Russell, Matisse and Monet: Colour Revolutionaries

There is so much to say about colour and we must resist the temptation not to go on for too long. But a little on the Colour Revolution which started with Monet and the Impressionists but burst into life with Matisse and the Fauvists.

But first a glimpse of the way colour was used to portray woman from the mid 1800s into the 1930s. In 1866 Monet created Woman in a Green Dress with none of his glorious subtle control of colour evident.

By 1886 Monet was perceiving his female subjects like this with his familiar delicate pastel shades: Study of a Woman Outdoors: Woman with a Parasol, Facing Left. Note that this was painted before cataracts began to affect the way Monet perceived colour.
But by 1937 Matisse had turned the art world on its head using colour to produce works such as Woman in a Purple Coat.

Henri Matisse (1869-1954) is credited with revolutionising attitudes towards colour. But we know from Jane’s blog on the Australian Impressionist John Russell, Matisse credited Russell with teaching him a different way to look at colour. So let's take a little more of a look at the works by John Russell as we see him in a new light.

Those of us who have experienced it can understand the impact the Clear Mediterranean Light has on the mind of an the artist as it did on Russell. Look at the mix of colours chosen by him for In the Afternoon with a purple shadowed foreground, orange middle ground, a stripe of blue ocean, mauve and white mountains in the background, and a turquoise sky. Fabulous isn't it?

From the research done by the Art Gallery of New South Wales we learn that Russell worked on lightening his palette and using colour as a texture through the application of thickly layered paint. As pointed out by the NSW Art Gallery every stroke was carefully considered contrary to the popular belief that Impressionists painted spontaneously. Russell in fact repainted In the Afternoon in his desire to achieve more vibrant colours!

Russell engaged in the Impressionists' desire to capture the changing effects of light and the impact of this on the colours to use. Compare the above painting by Russell to its pair In the Morning and note the use of the mauves, touches of violet, purple/blues which are the morning colours.
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

And now we arrive at Henri Matisse who changed his style after his time on Belle Ile in the late 1890s and meeting John Russell and Russell's friend Vincent- as in Vincent van Gogh! Vincent also had something to say to Henri about how to improve the colours on his palette! Here we see how Henri was painting before meeting John and Vincent and enjoying the Mediterranean light and colours. Personally I love these earthy tones but nothing like the Matisse colours we have come to know.
(Source: Wikipedia)

And this is Rochers Belle Ile (1897) which is showing some of the changes in Matisse's palette towards more vibrancy.
(Source: Artnet)

By the early 1900s Matisse's palette is vibrant. Les Toits de Collioure is an example of Matisse's style during his early period of Fauvism which lead the way into Cubism, Expressionism and the world of abstract art.

The Fauvists *shared the use of intense colour as a vehicle for describing light and space, and redefined pure colour and form as a means of communicating the artist's emotional state.(

Towards the end of his painting life, Matisse sometimes returned to more sombre colours as illustrated in Odalisque (1920-21). Perhaps these paintings reflect the troubles and sadness that were in his life at this time as he fought cancer and problems in his personal life.

But then, physically unable to paint and sculpt because of ill health, but determined to remain a creator, Matisse turned to making cut paper collages, pre-painted by his assistants: and the explosion of colour returned with defiance! This work is titled Sorrow of the Kings completed in 1952 just two years before Matisse’s death.

I hope you have enjoyed this journey into the world of colour. Do remember however that before Matisse and Russell, Monet had already begun to question the way colours were being used. A little more reading for the devotees of colour and Monet.

I do have a little more to say on colour- the colour orange! Something in the skies above Australia a couple of days ago reminded of the power of Orange, Orange/Red and Red. Talk to you all tomorrow.

Anne Newman

Oil Painter in realistic genre style, predominantly buildings and people. To continue the discussion contact Anne on or phone +61 407 516 522

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Subscribe to Anne Newman Artist

Get the latest posts delivered right to your inbox.

or subscribe via RSS with Feedly!