Oil on canvas
Unframed: 45 x 35 cm (17 11/16 x 13 3/4 in.)
Nancy F. and Joseph P. Keithley Collection Gift 2020.111
© Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Henri Matisse, leader of the French Fauves (“Wild Beasts”), advocated the complete liberation of color from natural appearances and reducing formal elements to absolute essentials. “What I dream of,” he wrote, “is an art of balance, purity, and serenity.” In Tulips a vase of flowers floats mysteriously against fields of thinly applied turquoise, aqua, and lavender. While the colorful tulips express a joyful sentiment, the vase rests precariously on a planar shape, perhaps a tabletop. The uncertainty of the vase’s position as it extends over the edge, and whether the tabletop continues to the right through a plane of transparent color, together with the strange black rectangle in the background, inserts a contravening feeling of disquiet and visual tension into the time-honored genre of still-life painting.
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