Thursday, April 1, 2010

The irony of Matisse’s foliating shapes?

On display in the Atlantic Wall Museum, Ouistreham, Normandy, France, is this photograph, which shows a camouflaged German bunker positioned on the Normandy coast in the early 1940s. In the Battle of Normandy, World War II, Ouistreham marked the eastern edge of Sword Beach. The museum is also called the “Le Grand Bunker” and served, during the War, as a formidable German post strategically guarding the entry to the Port of Caen. The photo caption states, “Fire-control post camouflaged with regular patterns and covered with camouflage netting.” However the patterns are reminiscent of Henri Matisse’s leafy shapes along with the contrast of positive and negative space.

The irony of juxtaposing Matisse’s cutouts with German camouflage came to mind while reading Riva Castleman’s Introduction to Matisse’s “Jazz” book published by George Braziller in 1983. Castleman writes:
During the [German] Occupation Matisse was burdened not only by poor health but also by the strain of war and concern for the safety of his family. (Mme. Matisse was interned by the Gestapo and their daughter Marguerite was about to be deported.)

Knife Thrower, 1947, 6 color print
16.75 x 25.5 inches © Greg Kucera Gallery

Matisse began to conceptualize the “Jazz” book during the War and completed it, in 1947, after the War ended. A two-page piece in the book is called the “Knife Thrower”. Greg Kucera in his essay “Context for the Creation of Jazz” provides this insight:
The victor/victim duality of war is symbolized in the complementary but opposing dangers expressed in two related prints; self-inflicted danger in the case of the sword swallower and victimization at the hands of another in the depiction of the knife thrower and assistant.

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