Matisse painted Goldfish at home in Issy-les-Moulineaux, near Paris.
This oil on
canvas painting belongs to a series that Matisse produced between spring and early
Completed seven years after Matisse’s famous 1905 exhibition, this painting retains
some of the vibrant colour and solid linear patterns associated with Fauves.
However, it is a more subtle representation than other earlier works, combining
colours and shapes in symphonic unity.
Beckoning the viewer towards the scene, the bright orange fish are central to the
canvas against a colourful backdrop. The foliage as well as the ornamental railing or
bench rail mimic the curves in the table on which the goldfish bowl perches. The
entire composition feels balanced and the use of colours exudes a sense of soothing
Goldfish became a recurring theme for Matisse. Appearing in nine of his paintings, as
well as in his sketches and printworks. The goldfish immediately attract attention due
to their colour. The vibrant orange strongly contrasts with the more subdued pinks
and greens that surround the fish bowl and the sea green background. As
complementary colours, when placed next to each other, blue and orange, as well as
green and red, really set each other off.
Used extensively by the Fauves, this technique is particularly striking in Matisse’s
earlier canvas Le Bonheur de Vivre. Although he later softened his palette, the bold
orange is reminiscent of Matisse’s fauvist years, which continued to influence his use
of colour until he died.
Matisse was perhaps interested in goldfish following a recent trip to Tangier,
Morocco where he observed locals daydreaming whilst peering into goldfish bowls.
He admired the Moroccans’ relaxed, contemplative lifestyle. For Matisse, the goldfish
came to symbolise this serene state of mind. It also became a symbol of a paradise
lost, a subject frequently represented in art.
This painting is an illustration of some of the major themes in Matisse’s painting: his
use of complementary colours, his search for an idyllic paradise, his quest for
contemplative relaxation for the observer and his complex construction of pictorial
Tom Gurney in an art history expert. He received a BSc (Hons) degree from Salford University, UK, and has also studied famous artists and art movements for over 20 years. Tom has also published a number of books related to art history and continues to contribute to a number of different art websites. You can read more on Tom Gurney here.