The Painter as Architect: Two Decorative Commissions by Henri Matisse Open Access

Partin III, Will (2013)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/2r36tx93f?locale=en
Published

Abstract

This document makes two interventions and one addition to the literature surrounding Matisse, Mallarmé, and modernism at large. The first intervention is a set of formal claims regarding two of Matisse's best-known commissions: the Barnes Dance and the St. Petersburg Dance. I argue that the scholarly reception and canonization of Dance (II) has overemphasized the work's identity as a moveable easel painting at the expense of Matisse's conception of the work in a larger decorative context. Similarly, I claim that the Barnes Dance has been seen almost exclusively in terms of its site-specificity and architectural integration. As a result, the elements of the work that allude to its place in the tradition of European easel painting have been largely overlooked. Both Dance commissions attempt to exemplify two competing ideals, the decorative and the painterly, in hopes of creating an art object that is painting and architecture.

I also claim that the poetry and poetics of Stéphane Mallarmé have been misrepresented in contemporary scholarship. Mallarmé's "impersonality" has frequently been misread as an invitation to the viewer's free response. As I argue, a better account is offered by Umberto Eco's "The Open Work," which argued that works of art are receptive to the viewer's imaginative life, but only within terms dictated by the artist. I connect Mallarmé's philosophies of composition, suggestion, and expression with those of Matisse. Both artists were committed to expression not through the Romantic notions of "lyric breath" or "passion bursting from a human face" but through composition. By "yielding initiative to the words", or taking inspiration from the nature of painting as a medium, both men sought to create objects that were themselves expressive. In other words, they saw their works as suggestive in the sense that Eco describes.

Finally, because of decoration's well-established association with suggestion in fin-de-siécle Europe, I claim that my formal arguments are emblematic of the conceptual duality described in chapter two. By fusing decoration with easel painting, Matisse also combined a tradition that had come to be associated with the viewer's free response with one that preserved authorial intent.

Table of Contents

Chapter

1. INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2

2. DANCE, DECORATION, AND ENVIRONMENTAL DESIGN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6

3. ON THE FALSE ORIGINS OF VIEWER DRIVEN AESTHETICS . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16

4. PLACE, PAINTING, AND THE BARNES DANCE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26

5. CONCLUSION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36

6. BIBLIOGRAPHY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .38

About this Honors Thesis

Rights statement
  • Permission granted by the author to include this thesis or dissertation in this repository. All rights reserved by the author. Please contact the author for information regarding the reproduction and use of this thesis or dissertation.
School
Department
Degree
Submission
Language
  • English
Research field
Keyword
Committee Chair / Thesis Advisor
Committee Members
Last modified

Primary PDF

Supplemental Files