“I Had Not Yet Begun to Sing”

May 26, 2011

The critic Rosamond Bernier tells of being with Matisse when he had just seen a documentary film of himself at work. He was highly displeased to observe that he went through elaborate motions with the pencil above the surface of the paper before he brought them in contact. His almost magician-like motions had been unconscious but habitual. Miss Bernier describes it as Matisse’s means of establishing the relationship between his subject (in all its levels of reality) and the dimensions of the paper. In other words, he was reconciling the infinite with the finite—exactly the task that the best medieval chanters were said to set for themselves. And how did Matisse—evidently embarrassed at having been caught in his sacred and private process—account for it? He resorted to musical language: “Je n’avais pas encore commencé à chanter.”

Singer he may have been, but Matisse was also a composer.

Thanks to Ana María Machado for pointing me to the photos at the link.

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