse's Art and Textiles
The Velvets( Les Velours). Gouache on Paper

The velvets ( Les Velours) : Matisse’s Art and Textiles

During the 1930s, Matisse underwent a vital shift in style as the objects in his paintings became increasingly flattened and removed from real space. They became more sign-like. Les Velours, a sign-like imagination of Matisse,  the entire work uses textile decorations’ structural principles. 

Matisse's Art and Textiles
Still-life with Germaniums

Still-life with Germaniums

This painting with bold colors uses the same Toile de Jouy motifs used in his painting The Dessert: Harmony in Red. 

Matisse's Art and Textiles
Pianist and Checker Players

Pianist and Checker Players : Matisse’s Art and Textiles

Matisse decorated the walls with motifs representing the piano’s musical notes. He kept the pianist in plain yellow and covered the wall with decorative motifs to give a dimension, voice, and space to the pianist’s music coming out of the piano.

Matisse's Art and Textiles
Seville Still-life

Spanish Still-life: Matisse’s Art and Textiles

Once when Matisse was in Madrid, he picked up a lovely Spanish wool carpet in blue. He loved that carpet. The blue rug with stylized pomegranate motifs covering the half of the sofa in the painting is the painted version of the rug he picked from Madrid. Other than this carpet. The vivid colors of other textiles used in the painting, like the upholstery on the sofa and cloth on the table, grab the attention. 

Odalisques

Odalisque is a word used for a female slave or concubine in a harem, especially one in the seraglio of the Sultan of Turkey. Matisse created a series of Odalisques using different decorative motifs. The vibrant textiles with bold florals motifs played a vital role in his intention to express the extreme sensuality of his Odalisques. 

I am sharing images of some of my favorite Odalisques painted by Matisse.

Matisse's Art and Textiles
ecorative Figure on Ornamental Ground. Oil on canvas
Matisse's Art and Textiles
Standing Odalisque with a Tray of Fruit

Around the same time, Matisse was making trips to Morrocco and picking up gorgeous clothes and embellishments. Soon he started dressing his Odalisques in see-through pantaloons, silken slashes, and embroidered boleros, as seen below.

Matisse's Art and Textiles
Reclining Odalisque. Green Culottes, Blue Belt. Oil on Canvas
Matisse's Art and Textiles
Matisse's Art and Textiles
Parisian Couture Dress and Jacket
Matisse's Art and Textiles
Two Young Girls. Yellow Dress and Tartan Dress
Matisse's Art and Textiles
Ottoman Striped Silk Robe
Matisse's Art and Textiles
Seated Girl in Persian Robe

The Color of Ideas: Chausables and African Fabrics: Matisse’s Art and Textiles

His bedroom walls had Polynesian tapas and fragments of Kuba fabrics from Africa hung on them as decorative objects. The material of these fabrics was natural fibers, and repeated geometric patterns covered these fabrics. The beauty of the handmade quality of the fabric appealed to Matisse’s imagination. He thought these handmade fabrics with the inherent imperfections of the human hand were like pieces of art. 

These African and Polynesian fabrics begin to lead him towards what he wanted: The decorative impact of the geometric patterns and emotional expression. 

Matisse's Art and Textiles
Topa Cloth. Pounded Tree Bark.
Matisse's Art and Textiles
Kuba cloth from Congo
Matisse's Art and Textiles
Polynesian tapa cloth

Matisse had his studio assistants color the paper. Matisse cut these colored papers to create geometric arts inspired by African and Polynesian fabrics. 

Matisse's Art and Textiles
Composition Yellow, Blue and Black. Colored gouache collage on paper
Matisse's Art and Textiles
Black and Red Composition. Colored gouache collage on paper
Matisse's Art and Textiles
The Dancer. Colored gouache collage on paper
Matisse's Art and Textiles
Composition with a Red Cross. Colored gouache collage on paper
Matisse's Art and Textiles
Algae. Colored gouache collage and ink on paper
Matisse's Art and Textiles
Acrobatic Dancer. Colored gouache collage and ink on paper

Matisse left behind him a lot of textile inspiration for the fashion and home decor fraternity. Gouache cut paper art and the peasant blouse in which he dressed many of his models have been used often by different fashion designers. 

Matisse's Art and Textiles
Women with embroidered blouse with necklace. Pen and Ink on paper
Matisse's Art and Textiles
The Romanian Blouse. Pen and Ink
Matisse's Art and Textiles
Annette Stai in Yves Saint Laurent’s Matisse-inspired blouse, 1981
Matisse's Art and Textiles
Aquilano.Rimondi, spring 2015
Matisse's Art and Textiles
Issa London, resort 2015
Matisse's Art and Textiles
Tata Naka, pre-fall 2014
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