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Henri Matisse painted Open Window in the summer of 1905, when he and André Derain worked together near France’s border with Spain.
A diminutive but explosive
oil on canvas, it is celebrated as one of the most significant early paintings of the
Fauve school. Distinguished by a vibrant palette of saturated, pure colours and
generous brushstrokes, the effect of a Fauve painting is one of spontaneity.
The light flooded scene in Open Window is bright and inviting. Blue-hulled vessels
float on pink waves below a sky banded with turquoise, pink, and mauve. These
surprising colours provoked a violent reaction that year at the Salon d'Automne in
Paris. Derain would later liken the colours to “sticks of dynamite”.
In Open Window colours work in complementary pairs – orange-red masts with blue
hulls, red blossom among green leaves, opposing reflections of turquoise and pink.
Complements such as these become more intense when placed next to each other.
Also from this period, Matisse’s The Woman with a Hat contains a similar colour
relationship in the background.
Isolated by barren areas of canvas, the colour combinations in Open Window
generate a visual effect that fixes the eye to the surface. Matisse represented each
area of the image – the interior of the room, the window, the balcony, the harbour
view with a distinctly different handling of the brush, creating an overall surface effect
of pulsating textiles.
The angular, out-flung doors make the scene inviting, but
different brushstrokes in each ‘zone’ create a rich tapestry of rhythms which evoke
tension: wide sweeps in the room’s interior, short wavy lines or dabs in the view
Finally, the composition of the work is a series of frames within frames: the wall
contains the window; the frames, the middle ground; and the balcony crops the
landscape. The open window and the painting-window metaphor would go on to
become a central motif in Matisse’s works.