The Red Room

the dessert, harmony in red, matisse

The Dessert (Harmony in Red) by Henri Matisse. 1908

Red Shift: Impregnation. Cildo Meireles. 1967-84.

Red Shift: Impregnation. Cildo Meireles. 1967-84.

The red-room was a square chamber, very seldom slept in, I might say never, indeed, unless when a chance influx of visitors at Gateshead Hall rendered it necessary to turn to account all the accommodation it contained:  yet it was one of the largest and stateliest chambers in the mansion.  A bed supported on massive pillars of mahogany, hung with curtains of deep red damask, stood out like a tabernacle in the centre; the two large windows, with their blinds always drawn down, were half shrouded in festoons and falls of similar drapery; the carpet was red; the table at the foot of the bed was covered with a crimson cloth; the walls were a soft fawn colour with a blush of pink in it; the wardrobe, the toilet-table, the chairs were of darkly polished old mahogany.  Out of these deep surrounding shades rose high, and glared white, the piled-up mattresses and pillows of the bed, spread with a snowy Marseilles counterpane.  Scarcely less prominent was an ample cushioned easy-chair near the head of the bed, also white, with a footstool before it; and looking, as I thought, like a pale throne.

This room was chill, because it seldom had a fire; it was silent, because remote from the nursery and kitchen; solemn, because it was known to be so seldom entered.  The house-maid alone came here on Saturdays, to wipe from the mirrors and the furniture a week’s quiet dust:  and Mrs. Reed herself, at far intervals, visited it to review the contents of a certain secret drawer in the wardrobe, where were stored divers parchments, her jewel-casket, and a miniature of her deceased husband; and in those last words lies the secret of the red-room–the spell which kept it so lonely in spite of its grandeur.

Mr. Reed had been dead nine years:  it was in this chamber he breathed his last; here he lay in state; hence his coffin was borne by the undertaker’s men; and, since that day, a sense of dreary consecration had guarded it from frequent intrusion.

From Jane Eyre by Charlote Brontë

The Parakeet and the Mermaid

‘It was like drawing, but with scissors… there was sensuality in the cutting’

La Perruche et la Sirène (The Parakeet and the Mermaid) is one of the greatest examples of Henri Matisse’s cut-out works. The cut-out is technically related to the collage. Matisse executed this work by snipping forms from paper coloured in one hue. The total work contains cut-out forms in contrasting colours on a white surface. He began this method in 1940, but in his last years this medium dominated all his work. The imagery of this piece consists of leaves, pomegranates and two forms that appear only once. These two forms represent a parakeet on the left and a mermaid on the right side, from which the title of the work derives. The space surrounding the objects is just as important as the objects themselves. Matisse created this monumental cut-out while recuperating from a major operation which prevented him working in his studio. Consequently Matisse referred to this work as ‘a little garden all around me where I can walk’.

Text from The Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

  To learn more about Matisse’s cut-outs, visit MoMA’s interactive page

La Danse

A Visual History

Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing. William Blake. circa 1786

Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing. William Blake. circa 1786.

Dance (I). Henri Matisse. 1909.

La Danse (I). Henri Matisse. 1909.

Dance (II) Matisse. 1909/10

La Danse. Henri Matisse. 1909/10

Music. Henri Matisse. 1910

La Musique. Henri Matisse. 1910

La Danse with Nasturtiums. Matisse. 1912.

La Danse with Nasturtiums. Henri Matisse. 1912.


Interior with Egyptian Curtain. Henri Matisse. 1948.

Interior with Egyptian Curtain. Henri Matisse. 1948.

Trivaux Pond

Trivaux Pond. Henri Matisse. 1916-7.

Trivaux Pond. Henri Matisse. 1916-7.

Madame de Pompadour

Madame de Pompadour. Henri Matisse. 1951.

Madame de Pompadour. Henri Matisse. 1951.

Matisse: La Gerbe

La Gerbe. Henri Matisse. 1953.

La Gerbe. Henri Matisse. 1953.

La Gerbe (The Sheaf) is a large-scale ceramic mural by Henri Matisse which was commissioned in the early 1950s by Sidney and Frances Brody for their new home in California. The mural occupied a large empty wall in their sunny patio, and was the centrepiece of their home. Apart from La Gerbe, the Brodys had an extraordinary collection of modern art which included works by Picasso, Braque, Giacometti, Calder, and Moore, all of which were displayed in their elegant home designed by Quincy Jones.

Frances described the mural as having “a marvellous luminosity” and said “its simplicity of design never fails to bring warmth, gaiety, color and beauty to an area observed by all who pass through any part of the house. This is truly the heart of our home.”

La Gerbe in the Brody residence

La Gerbe in the Brody residence

LACMA has published the amusing account Frances Brody wrote on her experience commissioning the ceramic mural from Matisse. Click here to read it. The mural Apollo (pictured below) was Matisse’s initial proposal for the Brodys’ commission, they rejected it and persuaded him to make a new design. Frances wrote in the manuscript that she “disliked it intensely”, luckily she was thrilled with his next proposal. This piece is now in the Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio. Personally, I think its beautiful also, but maybe not as appropriate for the setting.

Apollo. Henri Matisse. 1953.

Apollo. Henri Matisse. 1953.

In 2010, after Frances’ death, La Gerbe was relocated (a very difficult operation considering its weight of 1,000 Kg.) to LACMA, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

It doesn’t look half as magical without the tree and the warm and comfortable ambiance, but still, if it means more people can enjoy it, it’s ok with me. There’s still something wonderful and fulfilling about walking through an art museum/gallery, standing and gazing at works of art. I hope someday I’ll stand in front of this one! It makes me wonder, although Matisse is one of my all-time favourite artists, and I’m in love with this mural, if I lived with it, would it lose its magic?

La Gerbe as displayed in LACMA

La Gerbe as displayed in LACMA

Images thanks to LACMA

The Joy of Life

Another year has passed, so here’s to The Joy of Life…


Le Bonheur de Vivre by Henri Matisse