Saturday, August 23, 2014

Matisse Plays Chess

Though not, as far as we can see, with this lady...

Odalisque With a Turkish Chair (1928)
Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France

(From here)




...nor with his family.
The Painter's Family. (1911)
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia

(From here)
Or these two...

Odalisques (1928)
(From here)
But, according to the catalogue of the Matisse Cut-Outs exhibition currently at Tate Modern, he did play -  though not chess as we know it.

This is what Samantha Friedman says in her catalogue essay Game and Endgame:
"Ultimately, it is yet another metaphor - one that Matisse himself invoked several times during the period of his work with cut paper - that may best elucidate how he regarded the ever-shifting elements on his wall. In 1935, soon after he had employed an early version of the 'paper cut-out system' in designing the Barnes Mural,... 
The "Barnes Mural" : The Dance 1932-33 (From here)
Illustration in catalogue p 86; 

the work is not in the exhibition.
...Matisse likened a pair of paintings with different palettes to
'two aspects of a chessboard in the course of a game of chess. The appearance of the board is continually changing in the course of play, but the intentions of the players who move the pawns remain constant.'
"A decade later he drew a comparison to a related game when reflecting back on the method employed for the Merion project, recalling:
'I worked on this for three years, constantly moving around 11 flat tinted shapes, a bit like the way one moves the pieces during a game of checkers (I [should] add that these shapes were coloured pieces of paper) until I found an arrangement that satisfied me completely.'
Matisse's studio in Vence in 1947 (From here)
This image is similar to the black and white images (pp 38 & 124) discussed in the essay; 

The component parts of the work on the wall are in the exhibition.
"And in 1951, as his cut-outs were on the verge of growing into room-sized, decorative murals, he reflected on 
'why have I never tried to play chess, although it was suggested to me by friends who thought they knew me well. I told them: I can't play with signs that never change. This Bishop this King, this Queen, this Castle, mean nothing to me. But, he continued, imagining a scenario in which the game might suit him, if you were to put little figures that look like so-and-so or such a one, people whose life we know, then I could play; but still inventing a meaning for each Pawn in the course of each game.
"It was according to these new rules, then - in which the signs for and the meanings of the pieces can change throughout the course of a game - that Matisse played chess on his wall in Vence. Against a gridded board of coloured sheets, he moved plentiful pawns in the form of varied leaves, rarer silhouette shapes that we might think of as rooks, bishops or knights, and the unique instances of a bird or a shark, his version of a queen or a king. Thanks to a second photograph (p.38), we can study the progression of the master's moves. And our foreknowledge of the endgame, when the pieces have left the board as autonomous works, we can observe how these fluid signs shift towards their ultimate significations."                                
This joyous exhibition is on until 7 September 2014 at Tate Modern, so there is just a fortnight left to see it before it goes (tip for our American friends) to the Museum of Modern Art in New York  from 25 October 2014 to 9 February 2015.

If you get to Tate Modern at all, drop into the revelatory Malevich exhibition, and as you gaze at the game-changer below, wonder if chess was his inspiration.

Kazimir Malevich, Black Square (1915),
Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
From here 

Acknowledgement.
Extract from Samantha Friedman Game and Endgame in Henri Matisse, The Cut-Outs (2014) Tate Publishing.

Note: none of the three works at the top of the post is in the Matisse exhibition.

Chess in Art Index     


1 comment:

James McCarthy said...

camiocamWhat an interesting contribution to the blog........and no mention of penguins!