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Matisse's Open Window, Collioure is an icon of early modernism. A small but explosive work, it is celebrated as one of the most important early paintings of the so-called fauve school, a group of artists, including André Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, and Georges Braque, that emerged in 1904. Fauve paintings are distinguished by a startling palette of saturated, unmixed colors and broad brushstrokes. The effect is one of spontaneity, although the works reveal a calculated assimilation of techniques from postimpressionism and neo-impressionism. Open Window represents the very inception of the new manner in Matisse's art. [1] It was painted in Collioure, a small town on the Mediterranean coast of France to which Matisse traveled with Derain in the summer of 1905.

Open Window was exhibited at the landmark Salon d'automne of 1905, where Matisse and other fauve painters were greeted with critical skepticism and public disdain. The "fauve" (savage beast) label itself originated in the art critic Louis Vauxcelles' newspaper review of the exhibition. Vauxcelles, who reproached Matisse for the diminishing coherence of form in his work, praised the artist as "one of the most robustly gifted of today's painters"; his use of the term "fauves," which appears twice, is actually ambiguous: it alludes both to Matisse's fellow painters in Salle VII of the Salon and to the insensitive public, who scorned Matisse's work. Nonetheless, the press was soon referring to Salle VII as a cage aux fauves (cage of wild beasts), and, by 1906, this had become an accepted epithet for Matisse, Derain, and his fellow painters. [2]

The lyrical beauty of Open Window belies the optical and conceptual complexity of the work, in which conventional representation is subordinated throughout by other pictorial concerns. During the time when this work was painted, Derain wrote that even the shadows in Collioure were a "whole world of clarity and luminosity." [3] Matisse courts the maximum intensity of color, essentially eschewing chiaroscuro, the play of light and dark that creates an illusion of volume and spatial depth. Instead, the interior wall surrounding the window is equally divided into broad areas of blue-green and fuchsia, a contrast that is derived from the complementary opposition of green and red on the color wheel (this contrast recurs in the flowerpots at the bottom of the picture). Virtually the same, almost abstract, color relationship occurs in the background of Matisse's The Woman with the Hat (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), also from this period. Further, Open Window also contains a dazzling variety of brushstrokes, from long blended marks to short, staccato touches. Matisse represented each area of the image—the interior of the room, the window itself, the balcony, the harbor view—with a distinctly different handling of the brush, creating an overall surface effect of pulsating cross-rhythms. Finally, the composition of the work is a series of frames within frames: the wall contains the window; the window frames the middle ground; and the balcony crops the landscape.

Comparing a painting to a window has been a conventional trope in art theory since the Renaissance. In making this comparison the very subject of a picture that is only cryptically representational (by the standards of the day), Matisse allowed Open Window, Collioure to epitomize a new direction in modern art, one in which paintings develop an increasing autonomy from the things they depict. The open window (and the painting-window metaphor) would subsequently become a central motif in Matisse's oeuvre.

(Text by Jeffrey Weiss, published in the National Gallery of Art exhibition catalogue, Art for the Nation, 2000)


1. For a lengthy discussion of this painting and its historical context, see Jack Flam, Matisse: The Man and His Art 1868-1918 (Ithaca and London, 1986), 125, 127-129, 132, 134.2. Roger Benjamin, "Fauves in the Landscape of Criticism: Metaphor and Scandal at the Salon," in Judi Freeman, ed., The Fauve Landscape [exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art] (Los Angeles, 1990), 252.3. André Derain, Lettres à Vlaminck (Paris, 1955), 154.


lower right: Henri Matisse


(Galerie Druet, Paris). Pieter Van der Velde [1848-1922], Le Havre, 1906; probably given to his son-in-law, General Réquin, Paris, 1915-1918. Private collection, Paris, in 1949;[1] purchased jointly by (Carstairs Gallery, New York) and (Sidney Janis Gallery, New York);[2] sold 6 August 1952 to Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney, New York;[3] gift 1998 to NGA.

