Henri Cartier-Bresson’s "Henri Matisse, Vence, France, 1944," at Afterimage Gallery, Dallas.
Not only will Henri Cartier-Bresson’s iconic photograph of Henri Matisse rock you back on your heels, it’s closer than you imagined — in the Dallas Quadrangle, to be exact.
Matisse’s paintings are enough to make anyone chuck glamorous interiors for citrus varietals and a Moorish flair for geometrically arranged tiles. Wave your credit card all you like, and you’ll never be able to pay the price of being delivered into the sumptuous experience of palm fronds luxuriating in sunlight or the exotica of urns choking with jammed blooms. In lieu of mere cash, it takes supreme finesse to help onlookers find the mystical within the mundane, but that is precisely what Matisse’s work does — and quite effortlessly, to boot.
The famous French painter cultivates a brand of beauty daubed with Oriental excess and the voluptuousness of sheer idleness. His version of North Africa and the South of France are twin Edenic worlds that spark and flame in the guise of vegetation, lemons on a plate and chevron-shaped textile patterns. This is the lovely currency of daily life that’s far more thrilling than spendy suites loaded with media centers and towel warmers. To quote Shakespeare’s dramatically transformed King Lear at the end of the eponymous play, when we are taught to mine the richness of small things, we “sing like birds in a cage and take upon ourselves the mystery of things.” It is precisely that kind of gift, that brand of Matisse-like cosseted magic, that celebrated French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson captured on film in 1944, a mere decade before the painter’s death.
In his final years, Matisse was situated in apartments in Vence, a village located between Nice and Antibes. Abandoned by his wife and children, he continued to work avidly, and Picasso and his companion Françoise Gilot became frequent visitors to his quarters. Thus, Matisse’s doves became part of Picasso’s signature work — but ultimately they also became an integral part of a photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson that tells us volumes about Matisse’s imagination and what he held most dear. Known to the trade as Matisse with Doves, Bresson’s fabulous image shows the artist sitting in a chair with a large sketchbook in his lap. He holds a dove in his left hand and draws it as he sits swaddled in layers of textiles. He leans against a pillow reminiscent of animal skin while wearing a sweater, scarf, shawl and headband — all of which are characteristically exotic. The whole shebang becomes part of the painter’s marvelously rich world, rife with white doves, angled sunlight and glinting surfaces. However, it also parses the act of looking, which seems to be thoroughly entwined with the act of loving. In fact, has any painter ever been more extravagantly infatuated with water, light, flora and fauna? Cartier-Bresson captured this love affair with things with an acuity and loveliness that matches that of Matisse himself.
Said he: “Photographier: c’est dans un même instant et en une fraction de seconde reconnaître un fait et l’organisation rigoureuse de formes perçues visuellement qui expriment et signifient ce fait.” (“To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms, which give that event its proper expression.”)
Thus, the shape of birdcages, the drape of fabric and the contour of shadows on surfaces in the photograph conspire to remand a world, circa 1944, to us now — whole and entire. To possess this photograph of Matisse at Vence would be akin to owning a permanent vector into a gloriously lyric world. Two geniuses: Matisse and Cartier-Bresson. It’s almost too much to bear — unless you, too, opt to fall in love with their world with abandon.
Afterimage Gallery, located in Dallas’ Uptown enclave, The Quadrangle, can deliver a signed print of this extraordinary image (and aesthetic experience) to the door of serious collectors in just a few days. So why not dive deeply? The price is $23,000, thus proving what we all know: Love never comes cheaply.