“Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917” opens next week at the Museum of Modern Art. It shows off new advances in technology, with Matisse’s work as the test subject. It features 26 pieces that were examined with new digital imaging techniques, laser scanning, ultraviolet illumination, and computer software to determine changes Matisse made to the works over their construction. (For more on the upcoming exhibit, see the New York Times article “Electronic Insights Into Matisse’s Technique.)
It’s truly amazing that we now have the technology to look deep through layers of paint to ascertain insights into an artist’s changing outlook as the painting progressed.
Curators could see changes in the outlines of figures beneath the painting’s surface, revealing a constantly shifting landscape of figures, with stronger lines and more intense tones over time.
The article also reminded me of how artists’ works are perfect anthropological time capsules. Matisse, as other artists, were moved in their subject and construction techniques by the current social and political climate. During WWI, for example, Matisse reflected a grave atmosphere and opted for neutral, less flamboyant colors. The painting above, Mme Matisse: Madras Rouge (The Red Madras Headress), created by Matisse in the summer of 1907, clearly shows a pre-war oeuvre.