Exhibition History
Salon d'Automne, Paris, 1905, no. 715.
Henri Matisse, Galerie Druet, Paris, 1906, no. 41, as La fenêtre ouverte.
Les Fauves, Museum of Modern Art, New York; Minneapolis Institute of Art; San Francisco Museum of Art; Art Gallery of Toronto, 1952-1953, no. 95, repro.
5 Years of Janis: 5th Anniversary Exhibition, Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, 1953, no. 31, repro.
Paintings from Private Collections, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1955, unnumbered catalogue.
Rétrospective Henri Matisse, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, 1956, no. 15.
Triumph der Farbe: Die Europäischen Fauves, Museum zu Allerheiligen, Schaffhausen, Switzerland; Orangerie des Schlosses Charlottenburg, Berlin, 1959, no. 2, repro.
The John Hay Whitney Collection, Tate Gallery, London, 1960-1961, no. 37, repro.
Matisse, Hayward Gallery, London, 1968, no. 34, repro.
Henri Matisse, Grand Palais, Paris, 1970, no. 60, repro.
The "Wild Beasts": Fauvism and Its Affinities, Museum of Modern Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, 1976, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
Aspects of Twentieth-Century Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1978-1979, no. 36, repro.
Post-Impressionism: Cross Currents in European and American Painting 1880-1906, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1980, no. 156, repro.
The John Hay Whitney Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1983, no. 50, repro.
Henri Matisse: A Retrospective, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1992-1993, no. 61, repro.
Henri Matisse 1904-1917, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1993, no. 19, repro.
Gifts to the Nation from Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1998-1999, no cat.
Art for the Nation: Collecting for a New Century, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2000-2001, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
Fauve Painting from the Permanent Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2004-2005, no cat.
Henri Matisse: Figur Farbe Raum [Henri Matisse: Figure Couleur Espace], Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf; Fondation Beyeler, Basel, 2006-2006, shown only in Basel, unnumbered cat., repro. (Basel/French cat.), fig. 15 (Basel/German cat.).
Matisse and the Fauves, Albertina, Vienna, 2013-2014, no. 27, repro.
Expressionism in Germany and France: From Van Gogh to Kandinsky, Kunsthaus Zürich; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Montreal Museum of Fine Art, 2014-2015, no. 150, pl. 110 (shown only in Los Angeles).
Loan to display with permanent collection, The Phillips Collection, Washington, 2014-2015, no catalogue.
Matisse and Friends: Selected Masterworks from the National Gallery of Art, Denver Art Museum, 2014-2015, no catalogue.
Duthuit, Georges. Les Fauves: Braque, Derain, Van Dongen, Dufy, Friesz, Manguin, Marquet, Matisse, Puy, Vlaminck. Geneva, 1949: repro. 37.
Diehl, Gaston and Agnes Humbert. Henri Matisse. Paris, 1954:33, repro. no. 24.
Rewald, John. "French Paintings in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney." The Connoisseur 134, no. 552 (April 1956):138, repro.
Crespelle, Jean-Paul. Les Fauves. Neuchâtel, 1962:7.
Russell, John. The World of Matisse 1869-1954. New York, 1969: 60, repro. 61.
Aragon, Louis. Henri Matisse, roman. 2 vols. 1971:1:140, repro. no. XVI.
Orienti, Sandra. Matisse. London, New York, Sydney, and Toronto:1971. 20.
Jacobus, John. Henri Matisse. New York, 1973: 110, repro. no. 13.
Edlerfield, John. The Cut-Outs of Henri Matisse. New York, 1978: 15-16, repro. no. 13.
Gowing, Lawrence. Matisse. New York and Toronto, 1979: 51, repro. no. 33.
Schneider, Pierre, Massimo Carra and Xavier Deryng. Tout l'oeuvre peint de Matisse 1904-1928. 1982:no. 40, repro.
Jacobus, John. Henri Matisse. New York, 1983: 69, repro. 70.
Watkins, Nicholas. Matisse. London, 1984: 63, repro. 61.
Guillard, Jacqueline and Maurice. Matisse: Le rythme et la ligne. Paris and New York, 1987: repro. no. 17.
Neret, Gilles. Matisse. 1991:35, repro. 29.
Schneider, Pierre. Matisse. 1992: 220-222, repro. 221.
Labaume, Vincent. Matisse. 1993: repro. no. 38.
Milner, Frank. Henri Matisse. 1994: repro. 40.
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 414-415, no. 345, color repro.
Gariff, David, Eric Denker, and Dennis P. Weller. The World's Most Influential Painters and the Artists They Inspired. Hauppauge, NY, 2009: 150, color repro.
Explore This Work

