Side project: not-a-matisse

This picture has struck me for longer than I’d realised. I didn’t give it much thought and I had no idea who painted it but it looked bright and rebellious. It turns out that was not far from the truth; it was Matisse’s painting of his wife Amelie in the wild colours of his style, Amelie herself later being arrested (in 1944) for being part of the French resistance.

I’ve taken to challenging myself recently between exercises and assignments to copy a painting (or complete one of the in-the-style-of exercises set by the MoMA Coursera course on post war abstract art) to get a feel fkor how the artist may have worked, and also for some of the techniques that go into making a good painting.

This is my Amelie.

Copy of Portrait of Madame Matisse 1905. Acrylics on duck cotton, approx 30 cm x 50 cm

Acrylics rather than oils but on duck cotton, albeit unstretched and not anchored by anything other than two bulldog clips at the top. I had prepped it with several layers of dilute gesso (white) then gridded the reference photo for proportions. Gridding is really not my preferred way of going about things and on this occasion I was somewhat scuppered by the fact the reference image and the piece of canvas were not in proportion themselves so copying over had an elongating effect on the image. Still, you work with what you have!

I used light colour washes first, some of them complementary to the eventual top layer or taken from hints of an underlayer such as the orange under the red on the left. I also used a wet flannel to pull some of the colour back in places where Matisse’s original had brush strokes that I wasn’t able to replicate because of the medium I was using and possibly the support.

I’m actually a bit chuffed with the result – the colours do what I hoped and all the features are in pretty much the right place. I also like duck cotton a lot, especially the way it absorbs wet medium and washes it in drifts. It actually stops me from piling paint on like layers of a Big Mac with no end in sight. This took around five hours, excluding priming.

Portrait of Madam Matisse. The Green Line. By Henri Matisse 1905. Oil on canvas.


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