* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
One day, looking for something that might interest those few buyers there were, Marquet and I decided to reconnoiter. So we went to the Pavillon de Rohan, to the Galeries de Rivoli, where there were dealers in engraving and in all kinds of curiosities that might attract foreign customers. We each came back with an idea: mine was to do a park landscape with swans. I went to the Bois de Boulogne to do a study of the lake. Then I went to buy a photo showing swans and tried to combine the two. Only it was very bad; I didn’t like it – in fact nobody liked it; it was impossible; it was stodgy. I couldn’t change; I couldn’t counterfeit the frame of mind of the customers on the rue de Rivoli or anywhere else. So I put my foot through it.
I understood then that I had no business painting to please other people; it wasn’t possible. Either way, when I started a canvas, I painted it the way I wanted with things that interested me. I knew very well that it wouldn’t sell, and I kept putting off the confection of a picture that would sell. And then the same thing would happen the next time.
There are plenty of artists who think it’s smart to make paintings to sell. Then – when they have acquired a certain reputation, a degree of independence – they want to paint things for themselves. But that simply isn’t possible. Painting’s an uphill task and if you want to find out what you’re capable of, you can’t dillydally on the way.
Chatting with Henri Matisse: The Lost 1941 Interview, Henri Matisse with Pierre Courthion, edited by Serge Guilbaut, translated by Chris Miller
Comments are welcome!
Q: When you left the Navy you worked on commission as a portrait artist. Why don’t you accept commissions now?
A: As I have often said, I left the active duty Navy in 1989, but stayed in the Reserves. The Reserves provided a small part-time income and the only requirement was that I work one weekend a month and two weeks each year. Plus, I could retire after 13 more years and receive a pension. (In 2003 I retired from the Navy Reserve as a Commander). The rest of the time I was free to pursue my studio practice.
For a short time I made a living making commissioned photo-realist portraits in soft pastel on sandpaper. However, after a year I became very restless. I remember thinking, “I did not leave a boring job just to make boring art!” I lost interest in doing commissions because what I wanted to accomplish personally as an artist did not coincide with what portrait clients wanted. I finished my final portrait commission in 1990 and never looked back.
To this day I remain reluctant to accept a commission of any kind. So I am completely free to paint whatever I want, which is the only way to evolve as a serious, deeply committed artist.
Comments are welcome!