Henri Matisse (French, 1869–1954) The Piano Lesson. 1916 Oil on canvas. 96 ½ x 83 ¾. Collection MOMA, NYC
Matisse had been under some pretty intense criticism with the critics of the day and it had been going on for years. This oil was done after his trip to Morocco and it continues Matisse's exploration into more geometrical shapes and a very new visual presentation. The palette is more reserved for Matisse but the large amounts of grey heighten all the colors, even the off-white tones at the upper right. Black is a color too and it is used for outlines, shadows and dark areas. This is a large work done in the studio and Matisse has made a number of painterly and intellectual decisions to produce a challenging and thoughtful work of art.
Here is a detail of the green vertical panel, left side. It appears that Matisse overpainted this area preferring the green shown here. This is a great color selection and it is one of the many components that make this work sing. Note that Matisse didn't get the black scroll work right on the first try, nor was he concerned about how evenly the black lines were put down. You can see where he corrected some of the line work but he allowed the earlier marks to show through. This approach, coupled with the irregular line work, made for a more complex visual effect. It's one of the subtle hallmarks of Matisse's work and it creates more visual sophistication and appeal. The rule is fat over lean: thinned paint under paint out of the tube or with medium added.
Also... don't paint thinned-out oil paint on top of thicker (fatter) paint. Even the master got a little too thin with the green overpainting and it cracked. Well, it does make another interesting surface effect but I'll bet it gave the museum restorers extra work.
I'll be teaching my oil and pastel workshop on the Strategies for Making Fine Art in Denver, Sat-Sun, July 21-22 Complete info