Henri Matisse’s Woman with a Hat 1905, is on display at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Woman with a Hat is a classic fauve extravaganza of wild color. It is oil on canvas; 31. 75 by 35. 5 inches. The first thing one notices about the painting is the color, it’s everywhere. The painting looks like a splattering of garish color. Green stands out instantly, as it dominates a good deal of the composition. The image of Madam Matisse almost becomes secondary to the color experience. The lines are thick and yet undefined.
There is a black contour line that runs from the left on her arm across her back and up past her ear and hair to her hat. On the first curve of the hat, a thicker blue line replaces the black line and continues across the hat’s outline, intermittently interrupted by regions of black. When the hat ends on the other side of her face, a rather thin black line forms again. This line is not so defined as a line per say, as it is a separation between the colors of her face and the green of the background. This small line continues around her face and helps to define her jaw line, her hair, and her ear.
Below her face the line becomes more defined and increases in width and thickness as it sweeps down the edge of the fan. It is abruptly ended by a thick and conspicuous white line jetting diagonally downward at the end of the fan, which puts and end to the body. Beyond this line, there are no more definite lines to speak of; the colors themselves take over in the absence of line in the painting’s bottom right quadrant. Matisse gives us his wife in an hourglass shape. Her body is hidden behind her fan; we see only her arm and torso. She appears wide at the bottom half of the portrait.
Her shape causes the viewers’ eyes to wander up over the fan toward her neck, the narrowest, and also one of the brightest, parts of the painting. Her face is oval and contributes to the impression of a triangular upsweep toward the hat. The hat and the face together form a triangle. The fan below the face also makes a triangular shape. The texture of the composition is rough, and brush strokes are clearly visible as one scans the painting. Matisse has applied the paint in varying layers of thickness and viscosity. The background’s texture is, for the most part, smooth; the strokes are visible but are not rough.
The same is true for Madam’s hat, the contents of which are rendered with rather thick and hasty applications of paint, but the blending of these applications leads to a textured yet smooth appearance. The texture of her face is rather rough, due to the high number of colors and paint splotches. The orange line that forms her neck is also quite rough. It is the fan that Matisse has given the greatest representational texture, and it appears to be the roughest object in the whole composition. Its lace is rendered in long wide diagonal strokes of thick white and blue paint.
The fan’s floral pattern is a jumble of heavy smudges and rapid strokes, perhaps applied with a palate knife. The space of the painting is very shallow. Madam’s body takes up nearly the entire nearly foreground, and there is nothing to impede the viewers’ access to her. This lack of any perceivable special depth, as well as the total obliteration of any background details has the effect of bringing her outstandingly close to the viewer. Her motion appears to be paused. Time is not frozen per say, so much as she appears to be captured between motions.
What we are seeing is a temporary break in motion. While her face is clearly pointed at the viewer, it is the fan that opens up the figure, turns her, and helps her face the viewer. Either she is facing us, or she is looking back from a shoulders and torso turn, or she is turning away and looking over her shoulder and we have intercepted her look. The either/or quality of her motion and pose is a very distinct feature of the composition Clark. In this painting color mimics light and there is no play of light and shadow per say. There is only the interplay of various hues.
Clearly the pastel colors at the top of the painting appear to be brighter and better lit than the dark colors of Madam’s hat and hair. There are four distinctively dark regions of the painting, though they are small in comparison to the color extravaganza that is the rest of the painting. The first such region is directly behind the edge of the fan, on the painting’s left. This dark region continues upward and becomes a thick black stripe along her shoulder. The second shaded area is on the left side of her hat. This dark shadow emphasizes the curving of the hat.
The third dim area is on the opposite side of the hat. Here the dark paint is more evenly diffused with other colors than elsewhere. It serves to add depth to the objects in the hat, and the right edge of the hat itself. The last dark area is directly beneath her hand that holds the fan. Here a dark shadow is cast from beneath the fan, it serves to enlighten the viewer that she is holding the fan outward and that her arm is the nearest object in the painting. Matisse has rendered his wife in bombastic unnatural colors. The colors are what take the picture from portraiture to expression.
It is not a portrait of Madame Matisse so much as it is the visual expression of her. The colors are vivid and unnatural, and they alternate between warm and cool hues. All are bright. There are three major hues that dominate the composition: shades of orange-red, blue, and green. Starting at the bottom left quadrant of the picture, one sees orange-red. This color is, for the most part, singular and is not blended or mixed with any other. About a quarter of the way up the picture the orange-red collides with both blue-green and lavender-pink.
These small patches of color are not as cleanly mixed as the previous color field; the lavender-pink is a hazy cloud of color while the blue-green field arcs to one side as it follows Madam’s shoulder. These colors go on to give way to blue, white-blue, yellow, and green. The yellow patch behind the hat stands out noticeably. On the right side of the composition there are less colors. The upper right background is dominated by green and white. These colors are mixed with other hues and interact aggressively where they meet, but on the whole, the right is just these two colors.
Three quarters length down the painting on the right side, a large array of colors becomes apparent. Red, orange, green, blue and white all intermingle in this rather small color field. This is the only part of the painting that has no defined lines at all. The figure itself is dominated by and composed of an assortment of juxtaposed colors as well. The focal point of the composition is the face. A rather thin line gives us the outline of a face, but it is solely color that brings a face to life. Both her jaw and cheek are merely touches and dabs of color.
The face composes itself out of the cluster of color to become all one thing. Her cheek is yellow and this color sweeps upward to the right in a curving arc ending above her eve. It is met by a swipe of blue-green, over lain by a bit of yellow. Blue-green smears appear opposite her left eye, at the margin of her face and hair, as well as along her jaw line. This color is also prominent on the right side of her face between her nose and mouth. The nose is not a nose per say but rather several lines of color that mimic a nose.
Blue-green appears as the bridge of the nose while a thick line of green runs down its length, separating nose from cheek. A smudge of gray-blue appears as a nostril while the whole thing culminates with a drop of yellow on the tip of the nose. The mouth also is not mouth so much as it is color-for-mouth. It appears drawn, with two lines of red and pink. An arc of gray-mauve is painted over the bright red on the left side of the upper lip while a paler pink-mauve is dabbed directly under the gray, over the pink of the lower lip Clark.