"...All I Thought of Was Making My Colors Sing" & 13 Other Quotes from Henri Matisse

"...All I Thought of Was Making My Colors Sing" & 13 Other Quotes from Henri Matisse

The Denver Art Museum exhibition Matisse and Friends showcases 14 extraordinary works of art from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Henri Matisse, who is represented by four works in the show, was one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century and a central figure in the radical movement known as "fauvism" (fauve is French for wild beast). Here are a few great quotes that get at his experimental and expressive nature.

  1. “What I want is an art of equilibrium, of purity and tranquility, free from unsettling or disturbing subjects, so that all those who work with their brains, and this includes business men as well as artists and writers, will look on it as something soothing, a kind of cerebral sedative as relaxing in its way as a comfortable armchair.”
  2. “Working before a soul-stirring landscape, all I thought of was making my colors sing, without paying any heed to rules and regulations. “
  3. “The chief aim of color should be to serve expression.”
  4. “When I apply my colors, I have no favorites. I respond to the expressive qualities of my colors in a purely instinctive way…My choice of them is made without the benefit of any scientific theory; it is based on observation, on feeling, on experience, and on my own sensitivity.”
  5. “What characterized fauvism was that we rejected imitative colors, and that with pure colors we obtained stronger reactionsmore striking reactions.”
  6. “Fauvism enabled me to test out my resources. My idea was to place blue, red, and green side by side and assemble them in an expressive, constructive way. It was the outcome of an inner compulsion growing more and more insistent, of a deliberate decision.”
  7. “What I am after, above all, is expression.”
  8. “I can make no distinction between the sense I have in life and the manner in which I express it.”
  9. “My choice is based on observation, on feeling, on experience, and on my own sensitivity. I simply try to put on colors that will give a certain feeling.”
  10. “These were the ideas we had then: construction by means of colored surfaces. A desire for a greater intensity of color, the actual quality of the paint being of minor interest. Reaction again the representation of light by a diffusion of local colors. Light was not suppressed, rather it was expressed by a conjunction of intensely colored surfaces.”
  11. “For me expression does not reside in passion, which breaks out on a face or is indicated by a violent gesture. It is in the whole arrangement of my picture: the place occupied by the body, the empty spaces around it, the proportions, all have their part. Composition is the art of arranging in a decorative manner the various elements which express the painter’s feelings and ideas. Anything that is of no use in the picture from this point of view is of its nature harmful.”
  12. “When I have worked out all my tonal relationships, the result should be a living harmony of colors comparable to that of a musical composition.”
  13. “This is the starting point of fauvism, the courage to return to the purity of means.”
  14. “Fauve painting is not everything, but it is the foundation of everything.”

Image credit: Henri Matisse, French (1869 – 1954), Woman Seated in an Armchair, 1940. Oil on canvas; overall: 54 x 65.1 cm (21 1/4 x 25 5/8 in.), framed: 73 x 84.4 x 5.7 cm (28 3/4 x 33 1/4 x 2 1/4 in.). Given in loving memory of her husband, Taft Schreiber, by Rita Schreiber, 1989.31.1. © 2014 Succession H. Matisse / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Danielle St. Peter is the interpretive specialist for modern and contemporary art at the Denver Art Museum, as well as the manager of tour programs. She has been with the DAM since June 2013.

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