The vista may look out to a small French fishing port—but, really, this window opens on the future of painting in the twentieth century.

Henri Matisse painted Open Window, Collioure in the summer of 1905, when he and André Derain worked together near the Spanish border. The light-filled scene is vibrant and inviting. Blue-hulled boats float on pink waves below a sky banded with turquoise, pink, and periwinkle. These unnatural colors—Derain would later liken them to “sticks of dynamite”—provoked an outrage that year at the Salon d'Automne in Paris.

Eyewitness accounts tell of laughter emanating from the room where this painting hung with similarly bold works by Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, and others. Gertrude Stein, avant-garde writer and collector, reported that some people scratched at the canvases, and a critic, noting the presence of a Renaissance-style statuette in the center of the room, quipped, "Well, well, Donatello among the wild beasts (fauves).” Soon these artists were being called the fauves.  

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The fauves liberated color from any requirements other than those posed by the painting itself. "When I put a green," Matisse would say, "it is not grass. When I put a blue, it is not the sky." Art exerted its own reality. Color was a tool of the painter's artistic intention and expression, uncircumscribed by imitation. Matisse’s imperative was to "interpret nature and submit it to the spirit of the picture." 

Note the logic of his colors. They function in complementary pairs—orange-red masts over blue hulls, red blossoms amid green leaves on the wall, opposing reflections of turquoise and pink. Complements such as these become more intense when seen next to each other. Isolated by bare areas of the canvas, the combinations generate a visual vibrato that keeps our eye fixed on the surface. The angled, out-flung doors invite into the scene, but different brushstrokes in each “zone” set up cross-rhythms that impede recession: wide sweeps in the room’s interior, short wavy lines or staccato dabs in the view beyond.

Self-Portrait of Matisse

Henri Matisse, Self-Portrait, 1937

About the Artist

Introduced to painting while recovering from appendicitis at age 19, Henri Matisse abandoned his job as a law clerk to compose conventional Dutch-inspired still lifes and interiors using a somber palette. After moving from northern France to Paris in 1891, his colors brightened and his style evolved under the influence of Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, and others.

In 1904, while working along the Mediterranean coast, he fully liberated his colors in bold hues that eliminated shadows and defined forms. This experimentation—dubbed fauvism (from “wild beasts”)—was a brief but crucial step in Matisse’s lifelong goal of expression through color. As he traveled throughout North Africa and Moorish Spain from 1906 to 1913, his sense of abstraction heightened, expressed in mural-sized canvases that explored color intensity in relation to human form and studio objects.

During the 1920s, Matisse reverted to more conventional modeling, cohesive space, and blended brushwork, depicting figures in exotic costumes in the textile-sheathed interior of his Nice studio. With a commission to design a mural for the Barnes Collection in Philadelphia, however, Matisse reentered the avant-garde fray.

Throughout the 1930s, his paintings became more boldly decorative as the illusion of depth was compressed into solid planes of color. This culminated in his return to the cutout technique, which he had first explored in designing costumes and scenery for the Ballets Russes in 1919. By cutting sheets of paper painted with meticulously mixed hues, Matisse “painted with scissors.” These ensembles allowed him to continue creating art despite his failing health once he reached in his early 70s. He also translated these shapes—along with a rekindled love of drawing—to book arts.

Throughout his life, Matisse published personal artist statements and dedicated at least an hour a day to writing letters to friends and family. These written and visual records illuminate a man consumed by color, fascinated by pattern, and enamored with the act of creation in wide-ranging materials and forms.



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