Notes on Pablo Picasso's Femme Couchee Sur un Divan Bleu (1960) and Henri Matisse's Lorette a la Tasse de Cafe, (1917)
I viewed these two paintings at an exhibition at the Pierre Gannada Foundation in Martigny, the Valais, Switzerland. Painted 43 years apart, Matisse's near the end of the first world war and Picasso's 15 years after World War II, one might be forgiven for thinking the paintings are different in content and style. Matisse, near the end of his fauvist period, but still expressing his view of life in sinuous lines and strong, but fluid, use of colour, Picasso, still loyal to cubism, his woman dissected and pieced together.
The two painters had painted in a similar style in the early 1900s; Matisse's still lives, particular Nu Bleu, 1904, wouldn't be out of place in Picasso's 'blue period'. There is some similarity, also, in colour and content, with Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907 and Matisse's pink version of The Dance, 1910. And the two artists experimented in their later periods with a variety of cut and paste techniques, Picasso experimenting with collage and Matisse decoupage.
But the two paintings above seem to represent both painters having settled into opposite and distinctive modes of theory and practice. Matisse, having rejected cubism for an aesthetic of pure beauty (he is like Renoir in this regard), pure colours and an expressive decorative manner that allows him to leave the first world war essentially unacknowledged in his work of this period; and Picasso, cubist, modernist, political and aware, since the bombing of Guernica, that the mechanized warfare of the second world war meant the world, and therefore art, could never be the same again.
However, although Picasso's woman is fragmented and misshapen in true Cubist style, and Matisse's Lorette still shows the influence of Pissarro's use of colour and the techniques of neo-impressionism, the paintings have much in common and, I argue, are inhabiting two sides of the same canvas.
The women are reclining in different directions, but couldn't this effect be a kind of distorted mirroring or folio-like transposition of the same image? They both have curves and roundness in common. Both images have a sense of falling apart, a dishevelled or re-arranged falling apartness, as if Picasso's woman is put together after a recent fall and Matisse's woman having just fallen, perhaps a swooning fall. The feet and legs are crossed at right angles in both paintings; both are in sexualised poses, feminine and erotic. There is a similar use of curves and contours in both paintings, a similar overall sweep of movement, a sweep of line. There is a blue floor in Picasso's painting and Matisse's Lorette wears a lilac dress. In both paintings the background is a washed-out, yellowish-green. The right arm of Picasso's woman and the left arm of Lorette hold the chin. They both have black long hair. The left foot of Picasso's woman and the right foot of Lorette are placed firmly on the floor. Both women seem as if they are waiting? Or bearing weight?
I am saying the woman here is the same woman, a woman in a collapsed and disintegrating state made to bear the weight of the world's destruction. The only thing separating the two paintings is the atomic bomb.