The Girl with Green Eyes
Oil on canvas
26 x 20 in. (66 x 50.8 cm.)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

“By 1907, Matisse’s predilection for the Fauvist freedom waned and his interest in the work of Cezanne was rekindled. A new concern for structure appeared in his canvases. In a series of portraits executed between l907 and 1911 he painstakingly worked out compositional problems in which he experimented with various figure/background relationships. While in several paintings in this group the subject is presented against either a plain background, or a ground simply divided horizontally, thus effectively placing the focus on the sitter, in two of the portraits the background and the figure are visually almost equally weighted and the interplay between figure and ground is more complex. The Girl with Green Eyes is one of those compositions.

“The figure and background compete for dominance, yet they are formally linked. The pendulous curve of the sitter’s chin is repeated in the embroidery of her robe and the emphasized contour of the cast of Greek sculpture behind her. The brush handling, whether rendering patterns or broad, fiat areas, is free and expressive. The planes are drawn closer by the repetitive rhythms of the arabesque-like strokes.

“The freedom of the paint handling and coloration provides a foil for the static, frontal pose of the model, who has been positioned strictly vertically, though somewhat to the left of the central axis. Unlike the other portraits of this period, the head is not truncated by the top edge of the canvas. Here the horizontal yellow slash of the hat brim serves this purpose, cutting off the supposed curve of the hair and overlapping the sculpture behind it as well. The face, a chalky pink, pointed oval, gazes out with clear eyes, yet the personality is not revealed. The sitter is but one element in many-faceted composition.

“It is the joyous, audacious color of this portrait, however, which makes the initial impact. Matisse has taken his Fauve palette and made it richer, denser. Gone are the open areas of bare canvas which enlivened and informalized his landscapes and figures of 1905-6. Here, complementary colors are abutted and strident, closely hued areas are juxtaposed. The arcing black outlines, which in Matisse’s later work will take on a life of their own, here intermittently delineate features and set off the brilliant pigments.”


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