Henri Matisse's Great Leap Forward
Goldfish and Palette, 1914
A spectacular new show opening at the Art Institute of Chicago, "Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917" focuses on four critical years in the artist's development, when he began to produce pictures based on what he called the "methods of modern construction." The exhibit illustrates how the artist struggled to mount a personal response to the challenge of Cubism, during which he approached the very edge of abstraction. Things and people were reduced to concise signs of themselves, but in the end Matisse always remained attached to the visible world. In Goldfish and Palette, for example, light and shadow, form and space, are distilled into ambiguous stage flats. The planes of color press tight against the surface of the picture, and those passages of black, white and blue, don't so much depict light and shadow as conduct their essences into the canvas. At the same time, they act as compositional load bearers, structuring the picture into geometric zones that frame the fish bowl, the highly abstracted orange fish and, to the right, the painter's white palette with his thumb stuck through it.