Mark Harden's Artchive Matisse, Henri
The Girl with Green Eyes
1908
Oil on canvas
26 x 20 in. (66 x 50.8 cm.)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

From the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art catalog:

"IN 1904, THE YEAR FOLLOWING the completion of The Slave, Henri Matisse, spurred on by his close friends Paul Signac and Henri-Edmond Cross, began experimenting with the Pointillist technique of the Neo-Impressionists. The somber palette of his earlier paintings was replaced by increasingly high-keyed coloration. By the spring of 1905, when he exhibited Luxe, calme, et volupte at the Salon des Independants, Matisse's color had become intense, luminous, and completely arbitrary, free of the constrictions of natural depiction. His brush strokes, no longer subservient to structural definition, ranged from succinct daubings to sinuous linear arabesques.

"In 1905, Matisse and his family spent the first of many summers at Collioure, a small fishing port on the southwestern coast of France. In the fall, two of the canvases he had executed there were hung at the Salon d'Automne together with work by Andre Derain (who had spent the summer with the Matisses), Henri Manguin, Albert Marquet, Maurice Vlaminck, and others. Violently colored with juxtaposed vermilions, persimmons, and ultramarines, freely and informally composed, intoxicating in feeling and seemingly lit from within, these works electrified public and critics alike, one of whom dubbed the artists as a group les fauves, the wild beasts.

"By 1907, Matisse's predilection for the Fauvist freedom waned and his interest in the work of Cezanne was rekindled. A new concern for structure appeared in his canvases. In a series of portraits executed between l907 and 1911 he painstakingly worked out compositional problems in which he experimented with various figure/background relationships. While in several paintings in this group the subject is presented against either a plain background, or a ground simply divided horizontally, thus effectively placing the focus on the sitter, in two of the portraits the background and the figure are visually almost equally weighted and the interplay between figure and ground is more complex. The Girl with Green Eyes is one of those compositions.

"The figure and background compete for dominance, yet they are formally linked. The pendulous curve of the sitter's chin is repeated in the embroidery of her robe and the emphasized contour of the cast of Greek sculpture behind her. The brush handling, whether rendering patterns or broad, fiat areas, is free and expressive. The planes are drawn closer by the repetitive rhythms of the arabesque-like strokes.

"The freedom of the paint handling and coloration provides a foil for the static, frontal pose of the model, who has been positioned strictly vertically, though somewhat to the left of the central axis. Unlike the other portraits of this period, the head is not truncated by the top edge of the canvas. Here the horizontal yellow slash of the hat brim serves this purpose, cutting off the supposed curve of the hair and overlapping the sculpture behind it as well. The face, a chalky pink, pointed oval, gazes out with clear eyes, yet the personality is not revealed. The sitter is but one element in many-faceted composition.

"It is the joyous, audacious color of this portrait, however, which makes the initial impact. Matisse has taken his Fauve palette and made it richer, denser. Gone are the open areas of bare canvas which enlivened and informalized his landscapes and figures of 1905-6. Here, complementary colors are abutted and strident, closely hued areas are juxtaposed. The arcing black outlines, which in Matisse's later work will take on a life of their own, here intermittently delineate features and set off the brilliant pigments."