Matisse’s The Green Line (1905) (EPPH)

Original article here.

Matisse, The Green Line or Portrait of Mme. Matisse (1905) Oil on canvas. Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen

In 1905 Henri Matisse exhibited this painting of his wife to a shocked Parisian art world. She has a green stripe down her face. Now a Fauvist icon, The Green Line as it is known has been studied for over a century yet revealed little. Most comment that Matisse was primarily interested in decoration, allowing color to dictate form. That must be wrong because form is the principal carrier of meaning. Self-representation is a must as well. These are essential characteristics without which the reputation of Matisse’s art would have plummeted. Yet it has only grown. I have examined The Green Line for 15 years, though, and like others have seen little beyond a portrait. Perhaps, the green stripe is a symbol of his fertility penetrating her mind above. Yet surely, I always thought, there must be more.

L: Detail of Matisse’s The Green Line, rotated R: Detail of Matisse’s Self-portrait, rotated (1900) Oil on canvas. Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris.

Last night I rotated the picture and found what I was looking for: veiled content and meaning. In the block-like forms of Madame’s coiffure resides the “face” of her husband with one “eye” only, all in black and dark blue. The large, circular form of a spectacle on the right; the triangular nose next to it; even the black shadow under his “beard”. It resembles his face as seen in many self-portraits. The one at right is from five years earlier.

Matisse, The Green Line or Portrait of Mme. Matisse (1905)

Mme Matisse, like the wives of many artists, is represented as the feminine version of his own self and the creative part of his androgynous mind. His “head” is in the darkness of hers which is really the creative, cave-like depths of his own imagination. Totally in line with tradition, Matisse represents the model as the artist; he unifies object and subject; and depicts not a true likeness of his wife (few great artists have done that) but a feminine version of his own Self at the moment of creation. Further looking will, no doubt, yield more meaning but not until the viewer acknowledges that this is self-representation and not what most call “portraiture”.

Matisse, Marguerite (1906-7) Oil on canvas. Musée Picasso, Paris

The next year Matisse styled the hair of his daughter into a phallus. See Matisse’s Portrait of Marguerite (1906-7), a painting Picasso owned.


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