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Artist's Quotes: Matisse

A collection of quotes from the French artist Henri Mattise about painting.


Matisse dancer paintings

Famous Paintings: "The Dance" by Matisse

Photos © Cate Gillon (top) and Sean Gallup (bottom) / Getty Images

Perfection in Art: "Perhaps what we call perfection in art... is no more than the sense of wanting or finding in a human work that certainty of execution, that inner necessity, that indissoluble, reciprocal union between design and matter, which I find in the humblest seashell."
-- Painter Henri Matisse
(Quote source: Correspondance entre Charles Camoin et Henri Matisse, p.218, quoted in Hilary Spurling's biography Matisse the Master)

"You are representing the model, or any other subject, not copying it... Nature excites the imagination to representation. But one must add to this the spirit of the landscape in order to help its pictorial quality. Your composition should indicate the more or less entire character of these trees, even though the exact number you have chosen would not accurately express the landscape."-- Matisse
(Quote source: Sarah Stein's Notes, Matisse on Art by Jack D Flam, page 45)

Transferring a Composition: "An artist who wants to transpose a composition onto a larger canvas must conceive it over again in order to preserve its expression; he must alter its character and not just fill in the squares into which he has divided his canvas."
-- Henri Matisse in his Notes of a Painter, 1908.

Older Paintings:"I do not repudiate any of my paintings but there isn't one of them that I would not redo differently, if I had it to redo. My destination is always the same but I work out a different route to get there."
-- Henri Matisse in his Notes of a Painter, 1908.

Why Paint?: When Matisse was asked in a 1942 radio interview why he painted, he said: "Why, to translate my emotions, my feelings, and the reactions of my sensibility into color and design, which neither the most perfect camera, even in color, nor the cinema can do. ... [Artists are] useful because they can augment color and design through the richness of their imagination intensified by their emotion and their reflection on the beauties of nature, just as poets or musicians do."
Quote source: Matisse on Art, edited by Jack D. Flam, page 92.

"An artist must recognize, when he is reasoning, that his picture is an artifice; but when he is painting, he should feel that he has copied nature. And even when he departs from nature, he must do it with the conviction that it is only to interpret her more fully." Matisse in his Notes of a Painter, 1908.

Painting from Photos: "Photography has greatly disturbed the imagination, because one has seen things devoid of feeling. When I wanted to get rid of all influences which prevented me from seeing nature from my own personal view, I copied photographs."
Quote source: Statement by Matisse to critic E Tériade, 1933

"...cinema posters and magazines present us every day with a flood of ready-made images which are to the eye what the prejudices are to the mind."
Quote source: Looking at Life with the Eyes of a Child, essay by Matisse published in Art News and Review, 6 February 1953.

Creativity: "One gets into a state of creativity by conscious work. To prepare one's work is first to nourish one's feelings by studies which have a certain analogy with the picture, and it is through this that the choice of elements can be made. It is these studies which permit the painter to free his unconscious mind."
Quote source: Statement by Matisse to critic E Tériade on creativity, 1933; quoted in Jack Flam's Matisse on Art p66.

Color: "Colours have a beauty of their own which must be preserved, as one strives to preserve tonal quality in music. It is a question of organization and construction which is sensitive to maintaining this beautiful freshness of colour ... Colour is never a question of quantity, but of choice."
Quote Source: Matisse's essay "The Role and Modalities of Colour", 1945.

Imagination: Matisse "constantly confronted the visible world and struggled to wrest meaning from the bland and often banal appearances of everyday things. He lacked imagination in the literary sense, and his visual imagination needed the stimulation of real things. ...Matisse cultivated a sense of clarity and wanted his art to have a calming effect. The bright colors and the decorative motifs were part of a strategy for distancing his art from his inner turmoil."
– Jack Flam, Matisse and Picasso: The Story of Their Rivalry and Friendship p48-9

Still Life: "To copy the objects in a still life is nothing; one must render the emotion they awaken in him. The emotion of the ensemble, the interrelation of the objects, the specific character of every object -- modified by its relation to the others -- all interlaced like a cord or a serpent."
-- Jack Flam, Matisse on Art, page 51

Quotes About Matisse:
"Undoubtedly Matisse's technique, the manner in which he transformed what he saw to what he put down on canvas, remains his most revolutionary practice. ...Matisse painted, then reflected and repainted again and again until satisfied with a finished canvas that in the end seemed to emerge miraculously as if it were the result of a single spontaneous action."
– Shirley Neilsen Blum Henri Matisse: Rooms with a View, page 16

Matisse rarely modelled with shadow, preferring non-tonal colour. ... Matisse represented light through the intensity of his palette and through splinters of exposed white canvas. [In later work] he generated light by the oppositions of highly saturated colours often unrelated to his subjects."
-- Shirley Neilsen Blum, Henri Matisse: Rooms with a View, page 14

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