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30 Minutes with Matisse

ecohn's picture

     Within the beautiful modern architecture of the Barnes Foundation, hundreds of insanely famous artists and masterpieces are showcased. After a few hours of being overwhelmed by the different rooms, I decided to sit down for a bit. I rested on a bench in front of a giant painting by Henri Matisse. I stared at the work, not especially liking what I saw. As I sat there, however,  the piece grew on me, and before I knew it, thirty minutes had passed. 

Some things I noticed from looking at the painting:

The colors are very vibrant. The contrasting dark green versus pink versus teal drew my attention to it in the first place. When I first glanced at it, it appeared gaudy, clown-like, and like a cry for attention, but I soon noticed the smaller details, like the shading on the man’s face, which showed true skill.

Although the painting at first seemed simple, in looking at the “Riffian’s” face, I saw many details with the shading and facial hair and emotion. The shading was in very geometric patterns, and wasn’t very well blended, which reflected the overall style of the painting—the lines between colors were pretty clear. The facial hair of the man also interested me. He seemed to have sideburns, a moustache, and a beard. The combination of the three made me think of the man as somewhat militaristic. The man in the portrait seems to be looking off to his right a bit, which made me think it was an untrusting gaze, somewhat skeptical look.

Looking at the man’s clothes, I saw the brightly colored coat, which seemed expensive, and the slippers, which seem like a luxury item, so I would hypothesize that the man in the painting is upper class. Looking at his hat, and what looks like the strap of a messenger bag, I again thought he seemed to be part of the militia. His wide stance also made me think that he might be in an army of some sort.

Researching this painting later on, I’ve found that many of my hypotheses were incorrect. Apparently, Matisse was visiting Morocco whilst painting this piece, and “Riffian” refers to the nationality of the man in the painting, as opposed to a word akin to “ruffian”, as I had assumed. Apparently, “Rif” is an Arabic word, and means “edge of a cultivated area”. A Riffian is a person who lives in these areas. Their lives are harsh because they live without many resources, and far from cities. Thus, my hypothesis about the man being upper class was proven wrong.