Henri Mattise and Vincent Van Gogh are known as one to the most essential pair of artists it the 20th century world of arts. Both were famed for an artistic, raw and non-conforming technique they used to their painting. One fundamental concept that sprung up during Van Gogh and Henri Mattise’s time was the idea of fauvism. The art movement got inspired by talented artists like Paul Cezanne and Van Gogh. Termed as the Fauves, which loosely meant “wild beasts”, they had similar interests with regards to the style they applied in their paintings. The most prominent of the Fauves is Mattise who since early adulthood had a strong inclination towards raw and unadulterated self-expression. His descriptions of light and space through the use of intense bright colors was unusual for his time and used this art techniques as a vehicle for expressing the emotional state of an artist.
Fauvism’s essential narrative was the redefining of color as an instrument of representation and description to making it more independent and distinct element on the canvas. The result is that color could be used to express and emotion and establish a framework within a work of art without necessarily bringing to the fore the accurate depiction of an object as it exists in the real world. Also, it added to the balance of the work by making forms into more simplistic representations and underscoring the flatness that the canvas brought out in turn. Thus, arts of work had a pictorial space within which color held a significant element which also had an important role to play in expressionism.
Mattise is well famed for his work, “La Femme au chapeau,” had its first display in 1905 at the Salon d’Automne in France. This painting caused much controversy leading to the engendering of an art movement in the twentieth century known as the Fauvism Movement (Matisse, 4). This term was after that used to describe artists who used bright and expressive colors in their artworks. The Femme au chapeau painting carries with it an ambiance of natural and evocative art. The painting is of his wife Amélie Parayre who was a hat maker and supported the family and Mattise’s painting profession that wasn’t earning him much. Although the painting is very expressive and passionate with the kind of strokes applied to Parayre’s face, one can’t fail to notice a cold calculation and intentional procedure come to the fore.
On the other hand, Vincent van Gogh is well known for his self-portraits that aimed at finding the expression of human faces. Between the years of 1886 to 1888, he painted about twenty portraits of himself. Due to lack of funds to finance a model for his painting work, he had to master painting himself which necessitated him finding a clear mirror with which he could look at himself as the model. His famous work, Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat, was produced in 1887. His self-portrait painting acted as a form of self-reflection and introspection, financial gain and as an opportunity to hone his painting skills.
An artist called Gauguin influenced Vincent van Gogh’s emerging style of using colors as a form of expression of emotions rather than a literal representation of a real-world object. Since then, his paintings acquired a more abstract and attractive ambiance that a more literal one. His works became more of an emotional reaction to subjects through the use of wild brush strokes and vibrant color straight from the tube with no other artist undertaking such a technique at the time. (Artble). He once remarked of his insistence on using color to express himself emphatically than merely reproducing what was before him.
One distinct aspect that makes the work of Matisse and Van Gogh similar is the use of bright colors in the painting. In Mattise’s “La Femme au chapeau,” we observe the use of light brushwork which is loose and unregulated. The colors used are bright and bold with the full artwork looking like an unfinished piece even though it is a complete piece of art. Also, the dress and the hat in Henri Mattise’s “Woman with a Hat” are very well embellished with bright hues of green and purple further bringing out this extravagance of colors.
When compared with Vincent van Gogh’s “Self Portrait with a Straw Hat,” the similarity is easily deciphered from the bright colors he uses on this portrait and his straw hat, masterfully painted with long parallel strokes of yellow (Li, 8). The sensationalism in color noticed in his use of complementary colors on the strokes he uses for his beard of orange and red hues. Also, the complimentary red and green colors, further seen in the left eye which as a dab of green and is complemented by the red on his brow.
The use of complementary colors is very prominent in these two paintings and is instrumental in augmenting the expression that is communicated by these two artists. The color used to paint Mattise’s wife dress is bright in blue and green which is a contrast to the supposed black color he joked about her wearing during the time of painting. In both of these works of art, the objective of bright colors is to capture the imagination and attention of a person and conveys emotions as well as an abstract meaning. Mattise uses many colors many colors to create various patterns on the woman’s hat and her dress. Also, Vincent van Gogh also is a master of contrasts in the way he brings out the difference between the canvas backgrounds which has strokes of blue color with the bright yellow of the hat. This complementary and opposition at the same time of vivid colors is meant to create a conundrum and vibration of hues.
Another striking similarity is the message and meaning behind the deep and bright colors both artists use in their paintings. The kind of color used for each element on the portraits are symbols of something real and abstract at the same time. Looking at Vincent van Gogh’s painting, it is possible that the painter is suffering from emotional distress and is feeling unwell in the body. Looking at the three-quarter portrait of Van Gogh, the appearance is that he might be in physical pain judging from the tight mouth and deep shadows depicted on his face. Also, the contrast in the color of both the right and left eye creates a sort of haunted gaze could be a paradoxical plea for help while at the same time pushing us away. Last but not least is the resemblance of the hat to that of a peasant. This is also augmented by his coat overall creating an image of a man who is a laborer in his line of work in artistry.
On the other hand, in Matisse’s painting, the woman is looking somewhat intently under her hat. Her hat is enormous and takes almost a third of the painting. It connotes a sense of fashion which was a popular culture in the twentieth century (Clark, 4). It is a hat that looks grand but at the same time crushing on her head. Creating a shadow over her forehead, it nearly covers all of the red of her hair. The bourgeoisie elegance of the hat carries with it symbolism because his wife was a hat maker and supported her family from income in selling them until the shop went down. In a sense, the hat is supposed to represent the handiwork of Madam Matisse and at the same time convey a message of the livelihood of Henri Matisse. We can also glean symbolism from the painting from what the hat the face beneath represent since both indicate professions that brought income albeit meager in amount. Curiously, one can say that there is some utopian balance in between the hat and that face painting. As such, it is evident that similarities abound as to the symbolism of the arts and elements therein as regards the personal lives of the painters and their ponderings.
One distinct difference in the painting of Henri Matisse and Vincent van Gogh is the influence of other works and artists over their artwork. Japanese culture and prints profoundly influenced Van Gogh’s work. These Asian pieces that he collected while in Paris can be seen on his painting with the way the lapel of his jacket is outlined. Additionally, the brim of his hat is full and round and the jutting protruding nature of his right cheek which is quite similar to most Japanese. Alternatively, Henri Matisse conveys a message of upward and bourgeoisie status from the extravagance in color and embellishment of hue on the hat of the woman. Also, the painted woman is holding a fan close to her chest which sort of tritely enhances her sexuality.
To note is the intentional reason for the use of bright colors in both paintings. The gist from Henri Matisse is that he is more concerned with capturing the elemental significance of colors as opposed to demystifying the persona of his wife. The contrast is the more introspective and persona oriented nature of Vincent van Gogh’s painting which captures the emotions and feelings of what he is going through during that time.
Li, Jia, et al. “Rhythmic brushstrokes distinguish van Gogh from his contemporaries: findings via automated brushstroke extraction.” IEEE transactions on pattern analysis and machine intelligence 34.6 (2012): 1159-1176.
Matisse, Henri, and Jack D. Flam. Matisse on art. Univ of California Press, 1995.
Clark, T. J. “Madame Matisse’s Hat.” London Review of Books 30.16 (2008): 29.