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An artist using color, and changing.

By April 1, 2017 Art, Color, Creativity 4 Comments

This is one of Henri Matisse’s early works, called Blue Pot and Lemon, painted in 1896. Quite beautiful, and nicely composed, don’t you think? Definitely a still life in the traditional 19th century French tradition.

Now take a look at this next painting by Matisse, painted only nine years later:

This painting, Open Window, was created in 1905, but seems a world away from his earlier work. Here is a description from the curators of the National Gallery of Art, (www.nga.gov) where the painting now resides:

The light-filled scene is vibrant and inviting. Blue-hulled boats float on pink waves below a sky banded with turquoise, pink, and periwinkle. These unnatural colors – Derain (his friend) would later liken them to “sticks of dynamite” — provoked an outrage that year at the Salon d’Automne in Paris.

When Open Window was first shown, it shocked the art world so much that they labelled Matisse and his friend André Derain “the fauves” – the wild beasts.

Matisse, in his lifetime (1869 – 1954), emerged as an artist bridging the traditional 19th century French painting, then “Fauvism” (pronounced Fōh-vism), Impressionism, and, with Pablo Picasso, led the emergence of modern art in the 20th century.

His Open Window painting was done at the height of Fauvism. Look at it once more, and just notice the colors.

The museum commentary about it continues:

The fauves liberated color from any requirements other than those posed by the painting itself. “When I put a green,” Matisse would say, “it is not grass. When I put a blue, it is not the sky.” Art exerted its own reality. Color was a tool of the painter’s artistic intention and expression, uncircumscribed by imitation.”

One might think of the difference between these two paintings as a color explosion. Matisse changed his use of color from its descriptive, representational purpose and allowed it to project a mood and even create structure in the composition.

What does this have to do with rughooking?

There are many rughookers, like me, who would have to struggle to use bright purples and greens to hook a cat, or to use anything but shades of blue for sky, and green for leaves or trees. But this leap is worth taking, or at least experimenting with. Matisse pushed himself to think outside of the lines of formality, and we should too. More pink waves!

One of the most accessible ways of doing this is to use your wools as darks, mediums and lights, regardless of their actual color. Perhaps you have seen hooked portraits where the easily recognizable faces were created in wild colors – bright reds, yellows, greens, violets, oranges – but the likeness of the face comes through because the lights and darks are in the right places. The lights and darks create the face with its highlights and shadows, even though the colors are wild.

Perhaps this color freedom comes easily to some, but many of us will have to determine to try it, to jump into an experiment, and to “color outside of the lines”. Change is good. Getting outside your comfort zone is good.

And always, doing a small piece, even something 12″ by 12″, is a wonderful way to start that first experiment.

Here is one other work by Matisse, from almost at the end of his career (1945) titled Interior with Egyptian Curtain:

I really don’t have much appreciation for modern art (at least beyond the Impressionists), but I do love this piece. Maybe that is because it is very easy for me to see a hooked rug version of it! It’s in the new exhibit at the Boston Museum of Fine Art (www.mfa.org) called Matisse In The Studio. The show opens April 9 and will run through July 9th.

Hook on, and once in a while, try hooking “outside the lines” with your colors!


  • Janine says:

    Love this post!! I so want to broaden my use of color. But each time I try to use an unusual color for something, I end up not doing it. Must try a small piece as you suggested!

  • Lin Watson says:

    please notify new posts by email

  • Heather says:

    When I hooked a portrait of my chocolate Lab, it was mostly shades of purple/mauve. I felt that doing her in just brown would have been boring. Love Matisse. DAvid Hockney also has a wonderful sense of colour.

  • Claire Desrosiers says:

    Thanks so much for this post. Color really intimidates me. The colors Matisse used in Blue Pot and Lemon are my comfort zone but The Open Window is so much more cheerful.

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